I read Dolores Claiborne the year it came out. My mother was part of the Stephen King Book Club so she received all of his new stuff in the mail without ordering it. I was thirteen the year this came out, and Mom was still filtering out adult content from my reading material, so when it arrived in the mail while my mother was still at work, I was ecstatic. I was finally going to be able to read a Stephen King book, an author whom my mother loved and respected. I could finally see what all the fuss was about! I rushed from the mailbox to the porch, sneaked through the front door (Dad was asleep in the living room as per usual; a Cubs game on the boob tube, his snores bleeding in with the sounds of the crowd at Wrigley’s Field), and slinked down the hallway to my room. All the while the package remained nestled snugly under my arm. In the privacy of my chambers, I ripped open the thick cardboard, slipped the novel out, and settled back on my bed. That new-book smell hit me, that fresh, subtly vanilla odor us bibliophiles come to equate with joy, and I grinned as the book creaked open. I began reading at five that afternoon and did not stop until I heard my mother come through the front door at eleven-thirty that night. I tucked Dolores away between my mattress and bed springs and went to tell my mother goodnight.
I read this book over the course of three nights. Heavy shit for a thirteen year old, but I managed to understand all that was going on. What stayed with me the most was Dolores’s husband’s nails scraping against the inner wall of the well she’d thrown him down. That was my first true experience with horror. I was scared. Terrified. I have never reread Dolores Claiborne because I don’t have a need to be that scared ever again.
Tired of reading yet? I hope not, because I’m finally getting to the point. Before Dolores Claiborne, I thought the horror genre solely dealt with monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s creation and Wolfman and the Mummy and the Blob and so on. Monsters were cool, dude, not scary. You rooted for them, and even though you knew the good guy would eventually vanquish them, you knew they’d be back. Wanted them to come back. Horror wasn’t scary. Horror was awesome. Dolores Claiborne was not awesome. It was terrifying. I would go on to read everything King ever published, not because I enjoyed Dolores Claiborne, but because Stephen King, armed with nothing but words, managed to extract from me a fear so life altering I’ve spent my entire adult years trying to recreate the magic. Funny thing is, Dolores Claiborne isn’t really a horror novel. Neither is The Wizard of Oz, The Bible, or One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest, but those three books scared the shit out of me too.
The scariest monsters are real. They’re your friends and neighbors and family members. They’re you.