⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Pros: brutal story, amazing characters, actually scary, nice blend of real world and supernatural horror
Cons: dense, long winded writing
TRIGGER WARNING: VIOLENCE, CHILD MURDER, SEXUAL ASSAULT, PRETTY MUCH ANY TRIGGER THERE COULD POSSIBLY BE, BEWARE.
So this year, I decided it was as good a time as any to read my first Stephen King novel. I am not a stranger to Stephen King, of course, I have enjoyed several of his movies: IT, Pet Semetery, Carrie, Salem's Lot, etc. but I'd never read any of his books until now.
I decided to finally read one because have heard just so, so much about King. "He is the King of horror!" and "No one does it like him!" etc, etc. I remember a scene from FRIENDS where Joey reads The Shining and gets so scared, he puts his copy in the freezer. Clearly, King was well known but as a contrarian, I don't always like what everyone else does. Would I like his stuff? More importantly... would it scare me?
I picked The Outside under the impression is was one of his shorter novels (I was wrong and didn't fact check it before I started.) At 576 pages, I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew and it took me a long time to finish, but I did it. Let's get into it!
THE PLOT, THE CHARACTERS, THE WRITING
So the story is set in a small town and in the wake of a horrific child murder. Right from the start, the details were brutal and the writing was intrancing. I think it definitely helped that I chose the audiobook to begin with and the narrator did a phenomenal job but even without it, there was a lot happening right from the start. The police force decides to arrest the man responsible in a very public way and as the story unfolds, they are less and less sure that they have the right man, if they made a mistake by making his arrest a spectacle in the town and if they have any clue what the hell is going on.
It has so many twists and turns, there are some incredible characters as well. The different parts and chapters offer unique perspectives and each character that takes the wheel is more interesting than the last. More than anything... the book WAS scary! At one point I got actual chills while reading which was a new experience for me. I have gotten upset, audibly gasped or yelled in anger over a book before... but chills is a new one, and one you can't really force.
The one thing that did kind of hurt the book in my opinion was how long and long winded it was. The writing was very dense, which I don't tend to mind, but the dense writing plus the length of the story and the jumping back and forth between characters was a challenge for me. I didn't let it count too much against the score though, because I did still greatly enjoy the book, it's just something to keep in mind!
I really enjoyed the southern jargon. As a southerner myself, it is always fun to see yourself reflected in a story. Sometimes it isn't a positive portrayal but that's ok. I think it added to the scary factor of the story for me in particular because it made it feel very close to home.
I had no idea what was happening for a large chunk of the book and that is not always the case. I tend to cycle through every possible scenario while reading - it's a blessing and a curse, tbh - but for this one, I was very confused. I knew something was off or not adding up after everyone who was interviewed said that without a doubt, they saw Terry Maitland on the night in question, I just didn't know what. I was way off course for at least the first third of the book.
I really liked all of the characters so much but I think my favorite were Holly, Ralph and Yune. Holly was weird and a little shaky in her confidence but was actually really cool and more than capable. Ralph seemed to be redeemable and all around good in his quest to find the truth. Yune was fun to read and get to know through the book and I loved when he shared folklore about el Cuco and Farnicoco. Truly frightening stuff.
Hearing the girls - Sarah and Gracie - talk about the man with the straws for eyes had me on edge.
Speaking of the man with straws for eyes, when Mr. Peterson was trying to unalive himself in his backyard and he saw the man standing at his bbq grill... that. That was the moment that gave me chills. I was simply not ok.
The ending was great, although I was very sad for all of the lives lost. The spookiest part of maybe the entire book was when the monster, the outsider, the thing in the cave said "Have you seen another one like me somewhere?" it not only made me freak the eff out, but it opened such a terrifying door of there being more of them out there.
Overall, I am very pleased with my first Stephen King! I wanted to be sure to pick one that I hadn't already seen a movie remake of, I wanted my perception to be untouched and solely focused on the words I read. Other than how long and dense the book was, it was very enjoyable. I highly recommend the audiobook version too, if you're into that. Will Patton brought so much to the story in his narration. There is also a television series on HBO by the same name. I haven't watched it yet, but I may have to give it a shot and see if the things they bring to life are anything like what I envisioned in my head.
Also, please enjoy my GoodReads review and follow me there if you'd like! This review is a great summary of all the things I plan to discuss at length below.