Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
When one thinks of horror, often one thinks of horror movies.
These movies are fantastical in some ways. We all know that someone cannot possibly be shot 23,889,209 times and still get up to chase sexually precocious teenagers and kill them in inventive ways (although that is a good way to burn that free 100 or so minutes you may have that day. More if you watch the cut scenes on the “extras” menu.)
But often, real life can contain plenty of horror…
But seriously, just turn on the news any given night, and tell me that man’s inhumanity to man is not the most horrific thing out there?
And there is one guy who understands this very well, and who has written some compelling literature on the subject, as a matter of fact…
You guessed it, we are talking about Stephen King!
*insert shocked look right about here*
King has been called The Master of Modern Horror (but you can call him The Master for short), and for good reason.
A rabid St. Bernard that makes you want to avoid car trouble at all costs?
Check and mate!
While most of the above horrors are not actually “real horrors,” one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to include elements of realism in his writing.
So we associate The Shining the famous phrase “Redrum” (spell it backwards, for the uninitiated), along with a haunted hotel and a scary lady who is a permanent residence of a room with a famous number
There is also the matter of the guy in the dog costume…
Well, back to my point.
Which is that King can insert reality into his works. The Shining is a great example of this, because it deals with alcoholism, unemployment, child abuse and the list goes on.
In other words, we can relate the above list, since we have all experienced at least one of those things in our lifetime.
And that is what makes the story so terrifying: since we can relate to those topics, it is not that far out of left field that there may be a haunted hotel somewhere out there, where we avoid room 217 (or 237), along with the hedge animals and fire extinguishers, because if it can happen to the seemingly normal Torrance family, it sure can happen to us.
King writes about people. These people may be placed into extraordinary situations, but they are still people, who could, at least theoretically, be any one of us.
And these people do not always fight supernatural monsters, Often, humans are the monsters, and what a human can do to a fellow human is far worse than what a haunted hotel or even a rabid St. Bernard can do to us.
One of King’s books that deals with man’s inhumanity to man (or, more appropriately, woman) is Gerald’s Game.
Gerald’s Game contains hardly any elements of the supernatural, but it is still a frightening read. The monsters in this book are human, so the scenario is one that is plausible for anyone.
So strap in (but don’t handcuff yourself), and get ready for the ride that is Gerald’s Game.
If you wish to hear your favorite nerd live and in the flesh, breaking down the novel Insomnia (written by The Master, natch) and geeking out over more than a few things, click the link below, as she was a guest on The Dark Tower Radio Podcast, and got to participate in a great meeting of the minds! Long days and pleasant nights, and enjoy!
Many people remember their teen years with some sort of fondness.
And that is understandable, to a point.
After all, many milestones are reached during adolescence…
First vehicles that you fall in love with, and said vehicle demands exclusivity almost immediately, and luuvvvs you soooo much that she (since cars always a she, after all) will not allow you to date anyone else, see your friends or hang out with your family…
Well, adolescence in the Stephen King universe is not normal adolescence, after all.
Last month, it was the prom that we reminisced about so fondly.
And this month, we are going to talk about the first love, along with the first vehicle.
In other words, we will be reading and dissecting King’s novel, Christine.
(Yeah, this is the part where I should tell you we are talking about a Stephen King book. Quit acting surprised, you knew it was coming!)
As always, King is one of the few writers who can capture childhood, along with adolescence.
And Christine is a book that has a lot to say on this subject.
So fasten your seat belts, and let’s hop into a certain bright red homicidal 1958 Plymouth Fury…you know you will be in one Hell (literally) of a ride!
And, as always:
The book begins by introducing us to a young man named Dennis Guilder. Dennis has just turned 17 and will be starting his senior year in high school. Dennis’ best friend is another young man named Arnold “Arnie” Cunningham, who has also just turned 17 and attends the same high school as Dennis.
Dennis is athletic and popular, and well liked by his peers. Arnie, however, is a loner and is constantly bullied. Despite the fact that they are polar opposites in so many ways, Dennis and Arnie remain best friends, even throughout junior high and high school.
One day, as Arnie and Dennis are returning home from their summer job, Arnie notices an old car for sale. The car is a 1958 Plymouth Fury and does appear to be in good condition.
Arnie speaks to the owner of the car, an old man named Roland LeBay. Almost immediately, Dennis dislikes the old man. Arnie, however, is determined to purchase the vehicle, and bargains with LeBay. Since it is not pay day, Arnie puts down $25 on the car, which LeBay sells to him for $250, with the expectation that Arnie will purchase the vehicle the next day. Dennis is upset and tries to talk Arnie out of the deal, but Arnie will not budge, and appears to be besotted with the vehicle, which LeBay refers to as “Christine.”
