From the Outsider In

Reading in the summer is a private and singular pursuit. Among the cherished memories of anyone who has spent a scalding unairconditioned summer in a remote beach rental, is the experience of the oceanside cottage bookshelf and its limited offerings. It's usually dusty, neglected and reflects the tastes of your never seen landlord (probably at least one Tom Clancy novel).

But, the story I'm about to tell you sounds like it came straight out of the first chapter of a Stephen King novel. Trapped in a ramshackle house on a beach in a sleepy New England town, with no television, no car, and only a fireplace and a shelf filled with books by the aforementioned author, a group of kids find themselves in a cramped kitchen fighting over a dog eared copy of The Dead Zone while everyone secretly wonders why The Tommyknockers started so strong and then drove itself off a narrative cliff halfway through. That was our summer of 1989.

You could feel the gravitational pull of the doom shelf as soon as you finished walking home from a long work shift. It beckoned you to come and sit a spell to pick up where you left off, like you were stuck in an old-timey domestic scene from the 1800s.

We started in chronological order. There was a book for every year starting with 1974s Carrie and ending with King's last offering from 1987, the much-maligned The Tommyknockers. By the end of August, most of us were devotees of The King of Horror. Our spooky summer came to a close and while we openly rejoiced that we'd be binge-watching cable television non-stop now, there was a tiny part of us that imagined another group of unsuspecting college sophomores getting sucked into the book nook vortex and instead of going boating and sunbathing they chose to embark on a supernatural murder spree. I couldn't help but feel we'd been overlooked because of our limited skillset and notable lack of kitchen knives. 

Eventually, all your favorite novels end up in the ham-fisted grip of some Hollywood do-gooder that thinks they can do them some justice.   The long road most of these books took from page to TV/film adaptations is now paved with the carcasses of "almost, but not quite" attempts. The Shining along with The Dead Zone and my personal favorite, Misery helped restore my belief that great things could result when someone else interpreted King's material but now we have the slowest burning, most dread laden proof we need.

HBO's The Outsider.

It begins with an act of absolute savagery, the brutal murder of an eleven-year-old boy. The investigation into this heinous act is led by grim but likable Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) and all the evidence points to a well-liked local teacher and coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman). DNA, video footage, eyewitnesses- it's an open and shut case. Except it isn't. Other witnesses, and more video footage and DNA puts Terry in a large group of people in another city far away at the time of the murder. A person cannot exist in two realities at once. This is the seemingly inexplicable horror story everyone needs.

At a loss to understand the baffling contradictory evidence, they call in Holly Gibney (a magnificent Cynthia Erivo) a non-traditional private eye with gifts that don't always garner understanding from those around her. It's an uncomfortable exploration of fear and grief and the unknown terrors that we can barely make out in our peripheral vision. It takes its time fueling our anxieties week to week while we become more invested in characters that may or may not make it across the finish line.

This is a haunting show (and book) that stays with you long after you've watched the last episode or turned the last page. Highly recommended for fans of horror, drama and a good old fashioned detective story.

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