I read a charming, uplifting story by author Stephen King recently. But I wasn’t happy.
It wasn’t the writer’s fault. I love King, and his skills were in full play in Elevation, a low-key tale of a man who looks the same as always and feels even better, but for reasons unknown is inexorably losing weight. Not size, mind you. Just weight—by the pound, every day, week after week, with no explanation and no remedy.
This was not one of King’s screamers, with horrific images that cling to your mind years afterward. It was more like the character studies you find in his stories that led to unforgettable movies, like The Green Mile, “Stand by Me,” or “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” Like The Green Mile, Elevation has supernatural elements, but that’s not really the point. The weird premise just provides a framework for the character relationships. And King is an under-rated genius at character building.
You can probably tell I wasn’t unhappy at the work itself, either. I enjoyed the story—recommend it even and perhaps especially at this holiday time of year.
No, my problem is with King’s publisher and marketing team, who tagged this work of some 160 pages a novel. That’s right, look it up and you’ll see it, right there on the cover: Elevation. A Novel. Even when I was writing TREK fan fiction we would call something of that length a novella, not a novel. And those of us who are Stephen King fans are used to works with some heft—1000 pages or more. In years past, Elevation would have been packaged in a collection of his short fiction, which is nothing to dismiss—did you see the titles in paragraph three above?
But this is the age of the dying dinosaurs of traditional publishing, and the old thunder lizards must squeeze every penny from their showcase artists. King reliably puts out a big novel every year or so, but that’s clearly not enough for his graspy publisher (Scribner). So the Powers That Be have apparently deemed that anything King produces will be published forthwith, at novel prices and with novel packaging.
But, wait a minute, you protest. Lots of digital authors write short novels. Short is the wave of the future, especially in digital format. Readers want shorter, cheaper reads!
Possibly, but, again, readers of this particular author are used to longer reads. And Elevation isn't cheap. The slim file costs $9.99 on Kindle. (Yeah.)
But who can blame that marketing team? I fell for their little trick, and so did many others. Elevation was named an Amazon Best Book for 2018, and is doing very well in some limited rankings. Not the general rankings such as Paid in Kindle or Horror, though. Those fans, like me, are not happy.
But as I read through the reviews, the uproar is not only over the price bait-and-switch.I was surprised to see a number of very unkind reviews from readers who expected to see lots of blood and gore and didn’t like the character-driven nature of Elevation. They missed the point entirely, of course, and can go console themselves with a slasher film, in my opinion.
Artistically, King’s latest work is a high point. From a marketing standpoint, however, Elevation is sure to let you down.