The Tommyknockers – 3/5 Stars
This book has some significant issues, but it’s also very good at a few things. The biggest issue is that it’s a little too on the nose with so much of the characterization and subplots. It’s a little too convenient that, for example, so many of the characters in the book are immune through slightly ridiculous ways to the central supernatural element of the book.
So the book itself involves a writer living in a small town in upstate Maine stumbling across (literally) the corner of an alien spacecraft and becoming increasingly obsessed with unearthing. This compulsion also gives her the ability to invent advanced technology that helps her take care of her daily responsibilities, unearth the machine, and protect her secret. As this is happening, more and more of the town starts inexplicably also falling into the same behavior.
Then something really good happens. Stephen King moves away from this story for a long section of text while telling a very odd and frustrating story about the writer’s former lover and poet friend ruining his academic career through an alcoholic rage at a faculty party. This rage sets up some themes and context for the transfer of the story from Bobbi Anderson, the first writer, to this new protagonist.
When we return to the town, time and story has passed, and now we’re in the thick of the plot.
The book though keeps finding reasons for people to be “immune” to the lure of the spacecraft, and it’s a little too convenient. So this book doesn’t end up doing a whole lot, but it’s a good monster of the week type of Stephen King novel like Bag of Bones or Duma Key, which are also solid, but limited in their appeal and effectiveness.
Elevation – 2/5 Stars
I guess I really didn’t like this one too much. While it’s likely a fair criticism that this book ended kind of poorly, the ending was a kind of relief because of how small and slight and unimportant this book was becoming. It feels like half an idea pushed forward with a familiar work ethic, and then nothing much develops. I also think this book would be better and less annoying if it were packaged with more short stories. While there is one here, it;s unremarkable and unmemorable.
The story here involves a man who sticks his nose into business that’s not his own, and while his intentions were good, his help was unwanted. This trouble is with a local couple who owns a restaurant who just so happens to be gay. This couple becomes a bit of a spectacle in town and this leads to negative publicity, the hurting of their business, and a kind of public embarrassment.
Also, the lead character starts losing volume (or weight) without losing any amount of his body, giving him a kind of out of sync feeling.
Anyway, I don’ this one is very good.
Rose Madder – 3/5 Stars
I am going to go against something I’ve said before in relation to Stephen King, which is that in novels where the terror of everyday life is put into the forefront, it often becomes or feels unfair to the characters. So many of his characters are ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances and King loves to see what these ordinary people do with these circumstances. So a petit tyrant becomes a large tyrant given some amount of power or a figure willing to exploit chaos can do real damage. But when you have a rabid dog or a missing child, this feels unfair.
This book however is best when it’s being real and worst (by far) when it’s being supernature or fantastical. I also think the conceit of the minotaur could have been exploited to much much more successful results.
The story here is that Rose has finally had the right set of circumstances ready for her to finally leave her incredibly abusive husband. Stephen King does not go in for light abuse. He goes in. Rosie leaves with some money into a faraway city from her abusive and violent cop husband and makes it to a women’s shelter/living community. As her husband begins tracking her down she enters into a kind of parallel world at times having purchased a picture that seems to have odd qualities. The novel, like Insomnia, goes really into ideas of abuse, feminism, birth control, and other “topical” themes from the 90s. It has mixed results, but the realism is good.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes – 4/5 Stars
So this is a fairly old Stephen King collection and it feels as much. But this age is also interesting in a few fun ways. First, I grew up reading Stephen King novels and I read a lot of his short stories, but they also freaked me out and I avoided some of them. So we had Night Shift and Skeleton Crew at our house, and I read here and there, but never sat down and read through all of them. So this collection, his third, is framed against those in the opening introduction. This is one of the last of the Stephen King books that I directly remember coming out and seeing in the library, and considered reading. For the most part, it’s probably best I didn’t. The best of the stories would not work for me as a kid.
So what I will do is just look at a few of the stories in more direct ways.
Dolan’s Cadillac – This is the first of the stories and it’s clearly supposed to be the anchor of the whole collection. For the most part, it’s an L.A. noir story ala Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and with some Jim Thompson mixed in. It’s a reminder that at his heart King has always wanted to be a detective novelist and only sometimes has been able to give it a real try. This is not a detective novel, but is a good revenge tale, which would make a good movie.
Umney’s Last Case – A detective and his creation meet up. It reads like a Twilight Zone episode, and is not great really.
Crouch End – Stephen King is the least British writer you can imagine, but he’s giving it a real go. This short story tells you it’s stealing from HP Lovecraft, and since I hate Lovecraft, this story was not a successful one for me.
Suffer the Little Children – I am a teacher, so a story about a teacher slowly losing her mind and acting in violence and revenge against students is interesting and alarming.
Rainy Season – Again, I wish authors would stop telling us, in the text of the stories, who they’re specifically trying to ripoff. It almost never works. A Lottery derivative.
Head Down – A long baseball essay about Owen King’s all-star baseball team playing in the state tournament. Baseball writing is so good, because like boxing, it often requires a narrative writer to give shape to the game. Football is the worst at this and basketball already has a clear flow to it. This the best part of the whole book and I was worried it was going to be bad.
The Green Mile – 2/5 Stars
I didn’t really like this novel when it first came out twenty years ago. I don’t know if you remember it first being published, but it was serialized over the course of several months. When I first started reading it back then, I was in high school, and had already read a handful of other Stephen King novels including It, The Stand, his stories, Carrie, Eyes of the Dragon, and Misery, so I wasn’t an amateur. I thought then what I think now, which is that a lot of what this novel is an attempt to cash in on the unexpected success of The Shawshank Redemption film. That Frank Darabont quickly turned this into a perfectly faithful and equally as boring film is not surprising. It’s written like a total ripoff of The Shawshank Redemption, and it’s hard to see it as anything but this.
The novel obviously has the significant issue of creating John Coffey as a literal “magic negro” as in a Black man who can literally do magic. But it also has the issue of the structure of the serialization, which means big chunks of it are repeated and rehashed, and so the novel feels gimmicky and reads as gimmicky and I couldn’t make myself like it all.
I will confess that when I read this in high school it was being glowingly and annoyingly recommended from a real frenemy of mine, something that I had completely forgotten until I started reading this again and really really couldn’t escape his dumb face in my memories.