I suppose I should address the conversation around the book before the book itself.
There’s been a lot of grousing from center/center-right/right wing King fans about how political this book is. That all the villains are painted as MAGA doofuses. These comments usually have some variety of “King was never political until now!”
To which I say…have you ever read Stephen King? His early books are steeped in 70s paranoia. He wrote a book about a man trying to assassinate a presidential candidate, the latter of which he painted as a right wing goon. He’s written many bad characters with bad politics. To say he’s not political shows a fundamental misunderstanding of his work.
That being said, they might have a small point. King is a Resistance! Guy. Okay fine. But the undertone of this one does feel a bit too Resistance-y. Most Trump voters I or you know actually don’t have MAGA bumper stickers and Gadsen flags. Most of them keep their anti-vax opinions to themselves. This book makes them feel like they are all loud and obnoxious, rather than the loud and obnoxious minority they really are. To be clear: I don’t have a problem lampooning these folks. It just verges on the cartoonish.
Point being: I don’t feel bad for MAGA folks that were triggered by King’s sudden (and as I said, ahistorical) turn to politics. But the subject itself isn’t handled in a way that makes for an entertaining read.
That being said, let’s get to Holly Gibney.
I was not a fan of the Bill Hodges trilogy and I kinda hoped that King had gotten it all out of his system. But then he brought Holly back for The Outsider, in which the second half of the book turns into her book and it goes from good to blah. I do not understand King’s fascination with Holly, to the point where he actually blurbs her on his own book jacket. I don’t find her a very interesting character. If she’s on the spectrum, I’m not sure it’s something that’s fully engaged with. And yet, King is thrilled with her. This is like watching a beloved TV critic who writes great reviews of prestige television shows suddenly churn out weekly content on CSI: Anchorage. King is on the other side of 75. We can’t reasonably expect too many more books. And it saddens me to think many of them are going to be of this dull character he likes so much.
So I wasn’t going to read Holly at all until I caught a review from Gabino Iglesias (a writer I like) in NPR. He really enjoyed it and his reasons for enjoying made me interested. I sucked it up…
And it’s fine for what it is.
Holly isn’t a terrible character in this one and while I don’t find her interesting, she’s just garden-variety dull instead of aggressively dull. Most of her story is a hardboiled tale of shoe leather detective work and to that end, King does a good job.
The best part of the story was the villains and I can’t say more without spoiling it but I caught on to what they were doing early and how it worked and I think that statement from King is a far more considered and salient political one than anything else going on in this book.
Anyway, the rotating chapters are engaging, then boring and we get to the final confrontation and I found a lot of it predictable, some of it sad. It’s good, a big step up from Fairy Tale. But it could stand to lose 100 pages and have a more interesting protagonist.
It is very readable, definitely lower middle class King but better than his dreck.