Stephen King has been pretty forthcoming about the fact he’s not satisfied with his literary legacy. $45 million dollars and one of the most massive readerships ever not withstanding, he apparently also would enjoy some goddamn canonical respect, perhaps to transcend the ranks of gamers and fat kids and stand alongside William Faulkner and Jose Saramago. Or, you know, Jonathan Franzen.
When King recently announced plans for a follow up to The Shining, I couldn’t help but imagine him hoping somehow this next one would be the book that changed his fate. More so, I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like if instead of trying to write more literary novels, like, you know, Cell, and, uh, Under the Dome, he might just put one of those other lucky becoming-canonized American literary motherfuckers in the story.
I took the liberty of sketching some ideas for such a book.
“The Shining 2 by Jonathan Franzen by Stephen King” by Blake Butler
Jonathan Franzen takes a job as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in hopes of going nuts. He’s enjoyed coming to take the traditional American literary landscape by its face, but now he’d really just like to loosen up and maybe write a novel not about white people getting into emo shit. He’s not married anymore and has no children, so it’ll be just him up there, which is exciting because he can walk around the hotel naked all day with his junk all hanging out for months. He even decides to leave his John Irving collection at home, despite having slept every night for the past twenty years with all those novels massed around him on the mattress while clutching to his chest a copy of his own book, How To Be Alone. The only things he packs are his typewriter, some shirts, ten pairs of Duck Head shorts, and his “Indulgence Pack” (to use during the evenings, only after he’s done his work) consisting of an iPhone (for calling some other Jonathan when he feels sad), an iPad (for Fruit Ninja and trolling Facebook on his secret account), and an iPod (for Rod Stewart and Jay-Z).
Jon arrives at the hotel and sets up and gets to work immediately. The typing is slow-going at first, though, as he’s come up here unprepared, with no good outline or even idea of what he wants to work on, which he’s determined to make work. He forces himself to keep writing regardless, not once looking back over what he’s written. The hotel, he hopes, will take over his blood, which will then take over his novel. Like, totally mysterious. There might even be some zombies in this bitch.
Between long, static scenes of him just typing, Jon begins to act out the previous film. He restyles his hair and swagger in Jack Nicholson’s affect, puts on a bathrobe like in the climax of the film. He can’t find an axe so he carries around a walking cane and pretends it has a blade. He goes to the room with the elevators several times a day and stands there waiting, hoping each time as he approaches that the doors will come flooding open and cover him with blood, though when he goes and presses the UP button to force them manually, it’s always just the air there. He walks from room to room shouting “Here’s Johnny!,” each time feeling kind of giddy and kind of stupid that that really is his name. He goes in the food locker and eats raw meat until he can hardly stand up, the taste of animal on his lips turning him not homicidal, but sleepy. He rides and rides his plastic tricycle all through the halls with the wind ruffling his already wind-ruffled hair. He tries to write REDRUM on his bedroom wall, but instead writes FREEDOM.
He doesn’t find the twins. He doesn’t find Shelly Duvall. He doesn’t find the hot ass naked girl in Room 237, or even the big gross dead one. There’s no bartender.
“I don’t see what the big fucking deal with this hotel is,” Jonathan Franzen says in the high-pitched voice of Tony while scrunching his longest typing finger in the air beside his head. “Nothing is scary. You’re all a bunch of pussies.”
In a scene composed to Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu,” Jon decides to at last go back and look over what he’s written. Unlike Jack’s Gertrude Stein-like prattle, Jon finds to his horror: it all makes sense. Here he is, the same old J-Franz, once again scribbling out exploratory notes on theme and setting instead of actual sentences. He finds himself barking angrily at Apple products he’s not even realized he’s had at the desk there right beside him this whole time, the iMachines eating his face and brain with their dull white glow, their buttons, their goddamn internet capabilities (that fucking C-SPAN just rattles his whole bran, I mean brain! (there’s a typo for you shitheads, now we’re rolling)). His phone is crammed with incoming text messages containing “short-short fiction” from an MFA student he drunkenly gave his number to at a signing, as well as, more aggressively, the National Book Award committee asking if he’ll have the book ready in time to be nominated for next year, each of which he’s responded to without knowing with the same thing: LOL.
In more of a huff than a true frenzy, Jonathan storms out of the hotel into the hedge maze. He ends up getting irrevocably lost, as the maze does not run in a straight line from one clear point to the next, like the “mazes” his mother had taken him to as a young boy (they were hallways). He spends the remainder of the film lost in the hedge’s chaotic twists and turns, trying to remember anything he can about what he remembers an old friend mentioning to him in that goddamn Harper’s essay on experimental fiction, about, was it… Borges? The only thing he can remember from that fucking essay is Jorge Luis Borges, who he’s not even sure was mentioned in the essay but regardless seems to be the reason all these motherfuckers got into trying to write messed up shit in the first place, all this going on about endless spaces and illogical logic and no clear setting and disregard for human time, barfed from these lazy just-make-it-all-up sons of hell.
J.F. finds himself worked into such a rage he’s got his goddamn cell phone out, wielding it like a sword or some kind of laser like Han Solo did in Star Wars (you want fantasy, there’s some fantasy, motherfuckers, he screams at the blank white sky above him, George Lucas makes all you FC2 Dalkey Archive Borges sluts look like Fight Club!). There with the phone in his hands now, he sees the Wi-Fi signal up to three bars, even out here in the wilderness of this certainly several hundred thousand dollar hedge).
Hardly able to control his hands, he opens the web browser and pulls up an overhead view of the maze on Google Maps (godfuckingdamnit!), and on his hands and knees he crawls out, feeling roughed up and aged but in some way stronger and ready somehow newly alive in the world of men, ready again to forget this haunted house bullshit and get back to center of our true America, where all relationships are confusing but why we live, and all illnesses are terminal, and who he is is who he is. In no way could an ending to something he’s been part of seem more confirming of human life despite the trouble, how unto each there is a spirit we can’t avoid no matter how we might try, and Jon is weeping. Fresh falling snow clings to his face to melt like little kisses, each one reminding how it felt to write each word in all his books. Like, The Corrections. Man, that was a good one. Jonathan Franzen can hardly imagine any moment more coherent and defining of where he’s been and where he’ll go, his true next book’s theme crystallizing in his body as he emerges from the maze’s mouth to be only further brought to light by who waiting for him there he finds, who appearing for him in this moment but Oprah, she having shined his plight and flown all the way up from California in her private jet to take him once more warmly, firmly, against her breasts, into her arms.