When Arnie returns home that night, he informs his strict parents that he purchased a car. They are upset, especially his mother, Regina, but Arnie still refuses to back down.
The next day, Arnie purchases Christine, and attempts to drive her home. Initially, Christine will not start, but Arnie somehow coaxes the vehicle into starting. Dennis sits in the car for a moment, and gets a very bad feeling about it. On the way home, the car gets a flat tire, and Arnie is forced to change the tire on a resident’s lawn, which very nearly results in a fight between Arnie and the resident.
Arnie makes the decision to temporarily house Christine at Darnell’s Garage. Darnell’s Garage is owned by Will Darnell, a common crook rumored to have dealings with organized crime, but really Arnie’s only choice if he wants to keep Christine. Arnie believes that he can fix up Christine and turn her into something special, although Dennis is skeptical, and even begins to have nightmares about Arnie’s vehicle.
Arnie begins to spend more and more time making repairs to Christine, and less time with Dennis and the rest of his family.
One night, Dennis and Arnie stop for pizza on the way home from work. Arnie has a black eye, and Dennis asks about it. Arnie tells Dennis that he got into a fight with Buddy Reperton, a local thug, at Darnell’s Garage. Reperton smashed a headlight on Christine, and this made Arnie furious. Arnie was also able to injure Reperton before Darnell stepped in. Dennis becomes worried, and does not want Arnie to continue to use Darnell’s Garage as a home for Christine.
One evening, Dennis gets the idea that Arnie can park Christine at LeBay’s house, possible in exchange for some minor chores and a little money. However, Dennis discovers that LeBay has died, so this may not be an option for Arnie.
Arnie is in shock over the death of LeBay, and insists on attending his funeral. Dennis accompanies Arnie, and meets George, LeBay’s brother. Dennis tries to talk George into letting Arnie park Christine at his deceased brother’s house, but George refuses, telling Dennis that Arnie should get rid of the car, as it is bad news. Dennis is curious, and agrees to meet with George later that evening so that he can obtain some more information on Christine’s history.
Later that evening, Dennis meets with George. George gives Dennis a background on Roland and his vehicle. Roland was always angry and bitter, even as a child. Roland joined the army as a young man and became a mechanic, and a brilliant one at that. However, Roland could not let go of his anger, as evidenced by the letters he sent to his family.
Eventually, Roland got married and became a father. He also finally purchased a vehicle of his own, a 1958 Plymouth Fury who named Christine. Roland became obsessed with the vehicle, devoting much of his time and money to it.
One day, Roland’s young daughter choked on a piece of hamburger while riding with her parents in the vehicle. Roland and his wife are unable to save their daughter, and she dies. Roland’s family begs him to give up the vehicle, but he refuses.
The vehicle also claimed another victim: Roland’s wife, who committed suicide in the vehicle, via the fumes from the exhaust hose. Roland still refuses to give up the vehicle, and spends the rest of days alone, only selling the vehicle to Arnie when it becomes evident that he will die soon.
The story makes Dennis uneasy, even when he returns home. Dennis also has an unsettling conversation with his father in regards to Will Darnell and his dealings, which confirms some of Dennis’ suspicions that Darnell may be more than a small time crook.
School begins, and Dennis becomes busy with the start of his senior year. Arnie is also busy, attempting to restore Christine to her former glory. Dennis notices that Arnie’s complexion begins to improve (he had previously had a terrible case of acne) and that Arnie also becomes more confident in himself.
One day, as Dennis and Arnie are eating lunch, they are confronted by Buddy Reperton and his band of friends. A fight breaks out, and a teacher is called in to stop the fight. The fight results in Buddy Reperton’s expulsion from the school, and the suspension of some of his friends. Dennis is shaken, but is again surprised to see Arnie fight back against the bully.
Arnie’s confidence continues to grow. He asks Leigh Cabot, a beautiful transfer student, out on a date, and she agrees to go out with him. Arnie and Leigh attend a football game together, and Leigh meets Dennis. Dennis is a little jealous of Arnie, as he also has a crush on Leigh, but is happy for his friend.
That afternoon, Dennis plays football, like normal. However, he is injured in the game. The injuries are severe, and Dennis spends several weeks in the hospital recovering. Thoughts of Arnie and Christine, along with Leigh, are never far from his mind.
The book then changes to the perspective of Arnie, Leigh and the other characters. Nearly everyone is concerned for Arnie, and they sense that his obsession with the car may be unhealthy. The relationship with Arnie and his mother becomes strained, and they fight constantly over the vehicle. Leigh also dislikes Arnie’s car intensely, and feels uncomfortable when she rides in it.
One night, Arnie’s father, Michael, takes a ride with Arnie in Christine, and has a serious conversation with his son. He suggests that Arnie park his vehicle at the airport, as opposed to Darnell’s Garage. At first, Arnie is not happy with this suggestion, but agrees to it, as sort of a truce between himself and his family.
In the meantime, Buddy Reperton and his friends seek revenge on Arnie, as they blame Arnie for Buddy’s expulsion from school. So one night, Buddy and his friends are able to sneak into the airport garage. Once in the garage, they find Christine and vandalize the vehicle.
One day after school, Arnie heads to the airport garage with Leigh, to show off his progress with his work on Christine. Arnie then discovers the vandalism to Christine, and becomes very upset.
Arnie argues with his parents over Christine and the vandalism. He is reluctant to report the incident, but his father insists on doing so. Arnie’s parents offer to replace Christine with a newer vehicle, but Arnie refuses, and states that he will restore Christine himself.
Christine seeks revenge on those who vandalized her. She begins with with Moochie Welch, who was involved in the prank. Christine chases down Moochie one night, running him over multiple times.
Arnie learns about Moochie’s death, and appears to be shocked. He denies any involvement to local police, and his parents also confirm his alibi. Arnie is also questioned by a state police officer. The officer does not believe Arnie’s story, but cannot take any action, as he has no concrete evidence that Arnie was involved in Moochie’s death. The officer also notices that Christine is nearly restored back to her prior condition, despite the fact that prior reports stated that she was damaged beyond repair.
One evening, Buddy and his friends are driving around town. Buddy is still angry over being expelled from school, and has no remorse over vandalizing Christine. Buddy and his friends then notice another vehicle which appears to following them. It does not take long for Buddy to realize that the vehicle is Christine, and she appears to be driving herself.
Chrstine chases Buddy down, and runs him over, killing him. Before he dies, Buddy sees the ghost of an old man, which can only be Roland LeBay.
Arnie feels badly that he has been neglecting Leigh, and he takes her shopping and out for dinner one weekend. On the way home, Arnie and Leigh pick up a hitchhiker and drive him into town on their way home.
On the drive home, Leigh is eating a hamburger. She then begins to choke on the hamburger, but she is saved by the hitchhiker, who uses the Heimlich maneuver on her, over Arnie’s protests. Leigh is badly shaken by the incident, and realizes that she would have died if it had not been for the hitchhiker. When she is choking, Leigh believes that Christine’s dashboard lights turn into eyes, and that the car tried to kill her.
When Arnie drops Leigh off at home, Leigh demands that Arnie get rid of Christine, as she believes that the vehicle is evil. Arnie refuses, and the two argue. Arnie then storms off, leaving Leigh in tears.
Arnie is again questioned by Junkins, the state cop who questioned him in regards to Moochie’s death. Arnie provides an alibi for the night of Buddy Reperton’s death, and tells the state cop that there is no evidence that he was involved in Buddy’s death. Junkins does not believe Arnie, and vows that Arnie will one day face justice.
Arnie’s personality begins to change, and everyone notices, including Arnie. Arnie’s speech and mannerisms become similar to those of Roland LeBay, and Arnie even believes that he sees LeBay sitting in his vehicle.
One day, Arnie runs another errand for Will Darnell, his boss. The state cops, however, have closed in on Darnell, who is arrested. Arnie is also arrested, as the vehicle he was driving contains untaxed cigarettes. Arnie’s parents are shocked by the arrest, but Arnie is eventually released from jail, and will likely not have a mark on his permanent record, due to his age.
Christine then seeks revenge on Darnell when Arnie is out of town for the Christmas holidays. She traps Darnell inside of his house, and runs him over. Darnell’s death is news, due to his pending criminal charges, and most people assume that his death was related to his criminal dealings.
Leigh, however, makes the connection between Darnell’s death and a few others. She believes that Christine is the cause of those deaths, as does Dennis. Dennis and Leigh team together, and research Christine’s history. Dennis then begins to develop feelings for Leigh, but is hesitant, due to his friendship with Arnie.
Dennis spends New Year’s Eve with Arnie. He is struck by the changes in Arnie’s personality, which he realizes is actually LeBay’s personality. Dennis is unsettled, and becomes even more frightened for Arnie.
