Mainstream success does shine a great deal more light on an author, so he/she ends up being more widely read and, therefore, more widely criticized or praised. I haven't liked all of his books, which is par for most courses, but I have found some quite haunting and atmospheric. I recall vividly, at 17, reading his Cry for the Strangers, and feeling terribly uneasy. I didn't know how he achieved it, but he managed to instill fear in me.
The first book I read of Saul's was Punish the Sinners (I love these early titles!), a tale of a medieval curse visited on the pretty girls of a small desert town in Eastern Washington. Fast-paced, hysterical about the subject of Evil, slightly perverted -- I enjoyed it. Like many early Saul books, it opens with a description of a horror from the past, then re-locates to the present day where that same horror rears its ugly again.
Many have criticized Saul for writing the same book over and over. They assume that because the first five titles -- Suffer the Children, Punish the Sinners, Cry for the Strangers, Comes the Blind Fury, When the Wind Blows -- had the same ring to them, he's recycling. It's really not true. Obviously, these early titles were a marketing decision, and they must have done their job. Saul sold millions, and continues unabated to this day. But the books are all significantly different.
Innocence perverted, curses exacted, children paying for their parents' sins, and undying evil are themes that clearly rock Saul's boat. He enjoys the small town setting, favors the coast, and usually opts for an historical subtext. Is that a sin? Most writers focus on themes that interest them, that fire off their creative pistons. It's each authors' themes that make that author unique.
Does Saul's writing achieve greatness? For me, it achieves commanding readability. I'm not smart enough or well read enough to judge the greatness of anything. What's great to me is a pile of shit to the guy next door. Keep in mind that one of my favorite novels of all time is Pierce Nace's Eat Them Alive, a super-gory, super-ridiculous book about a castrated gimp and his army of vengeance-seeking prey mantises. To me, the book is beyond great, and that's the important part. When it comes to films and books, your own reaction is all that matters. The man or woman who ventures into the unknown with an opinion poll in hand is a pathetic creature indeed.
I started this blog to share the stuff I love. I love it so much that I want to give others the opportunity to try it. That's my mission. Nothing more than that. I love to be pointed towards stuff I don't know about myself. I figure you might enjoy that, too.
Today, I felt the need to sing the praises of Mr. John Saul. He's been punching the typewriter keys for more than forty years. Telling stories still gets him out of bed in the morning. I respect that.
Give him a go!
I recommend Suffer the Children, Punish the Sinners, Cry for the Strangers, Comes the Blind Fury (such a beautiful evocative title), The Right Hand of Evil, The Black Stone Chronicles, The Unloved, Black Creek Crossing, Nathaniel, When the Wind Blows, and The Homing.
Read my rave about Eat Them Alive here: