I have never read any analysis linking writers Russell Banks and Stephen King. However, I think they have a lot in common. In my case, when I read one, I often think of the other. They are both part of my pantheon, for apparently very different reasons, but basically, because they touch on the same truth, respond to the same need to understand the contemporary Western world.
Remember that the two writers were born in the 1940s, in the United States, in modest backgrounds. Both have seen the majority of their works adapted for film. Banks was quickly considered one of the most important writers of his generation and received deserved recognition from literary criticism throughout his life. King was quickly celebrated as a master by critics specializing in fantasy literature. Long disdained by academic critics, he is now recognized as a major author, period. Both are left-leaning white men with strong political views. So much for the public trajectories, globally similar.
Let’s move on to men now. Banks is a great traveler. In the 1960s, he fled his country for political reasons (refusal to go and fight in Vietnam) and personal reasons: a renewed tendency to marry and then abandon wives and children. In his work, Banks writes about the marginalized in American life, the losers, the immigrants, the blacks, the poor, the racist white children, the confused rich, the children who have to survive in broken families, the runaway teenagers in the behavior dangerous to themselves and others. It is in this that he touches me; this ability to demonstrate with tenderness the darkest realities of a mad and abusive American society. This ability to sink into the head of an obese white teenager as well as into that of a black worker. And this way that Banks has to reflect on his own weaknesses, to work on his life choices and his guilt, to seek the sap of his writing there, to bring tears to the eyes of the reader that I am.
We often stop at the horrific aspect of King’s stories. It is such a brake for many readers, that the writer has spent his life explaining how those – including myself – who like to read novels where fear and monsters enter, are in fact particularly sensitive people. , who “contempt the nightmare” as he puts it so well, and reassure themselves by objectifying the Evil which, in reality, is too present, lurking in society, seeping from human relations to the point of annihilating us. If there were no terrifying stories to comfort us, many of us would be paralyzed by the violence of reality.
But to appeal to an audience as large as his own, King is not just an author who writes supernatural stories of bloodthirsty killers. It would be too simple. In his novels, with a fluid writing and particularly fine dialogues, he reveals what American life has most broken down. He excels at slipping into the skin of children neglected by inconsistent adults, marginalized people, battered women, blacks in a profoundly racist society, simpletons ready to go to the electric chair, inhabitants of bleds lost far from the flashy modernity of large over-lit cities.
In Banks as in King, we find dangerous dogs, old caravans, misty winters, childhood wounds that do not pass, a lot of tenderness and a little humor, like a smile through alcohol.
I speak a lot of tears when talking about these two writers. It’s because to me they’re like two uncles who point out the ugliness of life to you, then hug you and pat your back and say, “Come on, we’ll get through this together.” Their writing is a welcoming shelter into which one takes refuge with a sigh of relief, especially when one is tired of reading so much useless, self-centered, contemptuous literature.
Here, for starters, read the news from Banks. You will discover the most beautiful thing you can do in terms of a short, delicately strong story that goes straight to the heart. I go so far as to recommend Blue, one of the news from A permanent member of the family. For King, you can start with Le Chenal. Neither hemoglobin nor monster in this story. To those who tell you that King writes badly, advise them of the original version of this text. It is an English so pure and simple at the same time, that one has the impression, even being French-speaking, of understanding the slightest nuance. And if they persist in disdaining the master of horror, too bad for them, let them stay in hell.
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