On the way home that night, Dennis witnesses Arnie transform into Roland LeBay. When he glances through Christine’s mirror, he also sees the ghosts of Christine’s victims. His town is also transformed into what it looked like in the 1950’s, when LeBay was still alive.
Christine then claims another victim: Junkins, the state cop who investigated Darnell, and who also set his sights on Arnie, hoping to charge him with the murders of Buddy Reperton and Christine’s other victims. Dennis and Leigh realize that they must destroy Christine.
Dennis speaks to LeBay’s brother, George. George reveals more of LeBay’s early life, and the picture painted is disturbing, as people who harmed LeBay were likely to become injured or even dead. George also states that the deaths of LeBay’s wife and child may not have been accidental. Dennis then informs LeBay that he intends to destroy Christine. After his conversation with LeBay, Dennis begins to make some phone calls.
One day, Dennis and Leigh are talking in Dennis’ car in the parking lot of a local restaurant. Arnie appears, and realizes that Dennis is in love with Leigh. This infuriates Arnie, who has fixated on Leigh, determined to make her love him again. Dennis is frightened for Leigh, as he realizes that it is actually the ghost of LeBay who has fixated on Leigh, and that LeBay will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Dennis confronts Arnie one morning in the school parking lot. He tells Arnie that LeBay has possessed, but that he can fight him. Arnie tries to fight, but LeBay is stronger. Arnie and Dennis then get into a physical fight. Dennis challenges LeBay, telling him to meet him that night at Darnell’s garage, and to bring Christine.
Leigh and Dennis wait for Christine at Darnell’s garage. Christine soon appears, along with the body of Michael Cunningham, Arnie’s father. Dennis and Leigh battle Christine with a wrecking truck that Dennis had obtained earlier that day. They are able to destroy the car, but are injured in the process.
Dennis awakens in the hospital the next day and inquires about Arnie. A FBI agent named Mercer tells him that Arnie and his mother were killed in a car accident on the highway right after Christine was destroyed. Witnesses saw a third person in the vehicle, which could only be the ghost of Roland LeBay, who attempted to possess Arnie after Christine was destroyed. Dennis tells his story to the FBI agent, and Leigh corroborates it.
Dennis and Leigh graduate from high school and date for about two years. Eventually, they drift apart and Leigh moves to New Mexico. She marries and becomes the mother of twin girls.
Dennis becomes a junior high school history teacher. He recovers from his injuries, even though his leg still pains him at times. He sometimes experiences nightmares in regards to Christine, but they become less frequent.
One day, Dennis receives the news that a young man named Sandy was killed after being hit by a vehicle. Dennis begins to wonder if Christine has somehow regenerated, and if she will find him and seek revenge.
Well, that was quite a ride…
Okay, okay…I will brake from the bad car jokes…
But seriously, wow, this book was really quite the ride.
Now, Stephen King writes scary stuff. Duh, he is the King of Horror, and we all know this. And Christine has plenty of scary moments (more on that later.)
But really, King’s major strength as a writer is his ability to write about reality, as strange as that may seem to some.
In other words, King does not just write about monsters, like possessed cars, haunted hotels and evil clowns.
He writes about people.
And that’s why we love him. Once again, he is our literary Everyman.
And there are plenty of Everyman moments in Christine. When Christine is mentioned, most people think “Car bad. Very very bad. Arnie go crazy. I hate rock and roll.”
(Well, something like that. And yes, it may owe a little bit to the movie of the same name, thanks to John Carpenter, God love him.)
One of my favorite parts in this book was the description of the friendship between Arnie and Dennis.
There are some people, in the Hell otherwise known as high school, who are actually popular because they are…wait for it…genuinely nice people…gasp…
Dennis Guilder is proof of the above. His friendship with Arnie is an exception rather than a rule in the Hell known as high school (yes, I keep using that word. Hell. And yes, I do know what it means, aka the DMV and high school. Hell has less screaming, though, than either of those.)
But it is proof that there are some out there with actual character, who can see beyond the surface, and who is willing to dig for gold.
I loved the fact that Dennis and Arnie built ant farms as children. There is just something endearing in that. Maybe it’s because that is a project that requires investment and patience, much like being Arnie’s friend.
But, as I stated before, Christine is scary. And actually, it is a lot scarier than what I had previously given it credit for.
First of all, we have Christine herself. Notice how I say “herself,” and not “itself.”
In other words, Christine may technically be an “object”, but she (again, with the pronouns) is definitely a character in her own right.
