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LT's Theory of Pets
Stephen King
Simon & Schuster (Audio), 60 minutes

Stephen King
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, in 1947. He attended the grammar school in Durham, Maine, and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.S. in English and qualified to teach at the high school level. He met his wife, Tabitha, in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine of Orono, where they both worked as students. Unable to find a teaching job, the couple lived on his earnings as a labourer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men's magazines. In the fall of 1971, King began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted his novel Carrie for publication. A few months later, its paperback sale provided him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.

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A review by Trent Walters

LT's Theory of Pets Stephen King is probably one of the best readers of contemporary fiction (Gary Sinese's reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is probably the best; the BBC readers are fabulous, especially with 19th century literature in the wee hours of the morning). King has the perfect small town voice to read his own peculiar type of fiction, with a trace of a lazy, drawn accent that says, yep, you can't get there from here. Some folks put down audio fiction, but narratives naturally have their roots in an oral, storytelling tradition. Also, listening to fiction gives the listener better attention skills and utilizes a different set of processing mechanisms to instill the structure of story.

This reviewer hasn't always been kind to King in the past -- perhaps holding him to a higher standard -- but LT's Theory of Pets is a marvellous exception (as is "The Raft" but that's another story): a tale of a couple's demise through the giving of pets.

King begins his live reading by tossing off a few semi-lame jokes of black comedy ("you're all going to die some day... I don't want to upset you unduly... there could be somebody in your back seat... ask yourself: 'Did I leave the shower curtain open or closed?'") that titillates his British audience. He goes on to explain the origins of the story (someone's comment that people's pets grow to be like them) and the origins of ideas (wouldn't it be funny if...). The somewhat extraneous tale within a tale -- as he did with "The Shawshank Redemption" though the mystery of who-dunnit couldn't be done without a narrator emotionally removed -- shows LT sitting with the boys on the back dock at the plant, telling his tale of woe, of how his baby left him -- all because they exchanged a pair of pets. "It would be sort of funny," says King, "if the pets started liking the wrong people."

An axe murderer wanders the area when LT's wife, Lulubelle, gives LT a dog whose growls sound like purrs to Lulu but growls to LT. LT gives his wife a Siamese cat whose yowls sound like coming home to LT but yowls to Lulu. The pets drive the marriage apart: the dog vomits in LT's slipper, the cat rips the curtains to shreds. Lulu swears she'll take the cat to the pound, LT swears he'll do the same to the dog. Lulu leaves with the dog for her mother's place. Her car and the remains of the dog are found a short distance off, much later, but her body is not. At some point, the listener has to decide whether the narrator's narrator is reliable and to what extent, which will decide how the story will be interpreted.

King's humour dramatically improves within the confines of the story -- being more situational and, hence, more applicable to life, which improves the jokes. The tape is brief -- an hour -- but King's voice, insights into writing and human/pet behaviour (how similar the pets are to the owners bears little resemblance to how much they care for their owners), and excellent near-literary narrative make it worth several listenings. This reviewer has given it four so far.

Copyright © 2002 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared in The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, and The Zone among others. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine he can be seen coaching the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach, or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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