I Screamed, I Cried, I Threw It Across the Room


I love lists of things and I found another good one this morning. It is “18 Films You’ll Never Watch Again”, courtesy of the folks at movieseum.com. It’s not that the films that make the list are poorly done; they are not. They are by and large wonderfully done, but their subject matter is of the type with which you don’t want to deal, unless you have a half-gallon or so of bleach to pour into your sulci when you’re through. There is plenty to agree with (Bad Lieutenant made the list, as did Sophie’s Choice to name but two) and with which to disagree (The Devil’s Rejects? Are you kidding?!) but the list is worth perusal when you get a moment as it is wide-ranging and lists a few films that even the most ardent film buff might have missed.

So. Where is the list of books that are worthy of being read but, topic-wise, were more than could handle? I imagine that a number of folks would put THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy on that list (the film version had its own entry) because of the dark, unrelentingly grim, subject matter. I would not, even though there are passages in that book which in their entirety haunt me still. No, my entry is PET SEMATARY, by Stephen King, the novel, which, according to King himself, the novelist Tabitha King begged him not to write. I agree with her; while I was reading the book, I screamed, I cried, I through it across the room, I stomped it, and then I finished it. The book concerned two things that I handle: the death of children and the death of pets. That PET SEMATARY deals with those subjects (and I’m not going to tell you how, if you haven’t read the book; no spoilers here, Bucko) would have been bad enough, but then King, God Bless him, takes things a step further with a very subtle, brilliantly conceived and wondrously executed “what would you do” scenario. I know what I would do, in a circumstance similar to that which confronted Louis Creed: I would do exactly what Creed did, even knowing what would happen, on the chance that something different might occur.  And that, my friends, is what I can’t deal with. I have more stories unpublished than otherwise, with mayhem and mortality and violence visited upon the innocent and the guilty alike, but I have never harmed a child or a pet in any of them. It’s someplace I can’t go.

If I may, then: what book did you find fearfully and wonderfully written that you nonetheless refuse to ever read again? Why? What elements of that book for you are the spiders in the shoes at the bottom of the closet, those shoes you won’t wear anymore? And can you write about your fears in your stories, or do you leave them unspoken, so as to rob them of life? 

40 thoughts on “I Screamed, I Cried, I Threw It Across the Room

  1. Ah yes. I do think Pet Sematary is one of King’s best, not just for the squirm factor but because it deals with the best theme of the best horror: the moral consequences of our actions. Maybe I should read it again, huh?

    While I’m trying to think of a novel, another film came immediately to mind: The Deer Hunter. It still haunts me.

  2. Jim, how could I forget The Deer Hunter?! The Russian Roulette scene…I was rolling around on the floor, and I wasn’t laughing. I can’t watch that movie to this day. Great film, however, incredibly well done. Thanks!

  3. As a teen, I watched a movie called Cellular, where a kidnapped woman hotwires a cellphone to call for help, and gets a teen on the other end who has to rescue her. There were so many points where the captive woman could have fought back/killed her captors, and every time she just melted into a quivering, sobbing heap instead. I’ve never shouted at the screen so much in my life.

    • Kessie, I remember that movie! A number of critics actually liked that film. I, however, am with you. You might be surprised, though, at how many people, male or female, wouldn’t fight back in a similar situation and instead wait sobbing and quivering for the non-existent cavalry that never arrives. Thanks!

  4. I remember as a child how angry I was at my parents at the end of Old Yeller. I felt they were cruel to have made me watch a film that made me so, so sad. I think in a quiet corner of my heart I never quite forgave them for it.

    Then add the trauma of Where the Red Fern Grows which we watched in class before reading the book, and a lifelong rule was laid down in my young mind.

    A movie a book are only good if the good guy wins, the bad guy clearly loses, and the good guy gets the girl.

    I have read books and watched films that break this rule since, but I cannot think of a single one I would watch or read again.

    I watch movies and read to give my imagination a needed holiday from the painful truths of the world. The good guy doesn’t always win, sometimes a bad guy escapes without the consequences he really deserves, and the girl is too foolish to realize what a good thing she had.

    That’s life and it can make a soul bitter. A good book that keeps the hope of heroism, justice and love alive in my mind is medication to be taken as needed. And I believe that it is those tales that will help me to face my fears, to trust the blindness of justice, and to love even when it hurts.

    • Wren, I have never watched Old Yeller. I heard about it in time to avoid it. Would that I had never watched “Bambi.” My early youth would have been less traumatic!