And that is the genius of King: he writes wonderful characters who are people (and even animals.) However, he can turn anything into a character. In fact, I am sure a novel will be out one day that features a plastic Wal-Mart bag who we either end up rooting for, in its quest to not be replaced by paper bags, or perhaps we learn to fear Wal-Mart plastic bags because this one tries to take over a store in its anger over being replaced by the paper bags and ends up killing the customers in a totally gruesome manner…
(And yes, that book will be a “take my money now situation,” natch.)
Well, humor aside, Christine may be a vehicle, but she is a character in her own right. And a villain, to boot (King has written more than a few of those, both human and inhuman.)
And one scary character as well.
The scenes when Christine in on the rampage are some of the most frightening scenes that I have ever read in any book, let alone a King book.
In particular, the scene when Christine hunts down Buddy Reperton particularly stands out in my mind. Now, Buddy really did have that coming to him. He was an asshole, there is no other way around it. But still, being hunted by Christine and being toyed with in much the same manner as a cat toys with a mouse that it is about to kill…yikes is all I can say!
And the little touch at the end, when Buddy sees the ghost of Roland LeBay is just what the doctor (or is it writer?) ordered to scare us Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants!
Speaking of which, Roland LeBay…
Let’s talk about him for a bit.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Or, as a certain well-known and beloved character in the Dark Tower series may have stated: Coincidence has been cancelled!
The two share a name, but they could not be more different, right?
Well, they are pretty different. But there does seem to be an underlying theme.
And that theme would be obsession.
Think about that for a moment.
Roland Deschain is obsessed with his Tower.
In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to sacrifice his spiritual son so that he can progress in his quest.
Roland LeBay is obsessed with his vehicle.
In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to let his daughter choke to death, and refuses to get rid of the vehicle even after her death.
So yeah, sounds pretty familiar, huh?
However, I think #teamLeBay wins the obsession contest over #teamDeschain.
#teamDeschain is at least capable of showing some humanity at certain points, and does try to redeem himself. So he loses this contest, although this is contest one probably does not want to win.
In fact, #teamLeBay is so obsessed with this vehicle, that it carries over to his death. The ghost of Roland LeBay is the other major player in this story, even though it gets overshadowed by the crazy vehicle.
But I need to give the ghost of LeBay its due.
After all, it is seen several times in the story.
The scene where Arnie is eating pizza in Christine, and sees LeBay sitting next to him, is tres creepy. I didn’t know whether to laugh at the piece of pizza that went MIA, or shudder even more.
What was even scarier was the fact that Arnie also saw himself in LeBay’s ghost (more on that later, though.)
I think the scariest scene in the book is the scene when Arnie drives Dennis home via Christine on New Year’s Eve.
Dennis sees the ghost of LeBay in the rear view mirror. Somehow, that’s gruesome right there. Just looking in the rear view mirror…
What do you see?
Oh, nothing, ghosts of dead, decaying, rotting bodies of evil guys and stuff…
And the fact that Christine was able to momentarily travel back in time, taking Arnie and Dennis back to the 1950’s…wow!
Suddenly the streets are not familiar, and Dennis can’t find his house, because it hasn’t been built yet.
Wow, wow and wow again.
There was a wonderful, dreamlike surreal quality to that scene that I just loved. You are pretty sure that Dennis is not hallucinating any of it, but you aren’t 100% sure. And that makes it even more frightening.
Another thing to love about this novel is the fact that it addresses a taboo topic: bullying.
Now, Christine is a scary book. It has ghosts and a possessed car. And those also make for a great story.
But at its heart, Christine is a novel about bullying, and how it affects people.
Too often, people tend to dismiss bullying. They will say it’s kid stuff. They will tell the victim to ignore it, and it will go away.
In other words, kids have no rights. I was bullied constantly as a child. But I was a child, and I had no rights. If I was an adult, I could file a police report for either harassment or assault, and start a paper trail.
But children don’t have that option. Children are forced to see the bullying as some twisted “rite of passage.”
And people wonder how we get a Carrie White, or Arnie Cunningham.
Again, it goes back to Laverne Cox: Hurt people hurt people.
And like Carrie White, Arnie was a hurt human being.
In the book, various characters, such as Dennis, talk about how Arnie has “changed.”
My question is: did Arnie really change?
My answer: no, he didn’t.
Sure, he may have hid his pain for a long time, and managed to convince everyone (his parents, Dennis, etc) that he was okay.
However, Arnie was actually pretty similar to the deceased Roland LeBay in a lot of ways.
LeBay was obviously an angry person throughout his life. He was a man who never really loved anyone or anything, other than Christine, his vehicle. They were a match made in hell.
