A short review for a short book…
Stephen King’s new one has kicked up a bit of controversy, and not for its grisly content (it doesn’t have any).
First things first, a review of the content: is it any good?
Yes, it is. Story-wise it is a lighter (no pun intended…well, maybe a leetle) version of a Richard Bachman novel – Thinner: in length and in treatment of the central premise. Here a man finds that he is losing weight but unlike the Gypsy’s curse in the horror novel, he has no idea why. Like the horror novel the loss progresses to dramatic effect on him and those around him. Elevation covers a few themes for modern times in its fairly large type face 132 pages: loss, neighbours, community, death, and ‘finding common ground despite differences’ (that last one was from the book sleeve blurb).
I read it in one late-night-sitting and shed a little tear towards the end (and not just because I knew it was going to be a while before the next new publication comes out – there’s not even any hint of what’s coming next on the man’s official website).
It’s slight in length, with some big ideas and themes: albeit ideas free of explanation as to how the key plot point came to be: no curse, no scientific explosion, no nothing – it just is, and accept it. Or don’t.
It’s recognisable King stuff here – and not just the Castle Rock setting: the protagonist, Scott Carey could step out of many another King work: a decent, middle-aged man living on his own with liberal views and a good heart. The small town community that has its good and its not-so-good. The doctor to explain things or not (you can go all the way back to the Dead Zone for that character type) for the protagonist. A public event (whether it is the pie eating contest of ‘The Body‘ or the public rally of…quite a few books.) There’s even a race which draws some warmer comparisons to another of Bachman’s earlier works: The Long Walk.
Would it get published by a first time writer? No. It wouldn’t- and certainly not by a publisher like Hodder and Stoughton. And I don’t say that as a criticism of the prose. It just wouldn’t and the reason it wouldn’t is what’s been causing a lot of the ire from King’s ‘constant reader’ (his term), and the not-so-constants.
Elevation is, in many respects, a novella. I’ve written enough about novellas ad nausem (latin for ‘FFS shut up about it already!’) both on this site and other publishing websites, including Oxford University Press. Elevation doesn’t follow some of the strictest rules, but in length, and use or lack there of, of subplots, character arcs and so on, it’s a novella no question. King of course has history with the novella including, amongst others – Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body, Apt Pupil, The Breathing Method – which were collated and sold as Different Seasons, then there’s The Mist (included in the Skeleton Crew collection) and many more – several of which have been considered meaty enough to be turned into movies or even TV series. He’s also released a few stand-alone novellas – for example Gwendy’s Button Box released in limited print run from Cemetery Dance. Elevation however was released in the same year, a few months after, his ‘main’ book – The Outsider by mainstream publisher. In Hard Back. With fanfare.
And some people are clearly pissed off about it.
At the time of writing (30/11/18) the book has been out about a month. It’s sitting at #5 in the US Amazon charts for Thriller and Suspense (which is some going to still be there after a month). It’s sitting at #1 in the UK charts (which is some goinger going…words: they’re difficult). In terms of customer rating it currently holds 3 stars from 88 reviews in the UK, and 3.5 from 659 in the US.
Ignoring the comments regarding the actual story (and some people have issues with its politics, its lack of explanation and the plot) here are some selected bits from some of the one star reviews:
“don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read but very short at the price of a full novel”
“book came today, this is the smallest novel i have ever seen. should be a short story.”
“Very disappointed when I received this tiny little book in the mail … was expecting a big fat novel to lose myself in for at least a week. Shame on everyone involved in this misrepresentation!!!”
“This book is shorter than a short story, I dont know if it is a good short story or not as I sent it back the day it arrived.”
Many of these reviews have prompted comments – some in agreement, some…less so:
“How can it be ‘shorter than a short story?’ That’s like saying it was shorter than a piece of string”.
“Right! Can you not read the information about a book first before you actually buy and read the book? It clearly says ” This story is small and short. It is not going to land on your doorstep with the thud of a typical Stephen King novel!” And the product information states 5 * 7 inches and 160 pages only.”
There are many interesting points about Elevation and its reception. Here are three which I think are worth spending some time on and will return to in a follow up article soon:
- Format pricing: the book is available in Hardback . It is also available in Kindle and Audio. Here are the US prices by format:
And here’s the UK prices:
In both cases, the Kindle Edition is more expensive than the Hardback…that’s something worth talking about more in a future article about what consumer expectations are around print versus digital as well as the production costs and challenges/ opportunities for publishers or writers wanting to look at digital editions.
- List Price: the price paid for the book varies massively in reviews: some claim as much as $30 (where they got that from I don’t know). This isn’t an Amazon issue, it’s a general one. What does RRP mean compared to what it actually ends up on the shelf for? I paid £7.99 for my pre-release. That seems to be the same as the major supermarkets are offering the book for. That has implications for the Independent bookshops who cannot necessarily afford to use the book as a loss-leader. It raises questions as to what input an author has on setting the price – be it a best seller like Stephen King, or the self-publishing Joe Schmoe (and interestingly – the self publisher often has considerably more say in the matter than the world-wide author). But again, a big topic deserving of a future article itself
- Pre-release information and reviewers in general… many of the criticisms of expecting a full length door-stop effort ala previous King’s works have been rebuffed with comments along the lines of ‘what did you expect you moron, it said so in the pre-release detail…’ (Or more succinctly: in response to one particularly vitriolic complaint another reviewer simply posted:
Except…except…except. While I have little time for, and have written about idiot reviewers , I appreciate they may not have seen all the pre-release detail King, his publishers, Amazon, Publishing industry news etc wrote about the book. The argument that they were expecting a novel, when all talk has been that this is a ‘novella’ could be easily rebuffed. Except…here’s the cover for the US edition – different from the UK release featured above. And, to be fair, it clearly says ‘a novel’. Now, as I said earlier, I’ve written extensively/ banged on about what constitutes a novel or a novella in terms of form and style beyond word count. it is a debatable issue in its purest sense.
But I do think there was no need to include ‘a novel’ on the cover. Just saying…
At the end of the day, there are a lot of interesting things worthy of consideration after looking at Elevation and it’s definitely given me a few pieces of food for thought for articles in the near future in terms of publishing trends today and the effect on both readers and writers.
For now, I’ll say, I paid £7.99 for Elevation, and I got my money’s worth.