Friday, October 11, 2013
Audiobook Evaluation: "In the Tall Grass" (2012) by Stephen King and Joe Hill
This is the absolute first full audiobook I have ever listened to. Of course it had to be Stephen King related, and of course it had to be this. Let me set the scene as I listened to this in my car because it might tell you s lot about my mindset as I listened to this story.
It was late at night, so late that it was probably early. I tend to drive long distances at times, and this was one of those three hour drives I sometimes need to take some nights because life. I was driving from New Jersey to Connecticut (where I live), going through the Saw Mill (River) Parkway in New York. It was so late at the time that there was nobody else on the road. Again, I see this quite often when I drive home that late. So, as I listened to this story about a car pulling off the road on a long-distance trip to check out what's going on in a field of grass, I was also driving and very much ready to be creeped out myself.
So, the mood is set. Now, let's get to the bare minimum about this story without spoiling anything. I really don't want to spoil anything. The story here is way too good to spoil, and I don't really think many people know a ton about this audiobook. While Stephen King and his son wrote this together, I wouldn't exactly call it well known, especially because one of the major forms of this novella is the audiobook format of it. While it also can be found as an e-book and was written in a magazine as well, it has yet to be inserted into one of King's story collections and thus is still relatively unknown despite being incredibly good.
The story follows a simple premise. As I mentioned briefly, a brother and sister are taking a long drive to San Diego, basically taking an extended vacation so that the sister, Becky, will have some time to decide whether or not she wants to abort her child or keep it. She's very young, nineteen, in college, and has become pregnant by an unknown father. Cal, her brother, is supporting her on this trip. They are very close these two, and the big reason might be because they are very similar in the way they think and act. Anyway, on the way they pull off the highway because both of them hear something coming from inside the grassy field. The thing they hear is a young boy crying out for help.
The story continues with Becky and Cal going to try to help the kid, who they think has simply wandered into the field while playing and become lost. The problem is exacerbated though when a woman's voice, the mother of the child, calls out to them to not enter the grass, to stay away. Becky and Cal become intrigued, enter the grass, and seal their eventual fate.
This story is about nature versus humanity, and maybe something beyond nature as well. I would call this a story about an eldritch abomination, one very much unlike a Cthulhu or a Lovecraftian horror, but one also very similar as well. Without giving too much away, the grass, the tall grass of the title, is very similar to the room in the story 1408. While there is much less psychological horror in this story than in that one, the premise is very similar, and the effects of both are quite chilling. While room 1408 seems to be fairly self-contained, more a nuisance than something that people are maliciously going to wander in to, the tall grass, and what lies within it, is very much in the open, unguarded, and finds its own way to attract others into its clutches.
This story is terrifying by the way. Listening to it in the day or at night doesn't really change that. The story still holds a creepy factor that does not go away, not even in the brightest daylight. It is a story about being lost, about being unable to ever find yourself again. It is about being pulled over the edge, being pulled over to the dark side of your own nature, against your will, or maybe as the only way to stay alive. The story has some horrifying set-pieces, although none of them occur within the first half or so of the story. During the second half though, the punches of horror keep flying. Topics such as abortion, miscarriage, cannibalism, insanity, rape, and eldritch horror are spoken about at length, each topic dealt with in a terrifying (and sometimes absolutely sickening) way.
There were moments as I listened to this audiobook, that I covered my mouth in horror and surprise. And on my first listening to this, especially once the second half of the story started playing, I actually needed to shut the CD player in my car off for a while so that I could collect myself. The story had literally upset me so much that I couldn't listen anymore without feeling genuinely sick to my stomach. I can't think of many horror stories that can do that to me, but this one is quality terror.
I don't really want to say much about the second half. There is a stone in a field, and things mentioned very early in the story become very important later on. It's reminiscent of "Children of the Corn" in a way, but that probably has more to do with the setting and slight religious overtones (of one sort or another) more than anything else. Actually the dealing with religion is very much a Stephen King staple going all the way back to Carrie. It seems that those motivated by a religion of fear tend to be the most loathsome sort to King, something I find very interesting.
I know that audiobooks aren't for everybody, but for the amount that I drive, they are basically perfect. And this is a damn good audiobook besides. The audiobook is read by Steven Lang, an actor I know specifically as Mr. Travitt from The I Inside, a character that I really loved, and he does a great job here, impersonating the voices and really doing a topnotch job as both narrator and storyteller. His acting really sells the story, especially when he really seems to get into it in the second half of the story. His voice is downright chilling at times as the story moves on, and that's about as good a compliment as I can give him.
Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill, did a great job with this story. To me it has gone down as one of the classic short horror stories from Stephen King, up there with The Mist and N. in terms of quality and terrifying storytelling. I wholeheartedly recommend this audiobook to everybody. Check it out if you can. I wasn't disappointed. Actually, listening to the audiobook a second time really made me want to read, watch, or listen to more Stephen king stories...
So, that might be a thing.