There’s something so simple and comforting at the heart of Fairy Tale.
No psychological terror. No sexual assault. No prequels or lore. No tween orgies.
It’s the story of an old man, a boy, a dog, and an incredible adventure. And it was exactly the Stephen King book I needed at the closure of a hectic 2022.
Fairy Tale opens with Charlie, a high school senior who has experienced the tragic loss of his mother, and the downwards spiral of his father. He has taken care of himself as his father struggled with alcoholism and hit rock bottom, and then found his way back to the light. He’s a little wiser than his years but not precocious or jaded. Just a little… haunted. And forever grateful for his father’s recovery.
It’s that gratitude that ties Charlie to Mr Bowditch, a curmudgeonly elderly man living in a decrepit house nearby. One day, Charlie hears the incessant barks of Radar, Mr Bowditch’s mature German shepherd. Charlie investigates the cause of her alarm, only to find Mr Bowditch incapacitated and in need of urgent medical assistance.
Charlie sees this as his opportunity to pay back the universe for his father’s AA recovery, and so he takes it upon himself to support Mr Bowditch and nurse him back to health. His dedication is such that he quits his sporting commitments and, at times, lives in the old man’s house with him during his recovery. His father is watchful and pragmatic about Charlie’s efforts as a good Samaritan, which was reassuring. I was a little worried where the story may be going for a while, but it is all rather… wholesome.
Along the road, Charlie grows to adore Radar (naturally) and develops a suspicion that something inexplicable is hiding in Mr Bowditch’s past. There are weird noises coming from his backyard shed, and secretive wealth. Mr Bowditch gruff exterior hides mysteries and half-truths, and eventually all this unspools to reveal an incredible – you guessed it – Fairy Tale.
I’ve read some reviews that found that the first 1/3 of this book is too slow, as it effectively holds back the fantastical narrative. I disagree with this critique. King is at his finest here in taking time to develop believable and sympathetic characters, and I’m glad he invested the pages required to establish this grounding upfront. The pacing in the book is exceptional, and the plot moves along at the precise moments that I would start to feel a sense of drag.
There are, of course, a few call-outs to the Constant Readers among us, but these were blessedly brief and little more than an acknowledging wink to those in the know.
This is the finest King book I’ve read in a long while, and I enjoyed it so much it actually pained me to finish it. And how great is that?
5 giant red crickets out of 5.