Stephen King’s novella “Morality”, printed in the July 2009 issue of ‘Esquire’


The only reason I bought the magazine is because it had Stephen King writ in big letters on the front cover.
The fact that the word ‘Stephen’ was written in shoe polish on the very shapely forearm of Bar Refaeli, and the surname ‘King’ was written, again using shoe polish as a medium, underneath her breasts, had nothing to do with it.
It was because of the new short story by Stephen King.
I had gone to the bookstore to look and see if maybe Nightmares and Dreamscapes II was out in stores yet.
(it isn’t – only a reprint of Nightmares and Dreamscapes I ; and all because of them making a movie with Christian Slater in the title role ; there’s that and a book of his experiences making movies, plus ‘Just After Sunset’ ; another collection of short stories, a collection I already own in hardcover, and all of the stories are pretty good).
Instead I bought a copy of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I am getting close to finishing ‘Anansi Boys’ and I like it one whole helluva lot better than ‘American Gods’. I’ve almost finished ‘Anansi Boys’ and I only started reading it on Monday. I put down ‘American Gods’ after the third or fourth chapter. He just didn’t make his world something I wanted to believe in. ‘Anansi Boys’, though, is excellent. It kind of reads like Thomas King’s ‘Green Grass, Running Water’ only with an English twist. I know, in ‘Anansi Boys’ the deities are more caribbean than cree, but you will get the idea. Read them both. Just read Thomas King first and then read Neil Gaiman and you’ll see what I see.
So, I buy ‘Neverwhere’ and this copy of Esquire, feeling kinda like I’m buying porn. And I’ve never bought porn. Not once. I scoffed Dad’s stash of Penthouse (which I greatly preferred over Hustler and Playboy – I don’t think Dad ever had a copy of Hustler and if I ever read a copy it was one that was passed through the hands of many boys and the pages probably were dried out and stuck together, like those kinds of books tend to get) and perused them with great interest. But, I gotta tell you, believe it or don’t, no matter what porn I was reading, I eventually went to the articles.
Now, when I say articles, I mean the Forum page and Xaveria’s page. Those are the ones that turned my crank, especially the well written ones. And some of them were well written. Truly. They were written with a goal in mind and the good ones accomplished that goal. Some of them had their measure of mystery (I remember one about a guy having sex with an oriental woman for the first time and him remembering something that an old sailor told him about oriental genitalia being horizontal and not vertical – that intrigued the hell out of me) and all of them were pretty entertaining. I would love to manage to publish a short story in a literary magazine whose beginning went something like ‘I’m a twenty year old male from a small midwestern college and I never thought this would happen to me’.
I also remember a short story that was written in one of them. Damned if I can remember the exact title, but it went something like ‘The Bluest Lagoon’ and it was to be a sci fi sexual take off on ‘The Blue Lagoon’. I don’t remember the male’s name, but the female’s name was Cher. They were abandoned on a planet and left alone with a crotchety old pilot who had gigabytes (well, back in the day, gigabytes was not the terminology, but it’s the word I’m using) of porn. Well, he gets himself all liquored up from time to time, watches the porn when the kinds aren’t looking, and takes care of business to relieve the stress. Eventually, the guy either dies or takes off, and the kids are left to discovery their sexuality through porn. And what it ends up being is that they are completely dissatisfied with the role play and the toys and the movies, until they actually discover the act of sex, which they only enjoy after their relationship develops. And then they have fun with the toys and everything else. I remember the ending especially, because after years of being abandoned, a spaceship comes around to rescue them and the pilot and the captain observe the two kids screwing from orbit.
The pilot turns to the captain and says, “Should we go down and rescue them?”
The captain, who is actually Cher’s father but doesn’t realize it’s his daughter down there (something about when they were in the escape pod travelling at near to the speed of light, she aged significantly less due to time dilation) says to the pilot, “Save them from what?” and then they go on their way and the story ends.
Anyway, all of this is going through my mind as I am walking out of the store. I had read only the parts of the story that were written on Bar’s body and wondered what was inside. The story is interesting, and King does a clever job of playing up the whole indecent proposal thing, making it seem as if it is the whole point of the story, and it is and it isn’t. The story is about morality and what you do for money, but nothing so simple and basic as sex, though sex does play a large role in the story. Sex is about power and domination and that can be the basis of a morality. It is probably the sexiest story that King as written, at least as far as I can remember.
