“You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band” by Stephen King

The tenth story in Stephen King’s “Nightmares and Dreamscapes”, “You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band” is a mostly humorous piece that was originally written for the 1992 Shock Rock Anthology.

It’s a story about getting lost and going to Hell. In this case, Hell is a perfect Norman Rockwell style little town, with the improbable name of “Rock And Roll Heaven”, inexplicably located in a remote valley in a forested wilderness in Oregon.

Although the story idea is fun and more than a little creepy, it seemed to me to fizzle out a little at the end.

I ‘m not complaining though. For me, the fun part of the story was less with the Hell-disguised-as-Heaven literal tourist trap and more with the way Mary,, the main character, tells her story of her relationship with her husband.

At her husband’s urging, the two of them are leaving their soft city lives in Portland behind and heading off in their Mercedes sedan on a road trip into the wolds of Oregon. What follows is a master class in the compromises wives make to cope with the testosterone-driven idiocy of their husbands

I love the opening lines

“When Mary woke up they were lost. She knew it and Clarke knew it too, although he didn’t want to admit it at first. He was wearing his ‘I’m pissed so don’t fuck with me’ look where his mouth kept getting smaller and smaller until you thought it might disappear altogether and ‘lost’wasn’t how Clarke would put it. Clarke would say they’d ‘taken a wrong turn somewhere’ and it would just about kill him to go even that far.”

I could immediately see how this couple worked, the wife stronger and more level-headed than the husband but deferring, through gritted teeth, so they could both pretend that he in charge in a manly sort of way when convention called for it. A lot of the tension from this story comes from whether Mary is going to assert herself and push her husband’s pride to one side in time to save them both from the consequences of his poor decision making.

Mary tells her story with wit and affection but is not at all blind either to her husband’s weaknesses or to her own in giving way to him.

My favourite line in the story is when Clarke, genuinely worried now, finally asks his wife what she thinks. She replies:

“I’ve given up thinking – it keeps getting me into trouble.”

It’s a line that made me laugh. Then I thought about it and it seemed to me that it summed up the compromise that maintains her marriage and, on this road trip, puts both of them at risk. It’s the kind of thing I read Stephen King for. He knows that most of our hells we build for ourselves.

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