The waste lands

Eh, so I get tomorrow off of work.

So I can sit in a sterile room with a TV blaring bad daytime shows waiting for my number to be called so that I can discharge my civic duty.

Yep, got called for the jury. And here's the kicker: Since I live in Queens, I have to go to the Queens Courthouse. Can't even pretend Jack McCoy's going to walk in the room, since that would be Manhattan. I did it a few years ago, when I was working for another company. A day wasn't so bad. The second day they brought a bunch of us into a room for some kind of traffic accident case and began quizzing each individual person minutely. It was agonizing. Then the case got settled and they let us go home with a paper saying we were taken care of for a few years. So, time passes; here we are again.

They say "no electronic devices," so I'm afraid even the iPod can't be allowed in. Which means I'm going to get really, really caught up on my reading.

In a way, that's good: I'm committed now to reading the whole of Stephen King's Dark Tower sept-ilogy, or whatever you call it. I believe there are seven volumes; I'm on No. 3. I had gotten all the way into No. 4 ages ago, but knowing the whole thing wasn't finished and wouldn't be finished fast enough for me to read straight through, I gave up. Now that he's all done, I'm back in and buzzing through.

What's interesting is that he says in his before and afterwards and all of the other introductions that this series called to him over the years. That he would get letters from people saying "I'm 90 and will you please finish before I die, thank you." He intimates there is a large, loyal following for the books. And — hell, it's Stephen King, so who am I to dispute? I, who on a good day have 1.25 fans of my fiction — me, and the last person who vaguely noted that sure, they'd love to read something and — ooh! A shiny thing.

The thing is, that now that I'm in No. 3, "The Waste Lands," I'm realizing why it was so easy to put the series aside before. I don't know that it's one specific thing, but it has begun to irritate me again, in vague ways, like a burr under the saddle, or a rubbing to a blister. They're superficial in places — in one book, there's a whole vocal exchange about how the gunslinger has never heard the word "invisible" — he uses something like "not-there" or "no-person" or something; then, during an internal discussion he's having later on he uses the word quite easily, like he's always had it as part of the vocabulary. And the paintings — sometimes it's nice to have a visualization of what's going on in the stories, but aside from the fact that they're often amateurish, they make grotesqueries of the characters and don't even conform to the story: Susannah's "dress" gets fire sparks on it, but the drawing from earlier that day indicates she's in a very tight-fitting shirt and jeans.

But it's not even just those things. There's a lot — a lot — of waffling around, and dragging of feet, and going over of same subjects, and retreating from real discussions for boring reasons or sudden "obstacles." You have a lead character who has gone on this quest and seen magic and marvels and traveled between worlds, but is suddenly being driven insane because something he remembers happening (and we, the readers, know happened because we read it in No. 1) suddenly seems not to have happened. Look, if the man was going to be driven mad, he'd have gone there long ago. Then, the characters are one minute wiping each others' tears and the next minute sincerely calling each other "cold bastards." The diversions will drive you nuts — long, long dreams which may or may not have a bearing on what comes next, for one thing.

Yes, yes, I know. Stephen King is not a literary giant. He just sells giant literature. But I've enjoyed many of his books — up until he decided to get, well, literary on our asses — and never had this nitpicky kind of problem. This may be his great magnum opus, but it has a dashed-off, lazy feel. Maybe King should have waited until he had all seven done to actually start publishing. Or maybe I should just not think so much about it.

Will report back from the other side once I've gotten through No. 7. Which, if the jury duty drags on, could be by Friday.