Because, in ‘Misery’, sex played no role. Annie didn’t want him for his body and she had more of a schoolgirl crush on Paul than anything else. But she was a power hungry bitch nonetheless.
‘Carrie’ had a basis in blood. ‘The Shining’ was about insanity. ‘Cujo’ was just fucking amazing – all about all kinds of monsters and not just the ones that hunt you down when you are trapped in a car.
‘Christine’ had a line in it about Archie Cunningham’s parents turning to sex when Archie got ‘difficult’ (if you can call being possessed by a crazy old man in love with his car as being difficult for a teen ; though it could adequately describe puberty for some kids ; a kind of possession by a demon) and Michael Cunningham has an interior monologue that he strongly suspected that his wife was using his penis for a sleeping pill – which I think was a genius line. I think King went from that paragraph to another when he remembered his one happy time with Archie that was totally his and Archie’s. I liked the transition.
And ‘Dolores Claiborne’, the titular character describes sex with her husband as him ‘throwing a fuck into her’. Again, genius use of words.
‘Pet Sematary’ has sex in it, used cleverly as well. And for me, that strikes me as a little embarassing, because of all of King’s books, I think he regards that one as the most personal. I’m none too sure that Tabby was keen on what he wrote there. But, then again, they both plied their trade in the skin magazines, and I don’t think either one of them are any kind of prudes.
As I think about the Stephen King stories that I can remember (without cheating and checking Wikipedia ; but I probably will tonight or tomorrow when I encounter a blank in my memory banks), that’s about it for the sex in them.
But ‘Morality’ has the sex. Not a lot of it. But powerful.
And it also has a message in it, and it sent me to Google and Wikipedia for it. Because one of the characters in the story refers to a work of philosophy called ‘The Basis of Morality’. Stephen King, in my view, is not much of a scholar and I did not think philosophy was his cup of tea (though, he does admit, in ‘On Writing’ about reading Herodotus with the help of some footnotes) but when he references it in the story, it suggests that he not only read it, but thought about it and how to apply it to a story. Now, he could be pulling my leg (as per the African Boomslang snake that paralyzes a character in one of his short stories, the character saved from being vivisected courtesy of an erection he gets when considering having sex with the doctor who was about to do the live autopsy on him – footnote to the story is that the character ended up dating the doctor but they broke up because she could only have sex with him when he pretended to be dead).
At any rate, when I’m done reading Gaiman I’m going to spend some time reading the two works that have ‘The Basis of Morality’ in their title and perhaps find the breadcrumbs that King might have left for me to find. And, if not, the sonovabitch caught me with a Bool (and, if you don’t know what a Bool is, you gotta read ‘Lisey’s Story’ and you gotta read it slow and then you have to buy the audiobook read by Mare Winningham).
For the curious, here are the two links, via Wikisource.
The Basis of Morality
On the Basis of Morality
I’ve bookmarked them to be read later.

And, for the people that like to read this kind of thing, here is my latest work in progress.
It’s inspired by two things.
One, is my favourite song by Led Zeppelin. ‘Gallows Pole’

Oh, yes, you got a fine sister, She warmed my blood from cold,
Brought my blood to boiling hot To keep you from the Gallows Pole,
Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard And see you swinging on the Gallows Pole

The other, is one of my favourite plays, written by Robert Bolt. ‘A Man For All Seasons’.
I’ve come to admire Sir Thomas More a great deal as a result, despite my rampant atheism. And, the part of the play that inspired my story is this one line, which has been in my head ever since I heard and saw Paul Scofield say it.

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

I’ve wanted to name our next child, if it is a girl, either Penelope (wife of Ulysses) or Margaret (daughter of Thomas More – he called her Meg) but I don’t think my wife will go for either one.

My story is not a great literary triumph and only one other person has seen a draft of this story, and I’m wondering what her opinion of it is.

The Promise

Other than that, all is well, thanks for asking and thanks in advance for reading.

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