Arnie Cunningham was also angry man. He may not have shown his anger in the way that LeBay did, but it was obvious that he was angry.
An ex of mine once told me that “depression is anger turned inwards.” I think this is actually a good description of Arnie Cunningham.
Arnie spent his life being marginalized.
He was bullied at school. Most of the other kids would not accept him. In the world of high school, Dennis Guilder is an exception, not a rule.
Even at home, he was marginalized by his parents. Arnie had talent as a mechanic, but his parents would not accept that, and put pressure on him to attend college, rather than pursuing his talent for working with cars.
So, is it any wonder that Christine and the ghost of Roland LeBay were able to exert their influence on Arnie? After all, kindred spirits.
The fact that when Arnie saw the ghost of LeBay in Christine, and then saw an older version of himself is telling. After all, the two really are cut from the same cloth: angry, never experienced any type of true love.
And that is the only antidote for an Arnie Cunningham or Carrie White: we must have a world where everyone, even the “ugly pizza faces,” can find love or acceptance.
There may not be possessed vehicles in our world which are capable of exacting revenge on bullies, but there are worse things, such as bombs and guns. Until we realize this, our Arnie Cunningham’s will remind us that bullying has unpleasant consequences.
We all have them. Every single one of us. And if you don’t, you are either lying, or you don’t have blood in your veins and are fueled by ice water instead.
For me, my favorite kind of hero is someone who is not perfect. Someone with flaws. Someone with warts. Someone who may question his/her actions, and who possibly even regrets some of those actions.
In other words, someone who is human, and not necessarily endowed with any supernatural or other special abilities.
The best kind of heroes are ones who we can relate too. After all, life is hardly ever black and white. Rather, life is gray, and an infinite number of shades at that. In other words, sometimes what’s right and what’s wrong is not clear-cut. Often, decisions are made, and second-guessed for many, many years after the fact, even when the consequences have long passed.
Of course, I had many heroes growing up. And I have a few now. Batman was one of the early ones. And then I met Aragorn. Currently, Oliver Queen is my “show boo,” as Jax Teller is dead to me and Raylan Givens has ridden off into the sunset.
All are good men. And all struggle with decisions they have made, even if they believed the decision was for the greater good. The very definition of a hero in other words.
However, none of these guys come close to my number one childhood hero. He was a man who often had a lot at thrown at him, but he always stepped up to the plate. He tried to do what he believed was right, and make the world a little bit better of a place when he could. He was a human with no special abilities, other than the ability to make me feel loved and protected at all times.
In other words, I am talking about my grandfather. I was lucky enough to have one set of living grandparents throughout most of my childhood. My grandparents lived two hours away from us, so I spent a lot of time there as a child. Most of my best childhood memories involve my grandparents in some fashion. My grandfather taught me how to fish. He supported my love of astronomy by getting me a telescope when I was thirteen. In fact, he supported every one of my obsessions, even though he did not necessarily understand all of them. One of the few people who loved me unconditionally was my grandfather, and I will never forget that.
Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away nearly 14 years ago. So all I am left with is memories, and a few faded photographs. And being able to talk to my grandfather one last time is something that I would seriously consider sacrificing at least one limb for.
But, at least I have my memories. And my photographs.
And Stephen King.
Yes, don’t forget which blog you are reading!
So, along with writing books I can’t put down, making great characters (who tend to get killed off more times than I care to count) and just generally being awesome, Stephen King is also able to bring my grandfather to life? Makes perfect sense, right?
Well, yes. It actually does make sense, and sense goes by the name of Ralph Roberts.
Ralph Roberts is a bad ass. He fights supernatural beings and hardly breaks a sweat. He also stands up to men who beat their wives, choosing to fight for what is right, rather than ignore the serious issue of domestic abuse, which seems to be the socially acceptable thing to do. Ralph is also a loving, caring man, willing to (literally) risk his life to save the lives of other.
In other words, in Ralph Roberts I have found my grandfather’s literary Twinner, if you will.
The fact that Ralph Roberts is a man nearing 70 who ought to be one step away from the old folks’ home (well, according to our society, at any rate) is merely a minor technicality.
King often writes about the disenfranchised. And the elderly are just that: they are forgotten. Or ignored. Or even abused and taken advantage of. To paraphrase a quote from of the characters in Insomnia, growing old is not a job for sissies.
Insomnia has long been a favorite King work of mine. Since I am one of the disenfranchised (nerds usually are), I enjoy reading about my own kind, and seeing them kick some major ass. And Insomnia gives me that in spades: the disenfranchised kicking some major ass.