    • Wren, I wasn’t angry at my parents, but I can still remember the theater where I saw Old Yeller — on Lane Avenue, in Upper Arlington, OH — and my reaction. I never watched it again and wouldn’t let my kids watch it either. One movie that might meet your criteria is Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. My sons wore out our VHS tape of it by watching the last few minutes, over and over.
      I’m totally with you on sustaining heroism, justice and love. I need a constant dose. Thanks for stopping by again.

  5. “Pet Semetary.” First novel that, as an adult, I made a conscious I wasn’t going to read after making it halfway through. I could see what was coming, and just didn’t want to go there. Call me a wimp, call me a wuss, I just didn’t want any more on the theme.
    In movies, my wife and I agree that “Life is Beautiful” is a great movie, brilliantly acted, wonderful – and we’ll never watch it again. Once was enough. Heart breaking, horrifying, but brilliant.

    • John, you’re not a wimp or a wuss. You’re smart. I haven’t been able to bury a pet without thinking of that book. Worse, I imagine for months — even years — that they’re still alive, under the ground. You did good, bro — I didn’t, and I’m paying the price.

    • I have never read this book of King’s. But I remember having to rebury my little brother’s dog after coyotes dug the poor beast up the first time.

      It’s likely a good thing I didn’t know about King in those days.

    • Whoa, Truant. Another one I forgot, as I did with The Painted Bird, allegations of plagiarism notwithstanding. Can’t believe that Kosinski also wrote Being There. Thanks!

    • Elizabeth, does your distaste for Elizabeth George novels have anything to do with WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER, or perhaps the death of a certain character’s wife in particular?

    • I’ve read one Elizabeth George book in my life, A Great Deliverance. It’s stayed in my head all these years because, although the writing is excellent, the violence is horrendous. I very much enjoyed the interchanges between the detectives, Lynley & Havers. Our local PBS station isn’t showing the Inspector Lynley series & if they did, I’m certain they’d tone the violence down quite a bit.

      Tina, I’ve never read What Came Before He Shot Her, so, no.

      Forgot to mention one other writer I’ll never read again, John Connolly, for similar reasons. In the one book of his that I’ve read, it was just one death after another, each bloodier & more painful than the last.

    • Elizabeth, thanks so much for circling back. I know what you mean about John Connolly. He is one of my favorite authors, though not so much because of the violence as the fact that the evil which Charlie Parker confronts is truly EVIL in its manifestations, and Parker fights fire with fire, and then some. I have recommended him to many, but not to everyone because of that. Elizabeth’s books are rough-edged in spots, certainly, as well, and again, I’m a fan of hers for the same reason, good vs. evil in its darkest manifestations.
      That being said, I had a great deal of trouble reading Poppy Z. Brite’s early novels because of the violence, and particularly because of the cannibalism, among other things.
      That said, thank you again for replying so quickly and we look forward to hearing from you again in the future.

    • P.S. I remember from years ago hearing handed-down wisdom that writers (and filmmakers) should avoid producing work which featured the death of a child or animal. Whatever happened to that sound advice?

    • You reminded me of a book my sister in law insisted I read, The Lovely Bones.

      It was horrifying and profoundly sad, but I loved the ending. Justice was served. I *might* be able to read it again because of that.

  6. Kathryn, there is at least one mystery magazine that still admonishes would be contributors to “never kill the cat.” Amen. And thank you, Kathryn, for once again posting my humble offerings on Facebook, something which I always forget to do. Bless You.

  7. Well, I will try again. Every time I comment here, I lose the first one. For movies: Texas Chainsaw Massacres, and Passion of the Christ. For Books: Lisey’s Story (although Stephen King said it was his favorite, I could barely get through it), Rosemary’s Baby, and the last book in Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. I renewed it 9 times from the library because I had read the whole series and wanted to finish it, but I just couldn’t. I finally took it back to the library after only reading about one-third of it. It was way too boring with all the constant repeating of copious description of the caves and fauna.

    • Rebecca,re: losing your comments…. the same thing happens to me quite a bit, but don’t tell anyone. Re: The Land of the Painted Caves, you’re not alone. That was an oft-repeated criticism of the book.

      As for movies, alas, the very first TCM, the original one, was horribly paced but terrifying at the end. I can’t bring myself to watch it again, either. Thanks!

  8. I hope to never read MOMMY MUST BE A FOUNTAIN OF FEATHERS (Hyesoon) ever again. I plan to watch Sophie’s Choice and Bad Lieutenant several more times before I die.

    • Tina, I was unfamiliar with Mommy, and looked it up. I wanted to bleach out my eyeballs after a few lines. What I saw was well-written, but…aghhhhh.

      I think that one reason I have avoided watching Bad Lieutenant again is that I saw so much of my (potential) self in Harvey Keitel’s lieutenant character. Better for me to look away, but I hope you continue to enjoy it. Thanks!

