Review – The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger, Western Fantasy by Stephen King

Series: The Dark Tower #1

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️

Before this, the only thing I read by Stephen King was The Colorado Kid. Reading that novella should have prepared me for this. It was an uninspiring and entirely pretentious attempt to be profound by intentionally telling a story with no resolution.  But King’s status as a writer is such that there are five stars reviews lauding it as “a character study of” blah blah and basically buying bullshit wholesale.

The Gunslinger is more bullshit. Just read the foreword and introduction in the revised edition–the author himself admits to it. Re-reading it compelled him to apologise aloud and tell stories about being an arrogant nineteen-year-old. I’ve been beta-reading and giving advice to amateur writers since high school, and it all sounded like a very familiar song. Amateur writer bears some weird conceit (say, mystery is more important than clarity) and refuses to listen to anyone tell them they’re wrong. They defend the weird conceit despite logic and counterargument. The safest thing to do is let it lie until they figure out they’re wrong on their own. Argue too much and the weird conceit will become a deep-seated belief about all writing.

I wish I knew what he changed, because what I read didn’t feel like it had seen an editor, let alone an author revisit. Thanks to the conceit that mystery is more important than clarity, nothing is established, earned, or explained, and thusly everything seems to happen because it popped into King’s head at the time. The closest we get to an establishing shot is foreshadowing, which in the case of the boy just flops sadly like a deflated pool toy. A literal prediction of the future tells the gunslinger that the boy is his key to finding the man in black, but it’s implied that the boy will die as a result. This happens, but there is no direct, practical, or even physical link between the boy’s death and anything else. He just dies when they find the man in black. That’s… not… how stories work.

My personal reviewing policy is to find something, anything I liked. There was nothing here. I ought to have DNFed it, but I was too stubborn. The main character’s name is obscured for literally no reason, used quite late into the book and sparingly after that. Poetic language that tells you nothing loses its beauty by being useless. Not that I noticed any poetry in the language. It was often vulgar just to be vulgar. I got so tired of hearing this guy talk about his crotch that I dropped the book a few times. The level of mysogyny throughout nearly made me physically ill. Every single female character is nothing but a sex receptacle, dies horribly, and/or is dismissed as evil (most likely thanks to the actions of a man). Only one female character is actually treated as sexless, and she belongs to the boy’s very brief narrative. There is literally a part of the book where all women are reduced to a single body part, when the gunslinger says something about “losing himself in c**ts and killing.”

I should have stopped reading there. This book is pointless, boring, and disgusting.

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