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IT by Stephen King (Viking: $22.95; 1,138 pp.)

October 05, 1986| WHOOPI GOLDBERG | Goldberg is a stage and screen actress whose many credits include "The Color Purple."

Before you open the book "It," there are a few traits you must possess.

1. You must have patience to follow the story. Like, through chapters that alternate from past to present.

2. You must have a keen memory for what happened to whom and when and why and how it all connects to what you're reading at the moment.

3. You must have a strong stomach. Some descriptions are so vivid they can replace willpower for dieters.

4. You must have a sense of humor--ideally, a strange sense of humor.

All this, I stress, before you start reading Stephen King's longest and (take it from a longtime fan) most complicated book.

"It" begins in 1957, eight months before the horrors begin and 28 years before the final showdown. We are introduced to one of the main characters, Stuttering Bill, early on. Bill's younger brother, George, is the first to succumb to It's wrath. After a flood in town, George is playing outside with a toy boat, watching it float down the street and eventually fall through a grating. He kneels down to look for it and hears a voice, the voice of a clown speaking to him. George reaches down to touch the clown and . . . is never seen again alive.

Next we find ourselves involved in a present-day murder investigation. The victim was gay. During the course of the investigation, we meet both the murderer and the victim's boyfriend. Both mention seeing a clown. One police officer, only one, contemplates the significance of the clown.

Now it's back to the past, where we begin meeting the other main characters, a group of kids growing up in a town named Derry. As the kids become aware of It and the harm It can cause, they begin to share their individual experiences. They develop camaraderie in the common fear and desire to eliminate It. The boys discover, too, that they share an admiration for Beverly. Experiencing the "first's" together--first kiss, first etc., they begin to take care of each other. Time passes. The bond among them strengthens.

Eventually, they grow up and go their separate ways, establishing themselves in successful careers all over the world and losing touch until they decide to reunite back in Derry. They have decided to figure out how to kill It and prevent It once and for all from doing any further harm.

As adults, the characters do not remember specific events that occurred when they were growing up. It is not until the Derry reunion that things begin to be revealed to them--and to us.

In a scene to be read in a well-lit room only, It confronts the group in a Chinese restaurant, approaching each character in turn, attempting to break down their confidence individually and collectively. King's characters are so real, you feel you are reading about yourself. And he has a tremendous ability to create fears that readers can identify with, the strange fears of childhood such as: Will the flesh fall off my face?

When Beverly returns to her childhood home, she is greeted by an old woman, who informs her that her father no longer lives there. The old woman invites Beverly in for tea. But during the course of their conversation, Beverly realizes that there is something distinctly amiss with this woman. Beverly becomes progressively more uncomfortable, and then odd things start to happen. The tea begins to taste strange. The woman slowly starts to disintegrate before Beverly's eyes. Horror fantasy? Yes, but if you have ever had a feeling that someone or something just didn't seem quite right, you will be able to relate to this incident.

I wait for each new King novel as an alcoholic waits for that next drink. I am addicted. If you are not, I suggest you introduce yourself to King's work through one of his earlier novels--"Carrie" or "The Shining." If, however, you are already a King addict, "It" will overwhelm you.

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