Stephen King has a remarkable ability to hold a reader’s interest, build suspense, and animate average Joe’s. His straightforward language is easy to read, but not easy to write. If you discount him as a genre writer, it tells me more about you than him.
King’s latest horror story, Elevation, is set in his fictional town of Castle Rock. King narrates the audiobook and while every writer won’t narrate their book well, he’s one whose work I want to hear directly. Over the years I’ve read maybe a half dozen of his books and enjoyed them.
A plot point in Elevation is the town’s road race, announced by posters, “Castle Rock’s annual Thanksgiving race will take place on Friday following the holiday, starting at the Rec Department on Castle View and finishing downtown, at the Tin Bridge.” The poster’s welcoming tone points our main character, Scott, to the registration location. He chats with Mike, a race organizer, who gives us the first mention of a person with vision loss.
“Hey Mike, can I sign up for the race?”
“You bet,” Mike says, “The more the merrier. You can keep me company at the back of the pack, along with the kids, the old, and the out of shape. We’ve even got a blind guy this year. Going to run with his service dog, he says.”
You know that got my attention. The story continues to race day. Besides crowd descriptions, King tucks in motivational nuggets between townies like, “Why feel bad about what you cannot change. Why not embrace it.” Good point, Stephen.
Runners and spectators make a crowd. I’m looking for the blind guy to greet Scott. King throws in a few mentions which don’t exactly reflect a great understanding of blindness. For example, in reference to an elite racer seeing posters around town, King writes:
“Surely she knew ‘her’ posters had been replaced by less controversial ones; unlike the fellow who would be running with his guide dog (Scott saw him near the starting line giving an interview), she wasn’t blind.”
King’s grammar might be advanced, but his grasp on vision loss is lacking. How we read—print, large print, audio, braille, etc.—depends on the kind of vision loss and the resources we have access to, Stephen. Maybe the guy has a bit of peripheral vision or central vision that is clear enough for him to read text or perceive images. Or maybe he snapped a photo with his smartphone and enlarged it or used an app to identify the particulars.
King goes on to say more about the runner:
“She wants to beat them all, the men, the woman, the kids, and the blind man with his German Shepard.”
Ok, I can take a joke and the rhythm of that sentence is great, but unless he is like Marines level fit deserving of a special competitor class, why pull him from the men. Way to outcast him, Stephen.
Sometimes King uses variations of the word “blind” as an adjective when he could use others like bright or ignorant. Does this offend me? No. It’s lazy to use blind like this, but it’s common and until it’s pointed out, I don’t think most people notice it.
I read Elevation once and enjoyed it. Knowing I would write about King’s character with blindness, I reread it more closely. I was surprised to find out it wasn’t how I remembered. As Scott passes other participants in the race, I could’ve sworn he encounters the man with his service dog. I reread it a third time pausing the file at the last kilometer. Where were they, I had put them there. But no, we never see him again. Did he twist his ankle? Did he finish in the middle of the pack? Did someone try to pet his working service dog while it was in harness? We never find out. I’m disappointed. I hold great writers like Stephen to a higher standard.
It’s a missed opportunity to show a person with blindness out and about. He is running the Castle Rock Turkey Trot 12K. He is a blind guy doing a regular activity. We never learn his name.
Inevitably I wonder why King included this guy. Has King experienced any vision loss personally? Does he interact with a family member or close friend who lives with blindness? Online sleuthing uncovers rumors of macular degeneration, but nothing is substantiated. King is a few generations ahead of me and probably would feel more social pressure to hide symptoms of blindness, but his health is his business. In case you’re reading this Mr. King, if you have any questions about blindness, personally or literally, I’m here for you.
Most runners I know who have vision loss hold a short line, sometimes called a tether, shared with a guide runner. The guy in Elevation runs with his service dog and I find that unusual. It’s possible for dogs to run awhile, but the service dogs I know only run short distances.
I think more about running service dogs. I find some journalism about a particular program training dogs to run. I reach out to my friend, Jane, who works for a service dog organization. She lets me know that her workplace does not train up dogs for the task of competitive running, however, it would be possible and she’s not surprised that trainers elsewhere are exploring it. Ok. Good enough for me.
I return Elevation to the library. King created a minor character with blindness who I find acceptable. I wish we would’ve seen more of him. Maybe King will develop him in future stories. King, like any writer, could be like Scott who discovered while running, “This was the same. Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go farther still.”
What do you think of Stephen King’s books? Do you read horror stories or watch horror movies? Have you ever wanted to know more about a fictional character? Tell me about it.