Insomnia – 2/5
This is one of the most 1990s books I’ve ever read, and that is sometimes ok, and almost never a boon. It’s also likely one of Stephen King’s most 1990 book, and that’s not a good thing really, and in fact this book is pretty bad.
Often, as it happens in king books, the supernatural element is less good than the fictional parts of the book. Not only is that the case with this book, the supernatural element becomes so distracting, so goofy, so cringeworthy, and so annoying that it actively takes away from what is good about this book. And the result is a book that is deeply marred by its plot.
So the good: I am interested by Stephen King writing about older characters, specifically employing older folks as his protagonists. Most of his protagonists are kids or people in their 30s or so. And while there are often older characters involved, they are usually used as sages, cryptic villains, warnings, and other ancillary figures. So to take a story of the 1990s, a time defined by its contrast of generations, where we saw the 50 year anniversary of D-Day and the rise of the internet, and look at it through the eyes of someone who is 70 is fascinating. I am not sure the characters are 70 when it comes down to it, and I wonder if King now would agree, given that that’s his age or if he would feel he got it right.
I also think looking at the divisive culture wars of the 90s (read: abortion) is also really interesting. Mass media and the internet made us increasingly more aware of the particular strong views of our fellow Americans, something we’re steeped in now.
But then the dumb dumb dumb way to narrate the supernatural element — that is the titular insomnia and the the cause and effect of it was so deeply unsatisfying.
Firestarter – 3/5
Firestarter works for the some reasons a lot of similar stories, books, movies, and tv shows from this rough era of American culture works–the distrust leftover from Vietnam, Nixon, the CIA’s surveillance of Americans, and lots of other similar undermining causes. It doesn’t work for the same reason–at some point that wears off and you’re left with a depressing story where even superpowers can’t really save you. So this story is a lot like Logan or Midnight Special and other throwback movies coming now–Stranger Things comes to mind too.
Anyway, it begins with a father and daughter on the run. The father’s health is in complete shambles and the daughter is being shielded against capture and exposure. It comes to light that the father has some light to medium telepathic abilities while the daughter has telekinetic/pyrotechnic abilities. All of these stem from government chemical tests of the father and his would be wife, leading to the birth of the daughter. We’re in serious media res on this and as King does, he loops back to fill in a lot of the back story with various in depth chronicling of the experiments and the follow up life.
It’s a perfectly fine book that feels a lot more like Richard Bachman than Stephen King, and while the market is ripe for it and Stephen King is an adequate writer to the task, the book is relatively unexceptional. Were he not who he is, this book would be even more forgotten than it probably already is.
Christine – 4/5 Stars
As I’ve already mentioned previously, sometimes King’s ability to tell a story is much stronger than the specifics of that story. I think this book is really well-written and interesting most of the concept of the book is quite strong. The supernatural parts get a little too goofy. He spends a lot of good energy not giving away a lot of the details about what is causing those elements in the story, but then he reveals just enough for me to be disappointed with the rest. Had there been a more real and clear explanation, it would have been better and had he had less to say on the topic it would have been better. This hits a sweet-spot of not quite there. It’s the opposite of other early novels like Pet Semetery and The Shining, which I think are almost pitch perfect in their origin and their writing.
But I liked this one. He tackles bullying and American masculinity as good as any other writer can. He’s good at getting characters to perform and get themselves to moments of casual sadism and cruelty so quickly and convincingly. His view and understanding of men in general really shows his insight even into conversations happening right now about Trump, the Supreme Court, and MeToo. And this book isn’t really about any of those things.
The story is also convincingly narrated by more than one narrator, something rare for King and when it made the switch I was delighted. I read the crap out of this one, which really says more than anything for me.
Cujo – 3/5
What a seriously fucked up book in a lot of ways. I mean obviously; pretty much every Stephen King book i s fucked up. But what I mean specifically, is that this book plays upon real life situations, has no elements of the supernatural, and to me that’s way scarier.
I like Stephen King because what he mostly does is take real lives and situations and applies the stress of cosmic horror (at his best) or more focused thriller horror to those lives to see how the react and usually unravel. But to take this book as the same thing belies the fact that the situation here is potentially very real. You could very well be subject a wild animal attack and there’s such a randomness horribleness about that. And while the writing is fine, and the characters are generally as well rendered as his characters tend to be, I can’t fully abide the subject.
It’s like he’s writing about a car wreck or a terror attack. It’s not horror this way, not the in the way I want. And I think that’s why I’ve avoided it along with a few of his other similar books.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – 2/5 stars
This book has the same issue as Cujo in its very core: how do you write an effective horror book, using the conventions of the genre–suspense, but also suspension of disbelief and other tension building elements–but also talk about a real situation that legitimately frightening, plausible, and doesn’t really do much to allow us to ponder about broader things? For me horror is about sparking innate fears through supernatural elements and allowing them to play out in ordinary lives. So telling the story of a missing child, even from that child’s perspective, but not having any of the horror genre framing devices (there’s the slight possibility of a supernatural element in this book that’s better explained by dehydration than actual phenomena)?
So while this book achieves the same decent level of writing that Stephen King novels do, it’s a failure of the form. And unlike Cujo, this book doesn’t build a set of characters whose interactions with the events I am invested in. I like the main character Trish perfectly well, but King is often at his weakest when he has to focus on singular characters for lengthy periods of time.
Another element that works and doesn’t work at the same time is the baseball tropes. As a character device it works, as a plotting tool it doesn’t. Kids do get obsessions that they extrapolate widely on. So it’s entirely logical for a kid to be obsessed with a mediocre late 90s Red Sox team. But I don’t think I care about that one bit as a reader.