As a fan of Stephen King, I found a recent exchange on Salon over the bestselling author's merit (or lack thereof) interesting.
On one hand, there's Dwight Allen, who doesn't believe King is a major literary figure, as some have proclaimed. Allen doesn't think much of King's writing, and concludes his piece with the following paragraph:
"My son, George, who is now twenty-four, read a little King in high school, but he hasn’t gone back to him since then. After you’ve read Roberto Bolaño and Denis Johnson and David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, as my son has, why would you return to Stephen King? King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life."
I can see Allen's point, a little. I read a lot of King when I was in middle school and high school, and now I read very little. However, I think he's someone I'll return to every once in a while. His books are fun to read, for one thing, and you can read them quickly. That doesn't make them literature, but I will say this: King's horror classic "It" has lingered in my memory ever since I first read it, in the sixth grade, while I've forgotten most of the details of Pynchon's "V," even though I read it just a few years ago. "Infinite Jest" is a near-great book, but if allowed one book on a desert island, I'd choose "It," which touched me as few books have.
Anyway, Erik Nelson has penned a fine defense of King, questioning why Allen bases his assessment on three of King's lesser works: "Christine," "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" and "Pet Sematary." He writes:
"These three books are far from 'A'-level King, and, if I were a cynic, I’d think that was why Allen chose those particular three to write about.
Throughout his screed, Allen seems resentful that King continually attempts to reach above his station, and stretch beyond the cage of his genre. But King has consistently fought against the boundaries of 'horror' fiction and his publisher’s expectations. The reason he still writes 'Stephen King Books' is, well, he is Stephen King. It’s what he wants to write. And if 'Stephen King' can’t write the books he wants, well, let me introduce you to a guy named 'Richard Bachman.'"
Obviously, I'm on Nelson's side here. My guess is that people will be reading King for a long time, and that perhaps one day he'll be discussed as one of the great writers of our time.