The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Horror of horrors: King in pauper’s clothes

Good Lord, what happened to Stephen King'

The king of horror novelists is on the cover of the July-August issue of Book magazine, standing in front of a funky trailer, unshaven, unsmiling, squinting malevolently, looking like some demented rural psychopath right out of the pages of a Stephen King novel. Printed across his lumberjack shirt is the title of his essay: “The Shocking Truth About Literary Losers Like Me”.

Inside, King looks even worse, scarfing a TV dinner while smoking Marlboros at a table that holds not one but two fly swatters. Has one of the world’s best-selling novelists sunk into poverty and paranoia'

I couldn’t wait to read the piece, which King bills as “a fictional essay”.

It begins with an attack on Jonathan Franzen’s (who is he, find out from Net, want one-line description in brackets) much-praised literary novel, The Corrections, as “patronizing and self-indulgent” — a very good way to begin an essay, in my opinion.

King is ticked off at Franzen’s condescending scorn for popular novelists, and he has responded with a wild fantasy based on the delightfully absurd premise that high-tone literary novelists like Franzen, Annie Proulx and Margaret Drabble sell millions of books while pop novelists like himself are barely scraping by. This explains those trailer photos, which are part of the elaborate joke.

“I, like virtually every other popular novelist in America, live mostly on a subsidy check of just over twelve thousand dollars a month,” King writes. “The check comes from Literature ‘R’ Us, a company incorporated in the Bahamas.”

Controlled by Proulx and Drabble, Literature ‘R’ Us subsidises pop novelists for a reason: “so that TV and the press will have someone to bother when they have an extra five minutes at the end of the nightly news or space to fill in the arts and leisure section of the Sunday paper.”

Meanwhile, literary novelists are, as King puts it, “farting through silk”. Not only have they purchased all of America’s major newspapers, but they also own the ski resort of Vail, Colorado.

In the tradition of literary novelist David Foster Wallace (again, one-line description), King has documented all of these dubious claims in footnotes.

Here is the first one: “This quote and this source — like all the quotes and sources in this essay — are, of course, fictitious. One may argue that this to some extent negates the arguments that the essay makes, but since actual sources supporting those arguments don’t exist, all I can say is that it seemed necessary.”

A fictional essay with faked footnotes documenting an absurd fantasy involving real people — could it be that Stephen King is remaking himself as a John Barthesque (one-line description) post-modern self-referential literary parodist'

Good lord, let’s hope not. That would truly be a horror.

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