What a time to be a Stephen King fan. While the industrious author continues to churn out well-received novels into the always grasping hands of his fans, the patience of King’s audience has been tried and tested by the near-constant flux in news of movie and TV adaptations. Finders Keepers (2015) continues the Mr. Mercedes’ Trilogy and King’s next short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, is due out in November. However, The Stand and It remakes have appeared in the news regularly in the last few years, but most stories at this point can be lumped together as frustrating reports of revolving doors of casting, attached-with-a-worn-out-paperclip directors, and fickle studio commitment. For the King’s affectionately addressed “constant readers” the inconsistency is maddening. So, in the interest of treating your viral case of “pleasestop fucking with us Hollywood,” we prescribe up a dose of extra-curricular reading for Stephen King fans, starting with Stewart O’Nan’s The Speed Queen.
Often, King’s massive bibliography is dismissed as pulp that was published to stock that useless supermarket aisle with out of season halloween candy and tabloids. The Speed Queen embraces King’s place and power from the mass market paperback pile in its tragic tale of crystal meth-induced sprees and high speed car chases. The book is framed and told from the perspective of Marjorie, a woman on death row, to a tape recorder. Her life story, or as much of it as she can narrate in the dwindling hours on the eve of her execution for murder, is to be sent to none other than Stephen King, who purchased the rights in order to adapt her life into a book. Majorie became a Stephen King fan from the shelves of the prison library, where his works were always as well stocked as in any supermarket or drug store. King fans, of course, read that and feel it a fitting home for the writer of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Marjorie references and comments on many of his novels throughout her narration, which was as fun to read as her spiraling tale of crime and low living.
Marjorie is on the row for her involvement in the robbery of a Sonic Drive Through along with her boyfriend, Lamont, and her friend and sometimes lover, Natalie, who received no jail time for her involvement with their killing spree. Natalie, like Carrie’s Sue Snell, wrote a book about their murderous rampage that told one side of a thrilling and terrible tale, that naturally exonerated the writer from almost all wrong-doing. Marjorie’s own story and love affair with Lamont takes place in front of the seedy back drop of gas stations and drug dealers along America’s western highways.
I came upon this book in a quaint upstate New York town, the kind with antique stores and small little galleries to entertain traveling yuppies from Manhattan on autumn weekends. My mother and I liked this particular junk store that sold $5 blind bags. They were usually stuffed with things like collectible spoons from Niagra falls and chipped mugs, but the nice elderly lady who ran the place also always tried to include a book, a possible treasure amongst the junk. To be honest, in my bag on that particular day was a tome of a biography about Jimmy Hoffa, the labor union leader. I’m not sure if it’s a better story if my mother was sacrificing enough to swap with me, which is true, or if The Speed Queen had fatefully originated in my brown paper bag; King would like both tellings, I think.
I just about devoured the Speed Queen in one night. It is written in a style that King fans could claim O’Nan must have scammed from the man himself. I, however, had a different explanation for the similarities in writing and in the love of fast cars and classic western Americana. At that moment of my serendipitous discovery, I was probably around 14, which means I would have finished reading the Dark Tower series for the first time. I had never heard of Stewart O’Nan, but I had read enough Stephen King books to suspect that my train may have been traveling for a time on one of the paths of the beams, and that I had been passing through a thin space between my world and one where O’Nan is just another version of the Dark Tower author who wrote himself into his own novel; it’s not like King hasn’t done it before. It was too good a book to have been found in some junk store in Nowhere, New York unless I was meant to have it or there was something fantastical behind the finding. Maybe when you read it, you’ll get that feeling too.
Steward O’Nan, of course, is actually a real person (probably) and writer as well as a friend of Stephen King. They even collaborated on a novella together called “A Face in the Crowed” in 2012 and wrote a chronicle of the Red Socks’ 2004 season in “Faithful.”
You can find the Speed Queen on Amazon
What would you recommend your fellow King fanatics?