And it is the next best thing to spending time with my grandfather. If I can’t hang out with my grandfather, at least I can visit with his literary Twinner.
So, without any further ado, here is my recap and review of Insomnia.
And, as always:
The book begins by introducing us to an elderly man named Ralph Roberts, who lives in Derry, Maine, with his wife Carolyn. Ralph has just found out that Carolyn has an inoperable brain tumor and has only months to live. Ralph is saddened by this, and takes to taking long walks around Derry in order to take his mind off of Carolyn’s health issues.
On one of these walks, Ralph encounters his neighbor, Ed Deepneau, who is involved in a minor car accident. However, Ed is not acting like himself, and becomes extremely aggressive towards the other driver. To compound things, a friend of Ralph’s, Dorrance Marstellar, also arrives at the scene and begins making cryptic statements. Ed becomes convinced that the other driver is hiding the bodies of dead babies beneath the tarp in his truck.
Despite the chaos, Ralph is able to calm his neighbor down, and the other driver tells him that he is transporting fertilizer, not dead infants. Ed and the other driver decide to work it out among themselves, and Ralph returns home. When Ralph returns home, he nearly forgets about the incident, as Carolyn has suffered a seizure and is rushed to the hospital. Once again, Ralph is reminded that Carolyn does not have much time left, and wishes that things were different.
Several months later, Carolyn passes away. Shortly after the death of his wife, Ralph begins to suffer from insomnia. However, the kind of insomnia that Ralph suffers from is a bit unusual, in that he suffers from “premature waking”, rather than being a slow sleeper, In other words, Ralph awakens a bit earlier each day. At first he dismisses this as a consequence of growing older, but soon his problem becomes so severe that he grows more and more worried.
Ralph tries several home remedies for his insomnia, but none seem to work. He makes an appointment with his doctor, Dr. Litchfield, but cancels the appointment, as he does not trust Litchfield, as Litchfield misdiagnosed Carolyn’s brain tumors as migraine headaches. Ralph also notices that Derry has become polarized over a woman named Susan Day, a well-known writer and women’s right activist. Susan Day is someone who believes that women should have the right to be able have an abortion if necessary, among other things. Many in Derry are opposed to her politics, but several people are also petitioning her to come speak in Derry.
One afternoon, after yet another sleepless night, Ralph makes a trip to the grocery store. While he is there, he is greeted by the sight of Helen Deepneau, the wife of his neighbor Ed Deepneau. Helen Deepneau has been badly beaten by Ed, and has staggered into the grocery store with her infant daughter, Natalie. Ralph’s tenant Bill McGovern is also at the store, and helps Ralph with Helen. Ralph quickly decides to call the police, even though Helen begs him not to do so. Helen tells Bill and Ralph that Ed beat her because she signed a petition requesting that Susan Day speak in Derry. Ralph becomes angry over Ed’s treatment of Helen, and decides to confront Ed.
When Ralph confronts Ed, he realizes that his friend is now mad. Ed makes biblical references, and speaks of a being he calls the Crimson King. Ralph’s confrontation with Ed, however, is interrupted by the arrival of the police, who arrest Ed on charges of domestic abuse. Ralph speaks to John Leydecker, one of the arresting officers, and learns that Ed will probably be out on bail that night, but in order to be granted bail, Ed will have to agree not to contact Helen.
That night, Ralph tries to relax but is unable to do so. He attempts to contact Helen at the hospital, but learns that she has banned herself from receiving any visitors. However, Ralph receives a call from Helen later that night, who thanks him for his intervention. Helen also tells Ralph that she and Natalie will be staying in a halfway house for victims of domestic abuse, and tells Ralph that she will be in touch.
The months go by, and Ralph continues to experience the insomnia. He continues to awaken earlier each day, and becomes frustrated. Ralph tries several home remedies, to no avail. Ralph also receives a letter from Helen. Helen tells Ralph in her letter that she is OK, but will be out of touch for a little while as she adjusts to her new life. Helen also tells Ralph that she plans on divorcing Ed, as he is not the man she though she knew.
One day, Ralph receives news from his tenant Bill McGovern and Lois Chasse (a friend who lives on the same street), that Ed has been arrested. Ralph promises to watch the afternoon news with them, but makes a detour to the neighborhood pharmacy. There, he meets a pharmacist named Joe Wyzer. who also suffers from insomnia. Ralph agrees to meet Joe for a cup of coffee to discuss the insomnia and possible solutions for it.
