Does Mr. Mercedes Have A Flat Tire?

I saw the first review of Mr. Mercedes today -- and it made my heart sag a little. Chuck Bowen of Slant magazine, posted his thoughts today.  Bowen previously wrote an interesting article titled, Five Tips on How to Make a Good Stephen King Movie Adaptation.  It was an interesting article, but since I don't plan on making a Stephen King movie adaptation, and I do plan to read Mr. Mercedes, I dived into the review.

Bowen's review isn't very pretty.  Bowen is just flat out cruel; accusing King of not taking the craft itself seriously.  At the heart of the review if the idea that the novel is undeveloped, underwritten and reads like a screen play.  He praises King for working "outside the horror genre."  But his praise is short lived and he quickly moves to throwing eggs at Mr. King.  In fact, he not only gets his digs in at the book he is reviewing, but takes a few cheap shots at Doctor Sleep while he's at it.  Here's the bullet points:

  • Bowen whines that King is publishing too quickly and not rewriting his work enough.
  • The book, Bowen reports, moves too quickly.  It is too action packed.  "The pace is numbing, relentless."  (yeah, that's the kind of book I like Chucky!)
  • He doesn't like King's use of emphasizing things in the text by bolding, capitalizing and italicizing.
  • Bowen accuses King over using clich├ęs and "absurd, unsatisfying plotting." 
  • Sound tough?  He's not done!  "The dialogue is appallingly tone deaf," Bowen accuses the author. He goes on to say King is dishing out "crass obviousness." 
And he goes on and on.  

I get the sense that Bowen is a bit stuffy in his approach to reading.  Don't have fun with it.  Don't say a building looks like a UFO; or make the dialogue fun.  Bowen is the teacher at the front of the room demanding you use proper English and don't bold so much!  He wants that paper nice and clean, no italicizing or capitalizing.  

Bowen's greatest complaint seems to be that King drives the story hard, pushing it ever forward with energetic writing.  We can't have that, ya know?  No energetic writing!  Writing should be slow, careful and keep the reader a little sleepy.  Bowen would enjoy John Knolls A Seperate Peace or Olive Anne Burns' Cold Sassy Tree.  I want to italicize those book titles, but I won't because I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm italicizing too much.

A clue that Bowen doesn't really know his Stephen King jumps out in his previous article about adapting a Stephen King novel for screen.  He says that King should not be allowed to write the script for his movies, and then says that Pet Sematary is one of the "very worst adaptations of his work."  PET SEMATARY?  One of the worst? Maybe he didn't see Langoliers.  On the Pet Sematary rant, Bowen calls the movie a "flat, impersonal spectacle."

But it's not just Pet Sematary he doesn't like.  He's also not a fan of The Green Mile. Discussing the problem of bringing King's dialogue to screen, Bowen wrote, "But even at its best, King's dialogue is usually too stylized to be spoken out loud, and actors often sound silly in their attempts to imbue it with tossed-off spontaneity, a problem that sinks the already problematic The Green Mile."  I did not realize the Green Mile sank or that it was "problematic."  

Also note that Bowen does not like Frank Darabont's adaptations of Stephen King's work.  So his credibility is about zilch at this point.


  1. While I'm can't be sure of this, as a veteran English Major, Bowen sounds like one of those school of criticism that is either concerned with "Mood" at the expense of everything else, or he might belong to a type of criticism that I think is called Neo-Classical.

    These guys believed it was possible to calculate down to the last comma precisely which sentences do and don't work in fiction, and which characters and situations are essential if any story is to be a success. Yeah, I wish I could say I made that up, but a good resource for this kind of thinking is Irving Babbitt's The Ne Laokoon.

    Needless to say, such airtight compartmentalizing of fiction is the kiss of death to any real good idea, and it's too bad writers like Bowen don't realize it, as it keeps them from enjoying stories like King's.


  2. Love your writeup, David. I think we can safely screen this Bowen guy out, heh. You nailed it with "That's the kind of book I like, Chucky!"

    We all know Pet Sematary is one of the best King adaptations for the silver screen, in terms of capturing some of the real horror. I gotta dig out my old VHS of that for a re-watch, soon! (Thanks, Bowen, for the reminder;)

    And The Green Mile ? Fuggetabout it, another classic (successful) adaptation, I mean, this Bowen cat is really stretching his credibility w/these bullet points.

    I'm pulling my hair out now (as I always do after pre-ordering the Cemetery Dance Slipcased edition--WHY must I put myself through this!?) waiting on my edition to arrive.

    In the meantime, I am reading UNDER THE DOME, finally! It's a page-turner, alright. I'm only on about page 120, tho'.

    Also: I'm casually re-reading the original Gunslinger. Man, it's been awhile. It's great to revisit. And no - I've never read the Revised Gunslinger. Someday, I will.

    1. I'd honestly advise skipping the Revised Gunslinger. Basically there's a poetry and lyricism to the 81 original that the revisions to make things "easier" has resulted in a bland, paint by the numbers feel compared to how the first version went.


    2. The Dark Tower series did not find its voice until the Drawing of The Three.

    3. It would be difficult for me to disagree with something more than I disagree with that.

  3. Reading that review, I get the feeling he's the kind of person whom I'd disagree with on just about everything. All of his criticisms sound like positives to me. "The Book has to much energy and moves to fast" part of the argument I actually laughed out loud about.

  4. Nice. He basically hates it for being engaging.

    As for Pet Sematary, I wasn't all that impressed with the film version, but the problems there weren't at screenplay level. The very worst, though? Hardly. I think the worst has got to be It, because it takes an amazing book and makes it a crappy mini-series. Other movies might have been worse, but I doubt any of them represented the kind of leveling down that It managed.