Reviews and bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
If I am lost, you will find me in medieval England.
You can also find me - and my books - on my blog.
This is a tough book to rate and review. As a book club selection, this novel is completely outside the realm of what I would choose to read on my own, so I was surprised at how much I liked certain elements of King's story. I was less surprised by how little I liked a few other elements. It was riveting and a thought provoking statement on the endless battle between good and evil, so I ended up giving it 4 stars.
What almost made this a 3-star review:
Characters that fail to elicit sympathy despite the fact that they are enduring a plague of epic proportions. These people are going through what would feel like the end of the world, the seven scrolls opening, God bringing everyone to judgement....but I really did not care about most of them. If a reader travels over 1000 pages and many more miles across the country with these folk, a writer of King's caliber should be able to create a connection. Part of the problem is the sheer number of people introduced, but the larger issue is that I kept wondering if some sort of personality defect was what caused Superflu immunity. At best, I thought a few people were just okay. Stu wasn't nearly as annoying as Fran, who everyone adores for some inexplicable reason. Nick was alright until a big production had to be made every time he communicates (see: Exposition). Others were just meh. Maybe that's the point. They make up a fairly dysfunctional cross-section of society.
Exposition. I read the *new* uncut version of this novel, which apparently adds on quite a bit. Maybe the original is less rambling in unnecessary details and long voyages to nowhere, but this one is loaded with it. Hundreds of pages are taken up with describing collecting supplies, deciding whether to walk or ride bikes, learning to ride motorcycles, climbing over traffic.....eventually, I just started skimming. I get it. Travel is rough when 99% of the population has been wiped out in a few weeks. I felt the same way about Fran's journal.(show spoiler)
I ended up skimming any section described as Fran's diary entries or anything to do with the Trash Can Man. This book could be 1/2 as long as it is and have greater impact in my opinion. The description of dozens of dead bodies is only interesting so many times.
Nastiness. I know, I know. It's Stephen King, one must expect gore, violence, and the like, but there were a couple of scenes in this book that I would never admit to anyone had popped into my head let alone write it down and sell it with my name on it. In particular, a certain motel scene between the Trash Can Man and The Kid. Um, no thank you.
The ending. I went into this expecting a softball finish. I've not read a lot of King, but even I know his reputation for seeming to give up at about the 75% mark. The fact that people's movements and decisions were given Biblical importance up to the point where it just suddenly doesn't matter was frustrating. Trying to give it a deeper meaning, people do repeat destructive cycles and this book certainly demonstrates that, but people want an ending that's worth 1000+ pages.
What almost made this a 5-star review:
Mother Abigail. I loved this modern day Moses, her unfailing faith, and her recognition of her own pride. I wish we'd been able to spend less time getting to her and more time with her. King sneaks in some serious Christian witnessing through this selfless character, so he deserves props for doing that in a horror novel.
Understanding of people and spiritual warfare. Stephen King may only know dysfunctional people, but he understands them. He can get inside the mind of a 22 year old girl who discovers she is pregnant as easily as a teenage outcast or famous rock star. Different hopes, fears, and personalities drove each person and King not only knows that but he knows that God and the devil understand it to. While God coaxed people to listen to their better nature through Mother Abigail, the devil used fear and empty promises through Randall Flagg. No character better demonstrated this battle than Harold Lauder, not a likable guy but a great story element.
So, I settled on 4 stars. The things that bothered me could not outweigh the fact that this book makes some important reflections on society and how we destroy ourselves when given half the chance.