  9. As a kid, Old Yeller’s death didn’t bother me as much as the horror of seeing a beloved family pet becoming a snarling monster. I lived in fear of rabies.

    The Yearling and Goodbye, my Lady, are on my list of NEVER AGAIN.

    • My mom couldn’t make me understand that dogs who contracted rabies had to be put down. What a horrible ending. Oh, and Kessie, I forgot about The Yearling, another sad one. Thank you for the reminder.

      Harry & Tonto is yet another, an otherwise very well-done movie which sacrifices a pet. When the movie was first released in the mid-1970s, my girlfriend at the time cajoled me into taking her to see it. She assured me that Tonto didn’t die. Of course, he did. Afterward she was somewhat blase in telling me that she knew that Tonto didn’t make it to the closing credits, but didn’t tell me because she knew I wouldn’t go. I broke up with her. To paraphrase Harlan Ellison, a boy loves his dog, and his cat.

    • Ah, there’s a movie ~ A Boy and His Dog~ early Don Johnson, I think… Sets you up for the pet saceifice~ but goes sideways with something you say. “Duh”, to when it happens, even if you should-a seen it coming… (too much said, maybe… )

    • It was early Don Johnson, G. and is based on Harlan Ellison’s award-winning story of similar name. The story is MUCH better than the film, and ground-breaking for the time. The ending, back in 1969, was much less predictable.
      I remember Looking for Mr. Goodbar — also based on a better book, and indeed, it was a wild night’s ride in either medium. I recall reading somewhere that traffic in singles bars dropped off for a bit after the film came out. Thanks for dropping by and participating.

  10. I go along with the Deer Hunter above, but add Looking for Mr. Good-Bar~ saw in college and was “eh” about it until the end~ definitely changed my opinion ~ its violence still makes me shudder and curl my toes ~

  11. Ugh, I can’t stand “The Road.” I hate the super simple sentence structure, the lack of punctuation (it’s all for “art’s sake” anyway) and the complete and utter lack of hope in the story. Even the end is hopeless.

  12. R.A., it’s a dark one, all right. What I took from it was the love of the father for the son, even in the darkest of moments. I kept waiting for a Deus ex machina to spring forth and make everything/something/anything okay, but having read McCarthy before, I should have known better. He takes it on the nose quite frequently for his practice of eschewing punctuation. I don’t agree with the criticism but I surely understand it. And though I have re-read The Road a few times it’s certainly a candidate for a list of books one wouldn’t want to revisit. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Joe, good morning! I thought I missed out on the discussion last night. Sorry I took my comment down. I realized, after I wrote it, that I hadn’t answered your question about books. Like getting the wrong answer on a quiz, because I didn’t read the question carefully enough.

    Anyway, loved reading all the discussion last night. My two books that I wouldn’t try reading again are THE SHACK, by Wm Paul Young, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John le Carre. My reasons are different from much of the discussion thus far. THE SHACK was well written, but I had difficulty picturing the Trinity as the book described it, felt sacrilegious to me. TINKER TAILOR, the book, was so dense with English colloquialism that I couldn’t understand it.

    As for the horror and violence of much of the previous discussion, I’m such a wimp that I stay away from books that look like they may be more than I can handle.

    Thanks for your post. I always enjoy them.

  14. Steve, good afternoon! And please…feel free to post your original comment, any and all contributions are welcome here at TKZ.

    I was unfamiliar with THE SHACK until you mentioned it, and there is indeed quite a bit of controversy about the book, much of which mirrors your own. The Trinity has always been a difficult concept for me, one which I ultimately have accepted on (admittedly shaky) faith. Reading some of the comments about THE SHACK indicates at least to me that others have a much firmer grasp of the concept, and that THE SHACK, if nothing else, gave believers the opportunity to define and express their own belief. I take your point, certainly. I have had any number of books spoiled by dissertations seemingly dumped into the middle of them for no apparent reason. I know that this isn’t what happened in THE SHACK, but my reaction to it when it occurs is similar to yours.

    By the way, if I were to attempt to describe you in a word, “wimp” is hardly the one for which I would reflexively reach. Being a physician, you see and take care of things on a daily/hourly basis that most of us would go out of our way to avoid. Someone who saves a life is called a hero; someone who saves thousands of lives is called a doctor. Thank you, Steve.

  15. Julie, I’ve never read it. The subject matter sounded as if it was an attempt to legitimatize abuse (and gee, wasn’t it ahead of its time). I’ve got enough nightmares floating around in my head to add another one. Thanks for the reminder, much appreciated.

Comments are closed.