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I love audio books. They make me feel as though I'm still young enough for a bedtime story. I like listening to them on long car journeys, after the point when loud music stops seeming to make the miles yet to travel pass more quickly. However, I don't love Stephen King, or the things he writes, or the stories he tells. So, when the little loaned package plopped through the door having fought its way through the Christmas post so valiantly, I opened it feeling fairly intrigued. I'd never heard the voice of Stephen King and here I was about to listen to him read one of his own creations. The children had been taken off by kind grandparents so that I could wrap up their Christmas presents, Michael was away visiting, so I was all alone in the house, ready for the so-called King of Horror to do his stuff. I sat down at the table to wrap the presents, took LT's Theory of Pets from its case, popped it into the stereo and pressed "play".
Oh dear. It was an inauspicious start. This is a live recording from a reading King gave at the Royal Festival Hall some while ago. LT's Theory of Pets hadn't been published in book form at the time and so the audience of King fans were fairly excited. So was the announcer or rather, the warm up man. As he whipped up as much enthusiasm as he could in his introduction he sounded like one of those boxing ringwhatsits (typing this the name they go by escapes me. Master of Ceremonies? The one I like is called Jimmy Lennon, anyway). Already I was giggling bitchily and waiting for a cry of "Let's get ready to rummmmmmmble!" Rather disappointingly, it didn't come although I did go on to wonder if King's fans would throw their knickers onto the stage a la Barry Manilow or Tom Jones.
Anyway, along came Mr King, to tumultuous applause, and I settled down with some nice, easy, rectangular presents to wrap, so that I could concentrate good and proper like. Perhaps the spooky writings of Mr King would seem so much better than I thought when read by the author himself. King had a few words with the audience before he began to read, and I giggled again. Mr King does not have an atmospheric voice. He has a squeaky, yet drawling voice which would sit very well on the kind of casual, laconic stand up comedian who has perfect timing. But King doesn't have perfect timing. It wasn't that his pre-reading, settle-them-down, get-them-in-the-mood, don't-look-behind-you jokes weren't funny, well they weren't very funny but were mildly so, it was the dreadfully theatrical, over-long pauses and magnanimous acceptance of applause that spoiled them. Oh dear again - a nasal twang, poor comic timing, and a spooky story to come. I perservered. On to the story...
LT de Witt is a man who can tell stories. His timing is perfect. During lunchbreaks at work he regularly spins a tale for his colleagues. His favourite is the one he calls LT's Theory of Pets. LT was married to Lulubelle and at first they were very much in love. And, as young couples in love sometimes do, they bought each other pets. LT bought Lulubelle a Siamese cat, Lucy, and Lulubelle bought LT a Jack Russell terrier, called Frank. But as animals also do, they chose their own loved ones. Frank chose Lulubelle while Lucy chose LT as their respective favourites and their owners grew to return the affection in the same way. Very slowly alliances were made, demarcation lines drawn, and the animals became symbols of the failing relationship between Lulubelle and LT. Frank urinated over LT's clean washing and vomited into his slippers while Lucy purred and rubbed around LT's legs when he fed her but remained aloof and out of the room when Lulubelle did, only deigning to enter and eat when she'd gone.
LT and Lulubelle learn to hate their respective partner's pet before they realise that really they are learning to hate each other. But, eventually, Lulubelle does the decent thing and before the marriage disintegrates any further she leaves, with Frank of course. LT comes home from work one day to find her Dear John note on the fridge. And that is LT's anecdote. Its moral is, when you love your pet more than your partner then there's something very, very wrong. It's a short story Stephen King is reading for his audience here, so there isn't much more to say without giving it away, although of course some more happens. The hairs on the back of your neck aren't standing up yet, are they? But if you were listening carefully to LT's humorous rendition of the break up of his marriage then you might be wondering about the casual reference to the ax man...
So, after the inauspicious start, did I enjoy the story? Hmm... well, it wasn't that bad, but it most certainly wasn't that good either. As I said, LT's Theory of Pets is a live recording, and to be honest, the echoing, slightly tinny reproduction didn't add much to King's nasal, flat voice. Someone deeper, fuller, more throaty, would have worked better. The observation and detail of the pettiness that the break up of a once good, domestic relationship brings was good though and I smiled at a few pictures in my mind more than once. Daily life, its joys and its woes, is so amusingly hum drum when hung out to dry in a story, isn't it? LT's Theory of Pets was quite funny - not tea-spittingly so, but amusing enough to make wrapping Christmas presents seem less of a chore, if only it weren't for that dreadful voice, playing not to its strength but to its weakness with its long, drawn-out pauses. By the end I was getting quite annoyed because it felt like King was appreciating himself, not his audience. Otherwise it was just a little story with a twist in its tail, more amusing than much King stuff, but still a bit spooky. With better delivery and a bit more grotesquerie it'd have been very similar to a Dahl Tale of the Unexpected (I like those, but I'm not an enormous fan). And really, that's it.
King, to my mind not a good writer; terribly inexact but fulsome with his vocabulary, derivative of plot, interminably l-o-n-g, and all the rest of it, is undeniably and almost unbelievably popular. Why is that? Well, I think that he is above all startlingly visual both in description and in the mental images he creates. And so, for many of his fans, who are often horror fans and not book fans, his work translates well from screen to book, book to screen and to the mental images enjoyed by those who enjoy horror. And there's nothing wrong with that; it's just not my bag. I'd rather have all of my senses appealed to in a book, and I'd rather some room was left for my imagination, rather than be given a visual explosion that simply takes it over, for that I'd rather watch a film. And here, in an awful piece of bathos, the visual impact of King's words are entirely lost, swallowed up by the poor timing and whining voice.
I'd not buy it, I'd not want someone to buy it for me, and even for a King fan it'd be a mid-range item for the collection I think. I'd say ownership of this tape is not recommended (hi Phil) unless you're a real afficionado. And even then, if I were a fan, I'd feel short-changed, with only one short story on offer for your money. In this reviewer's opinion there are many, many better ways to spend your shekels. You could buy me some chocolate, for starters!
This is most definitely not the first Stephen King related product I'd buy, if I wasn't familiar with his work. I can safely say that it is not his best and I'm an avid fan, though I liked the story idea. He does have a nasal, whiney voice doesn't he? I much preferred this story when I read it to myself!