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Stephen King is in the news for at least two reasons this week. First, a prison break in upstate New York seems almost an homage to his terrific novel, The Shawshank Redemption, with a twist – in real life, the bad guys really are bad.
Steve is also drawing warm reviews for his latest novel, Finders Keepers. The second part of a projected trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes, which won the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Finders Keepers is a mystery that employs the same idea – the vengeful reader – that inspired an earlier King classic, Misery. The reader here is Morris Bellamy. The writer, John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but hasn’t published a book for decades. Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.
Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.
“One of the pleasures of Finders Keepers,” Janet Maslin writes in the New York Times, “is watching Mr. King’s ways of making pages turn. (“Pete lay awake for a long time that night. Not long after, he made the biggest mistake of his life.” That’ll keep you moving.) Another is the time-traveling, as when Morris ‘put his dirt-smeared jeans and sweatshirt in the washer, an act that would also be replicated by Pete Saubers years later,’ since both young men, decades apart, know about the same hidden trunk and live in the same house.
Stephen King’s Top Ten List
1. The Golden Argosy by Van H. Cartmell & Charles Grayson, editors.
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
3. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1988).
4. McTeague by Frank Norris (1899).
5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1955).
6. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).
7. 1984 by George Orwell (1948).
8. The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott (1966–75).
9. Light in August by William Faulkner (1932).
10. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985).
Appreciation of The Golden Argosy by Stephen King
I first found The Golden Argosy in a Lisbon Falls (Maine) bargain barn called The Jolly White Elephant, where it was on offer for $2.25. At that time I only had four dollars, and spending over half of it on one book, even a hardcover, was a tough decision. I’ve never regretted it.
Originally published in 1947 and reissued in 1955—but not updated or reprinted since—The Golden Argosy is an anthology of roughly fifty-five short stories. The editors made no pretensions to “quality fiction,” but simply tried to publish the best-loved stories published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to the post–World War II period.
Though it is in terrible need of updating (there is no Raymond Carver, for instance, no Joyce Carol Oates, because such writers came along too late for inclusion), it remains an amazing resource for readers and writers, a treasury in the true sense of the word, covering everything from sentimental masterpieces such as Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” to realistic character studies such as “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather.
Every reader will find glaring omissions (Dorothy Parker’s “Big Blonde,” for instance), but you’ve got your Faulkner classic (“A Rose for Emily”), your Hemingway (“The Killers”), and your Poe (“The Gold-Bug”). It includes “The Rich Boy,” in which F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observes “the rich are different from you and me,” and overlooked gems from writers such as Sherwood Anderson (“I’m a Fool”) and John Collier (“Back for Christmas”).
The Golden Argosy taught me more about good writing than all the classes I’ve ever taken. It’s the best $2.25 I ever spent.