When Bobbi Anderson stumbles over a metallic object in the woods behind her house, she inadvertently starts a disastrous chain of events. As she begins digging up the object with the help of her friend, the drunken poet Jim Gardener, it begins to take a curious hold over the two of them and everyone else in the small town of Haven, Maine. Soon the residents find themselves in possession of strange new abilities, such as the capacity to read each other’s minds. After a period of violent adjustment the people of the town work together to exploit the full potential of the artifact in their mist, even though they lack a real understanding of its nature.
And then there’s many hundreds of pages of suspicious deaths, attempts to keep outsiders out of town, and vivid descriptions of teeth falling out. King’s tendency toward maximalism really does him a disservice here, as he keeps introducing new characters just to dispatch them in increasingly gruesome fashion without their making much of an impact on the direction of the plot. More interesting but perhaps just as unnecessary as the digressions into Haven town history and local lore. All of it, entertaining and not, taxes the reader’s patience.
In the book’s much too drawn-out conclusion, the focus is back on Bobbi and Gardener but its too late for their resolutions to be dramatic or compelling. Throw in some utterly ridiculousness like a murderous Coke machine and a death-ray umbrella and you have an ending that’s weird and unfulfilling, even by King’s standards.
King himself has described The Tommyknockers as “an awful book” that would be better at half the length. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s awful, he certainly has a point about the length. There are lots of memorable characters and events in The Tommknockers, but they’re too frequently drowned out by tedious description.