One book I picked up at garage sale day was The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. I can’t say I’m enjoying it much so far. I’m about 40 pages in, and it’s been very slow.
The main problem is that it’s a story about a story instead of just being a story. Let me explain.
The tale begins with two older newspapermen, both Islanders, and a younger female reporter talking to a mainland reporter. The mainland fellow doesn’t get what he came for, a story about some unsolved mystery, and leaves. The young woman begins to ask whether there are any unsolved mysteries on the island, and the two older men begin to tell her the story of the “Colorado Kid.”
Do you see the problem?
Fiction is already a second hand report. We begin reading with the clear knowledge that we’re being told a story by someone else, the invisible writer. If the writer does his or her job well, we soon forget we’re being told a story and start to live it.
But now, with “Colorado Kid,” I’m being told a story by Stephen King about two guys who are telling a different story to a young woman. It seems like I’m trying to hear the primary story of the “Kid” with a loud conversation going on in the background. So far I’ve not been able to slip inside the story. I’m outside looking in, and I don’t much enjoy it.
Last week I read a tale set in ancient Rome that was told in a “letter” written to someone else. I kept thinking, why not just tell “me” the story, instead of telling someone else and letting me listen in? You could have saved a few hundred words. Now, I can enjoy stories told in letters when the story is “inside” the letters, when it goes back and forth between the letter writers. But this was just “one” letter, explaining everything that happened to one person. Why distance readers further than they already are?
With “Colorado Kid,” at around 35 (its actually 50) pages we read about a couple of young joggers who find a dead body on the beach. Bingo! There’s where the story starts. Show us the joggers, show ‘em seeing the body, approaching the body, realizing it’s a dead man. And I’m with you. I’ve already forgotten the writer. I’m living the tale. Cut out the prelims.
Maybe there are times when the “story about a story” technique is useful, and maybe old Stephen has a plan up his sleeve. I’ll go ahead and read some more, because at least the book is pretty short. But it isn’t a good sign when I pick up the book I’m currently reading, and instead of opening the cover to where I left off, I gaze longingly at my pile of to-be-read books. The “Colorado Kid” cut ahead of a bunch of books on that pile, and so far I’ve regretted that rash decision.