Book Discussion “The Moving Finger”

Posted: September 24, 2012 in Discussions, On Books

I apologize for not doing the story discussion when I’d planned on. The power was out at my house on Friday.

And please note that there may be spoilers in this post, for those of you who haven’t read the story.

Any way. Topic of discussion: The Moving Finger by Stephen King.

Over view:

This short story is about a man named Howard who lives in a New York apartment with his wife, Violet. After his wife runs to the store one day, Howard hears a scratching sound coming from the bathroom. He grabs a broom and dustpan to deal with the invader, which he is certain is a mouse or rat. Upon searching for the vermin, Howard finds a human finger poking out from the drain hole in the sink. It feels its way around, as though searching for something. In shock and denial, he flees from the bathroom and tries to convince himself he didn’t see what he’d thought. Howard tells himself it was “air in the pipes”. Vi returns home and goes into the bathroom. She says nothing about the finger, and Howard draws the conclusion that she can’t see it. He manages to convince himself, at least partially, that it was nothing more than a hallucination. Later that night, after a few beers, Howard needs to relieve himself, and tries using the bathroom. The finger pokes out again, and Howard’s bladder refuses to comply with the strangeness in the bathroom. He makes an excuse to leave and goes pee in the alleyway alongside his apartment building. Throughout the night, he doesn’t sleep well, and when he gets up to relieve himself again, he stands over the kitchen sink and uses that instead. The next day, Howard stays home from work, citing a cold as an excuse. He finally falls asleep in his chair in the living room and has a dream. Upon waking, he has an idea for how to deal with the finger, which after his last look appeared to have been growing in length. Going to a hardware store, Howard chooses an industrial strength drain cleaner, and on second thought buys hedge trimmers that are on sale as well. He takes the drain cleaner into the bathroom, and pours it onto the finger, which rushes out to greet him. After a few minutes, the finger retreats, having had corrosive liquid dumped on it. Howard smells the burning flesh and fumes from the cleaner and pukes, then passes out. He wakes to find the finger nearly seven feet out of the drain, and coming after him. It wraps around Howard’s ankle. He manages to break free and heads for the kitchen. That is when one of his neighbors begins knocking at the door, asking him to keep it down. Howard does not agree to do so, and the man leaves to call the cops. Meanwhile, Howard is busy tearing apart the kitchen, looking for batteries for the hedge clippers.  He goes into the bathroom, ready to take on the finger. It manages to wrap itself around his ear and tries tearing it from his head. Howard grabs the finger and cuts it with his hedge trimmers. The finger lunges for him again, and Howard cuts off another section of the finger. The rest of it tries to flee down the drain, and Howard goes after it, managing to cut another section before it pulls itself back down the drain. Victorious, the man shouts and screams in a lunatic manner (as he had been doing to some degree since he’d returned home with the drain cleaner and clippers), then cuts the section of finger into small enough pieces to flush down the toilet. Then the cop shows up. He breaks down the door, and slowly goes through the house, searching for Howard with his gun drawn just in case. Finally the officer finds Howard in the bathroom, puke in his hair, his clothes melted and torn, blood everywhere, and he thinks for certain that Howard had murdered his wife. Upon talking to Howard, the cop learns that Vi is at work, then a splash comes from the toilet. Howard tells the cop that it’s a bad idea to look in there. The cop does any way.

I would like to touch on Howard’s sanity throughout the story. There is the question of whether or not he was sane to begin with, which I believe he was, however after seeing something so disturbing, I think Howard cracked. In the end he is nearly babbling incoherently, he speaks of things that wouldn’t make sense unless you knew what he’d been through. It’s a trauma induced insanity.

Throughout the story we are left wondering many things. Such as where the finger came from in the first place. Why didn’t the finger make itself apparent to Vi? How did the finger get into the drain? Why is the finger after Howard? Will the finger come back? Near the end, Howard raises the question as to where the other fingers could be, as there are five on just one hand, so there should be nine more, and then there is the matter of the owner of the finger.

How about the ending? It is an oddly ambiguous ending because nothing is actually resolved. Yet we feel that things are somewhat taken care of because there is an authority figure (the cop) there who can and will take charge. The finger is still out there, and Howard is unstable, yet the author chooses to end the story at this point. I feel that it is done for effect, to leave the reader feeling like there’s still something bad out there, so they’d better be careful. This sort of ending works well in short stories, however, I feel that it is not suited for novels. In novels, generally we need more closure, we need the loose ends all neatly tied. This story achieves its effect through leaving those loose ends hanging, by leaving the reader wondering and guessing.

At one point, Howard considers telling Vi about the finger. He chooses not to for fear that he may lose his job, as Vi’s father is friends with his boss. I found myself wondering what her reaction would be. I imagined she would be mildly afraid of Howard. He mentions that she would make him see a therapist. Had Howard told Vi about what he saw, this would be a very different story.

I enjoyed this story overall and found it to be a great read. Howard is a character most people can easily identify with, and he is generally like-able. The story is engaging and kept me wondering what would happen next. It seems to me that this story is meant to scare. It ends as it does to leave the reader feeling that the finger may still be out there, and who knows, it may come after you. This is achieved quite well.

Have you read this story? If so, comment and let me know what you think. If not, feel free to comment any way.

Also, if there’s a particular story any one would like me to discuss, leave me a comment and let me know. I’ll do my best to find it and read it so we can share in a discussion.




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