This is a trope-filled fantasy novel that lives and dies by its uses of said tropes. It’s a road novel and it’s a novel that has the best and worst that Stephen King has to offer. I have no clue what particularities Peter Straub brought to this one because I don’t know his work at all and there’s so much Stephen King in this one it’s hard to separate.
I did like this one a lot and think that it could make a very interesting and good tv show. It would be a bad movie since for the most part it’s already episodic in structure and written in a kind of serial way anyway. What that means is that it often starts its various section in media res and then cycles back to explain how we got there. And while there’s a driving force behind the journey, a need to go West, there’s nothing that happens in the novel that has to happen so much as a series of events and obstacles that hinder that quest.
This novel is about Jack, a tween boy, the son of an aging B-movie star mom and a slick, and dead, agent father, who is put on a quest by a an older Black man who makes Jack realize that daydreams he used to have as a boy were actually phase-shifting to a fantasy world. So in the style of Narnia, but grosser, Jack realizes that in order to save his mom from cancer? drugs? fading away? he must seek the magical MacGuff…er Talisman and bring it to her. Turns out his “uncle” is a cruel overlord of the Territories.
All of this sounds familiar and it is. Like I said, it’s tropes tropes tropes, but it’s also good and very 1980s. So as long as a tv production kept the 80s to a high degree and tamped down the homosexuality/pedophilia makes you bad as character development for bad guys to a minimum, this would be very good….maybe through one of those Stranger Things kids in there.