Ralph and Joe meet for coffee, and discuss Ralph’s problems. Joe tells Ralph not to worry too much, as he is still basically healthy. However, while speaking with Joe, Ralph notices that he can see “auras” emanating from the people around him, including Joe. This worries Ralph, but he tries to dismiss as a trick of his mind, possibly due to the insomnia. Before Ralph leaves. Joe gives him a card with a name and number for an acupuncturist and makes Ralph an appointment for the near feature. Joe also gives Ralph his own phone number and tells Ralph to call him if he feels that he needs help.
Later on, Ralph meets Bill and Lois at Lois’ house to watch the afternoon news. They confirm that Ed has been arrested, and Ralph becomes worried. Ed has been the frontman for a pro-life group that is protesting the possible future presence of activist Susan Day in Derry. He tells Lois and Bill about the incident with Ed the previous summer, and they encourage him to relay this information to Officer Leydecker. Ralph does just that, but is still worried, as he thinks Ed has gone insane.
That night, Ralph receives a threatening phone call from Ed. Ralph is frightened, but holds his own, and tells Ed that he will not be threatened by him. Ed terminates the call, as Ralph’s reaction was not expected.
The weeks continue to pass by. Ralph still suffers from insomnia, but looks forward to the appointment with the acupuncturist. He also receives a letter from Helen, telling him that she has found employment and will be in touch with him again soon.
After he receives the letter from Helen, Ralph wanders to a nearby park and chats with Bill. As he is talking to Bill, Ralph notices that he can pick up the thoughts of nearby people. In particular, he notices a little boy named Patrick, who is accompanied by his mother. Ralph is able to pick up, from the mother’s thoughts, that she and Patrick are trying to avoid Patrick’s father, who has been drinking and can be abusive when drunk. At that point, Ralph almost tells Bill about the auras he sees, but thinks the better of it, as he decides he cannot trust Bill with that information.
One morning, Ralph receives a surprise visit from Helen and baby Natalie. Helen’s friend Gretchen is also in attendance. While he is speaking to Gretchen and Helen, Ralph realizes that he still see the auras, and that Natalie can also see them. The three discuss how dangerous Ed has become, especially with his growing involvement in a pro-life group that continues to protest the presence of Susan Day in Derry. Before she leaves, Helen gives Ralph a can of mace, telling him to use it to protect himself if necessary.
A few days later, Ralph returns home from an errand to find Dorrance Marstellar waiting for him at his doorstep. Dorrance again speaks cryptically to Ralph, telling him to cancel his appointment with the acupuncturist, and also gives Ralph a book of poetry. Ralph becomes irritated, wondering why he should cancel an appointment that was so difficult to schedule in the first place. Ralph also notices that the front door is open, and thinks that Bill has been careless about locking the door again.
The next day, Ralph visits the library to further research insomnia. However, his research is interrupted when a man named Charlie Pickering attacks him with a knife. Ralph recognizes Pickering as an associate of Ed Deepneau’s and a pro-life activist. Ralph is able to counter the attack with the can of mace which somehow happens to have been in his coat pocket.
After he is attacked, Ralph speaks to Officer Leydecker. Ralph is shaken, but recounts the events to Leydecker. Leydecker drives Ralph home, and tells him that Ed Deepneau probably will not be implicated in the attack, even though he likely orchestrated it.
When Ralph returns home, he realizes that Dorrance was the one who walked into his apartment, and placed the can of mace in his coat pocket. Ralph wonders what is going on that is so important, and cancels his appointment with the acupuncturist.
That night, Ralph has strange dreams involving his wife Carolyn, who issues him cryptic warnings. When Ralph awakens, he happens to glance out the window and sees a very strange sight: two men, who look like small, bald doctors, are headed into the house of May Locher, another one of Ralph’s neighbors. Ralph also notices that the men have unusual auras, and that they also have scissors. Thinking that his neighbor is being robbed, Ralph calls the police but does not identify himself. When the authorities arrive, it becomes clear that Ms. Locher has actually passed away, and her remains are removed from the house.
The next morning, Ralph gives his formal statement to Officer Leydecker over the incident involving Charlie Pickering. Ralph also confirms that May Locher did indeed pass away, and begins to question his sanity.
Ralph decides that he will try to tell his friend Bill McGovern about his experiences, and decides to take a walk in his neighborhood before doing so. When he takes his walk, he sees the auras again, and is dazzled by the beauty of it all. However, Ralph also sees an unpleasant sight: another bald doctor. This one appears more sinister than the other two and frightens Ralph. Ralph also realizes that the creature has Bill’s missing Panama hat. Before Ralph can act, the auras and the mysterious creature vanish. After his walk, Ralph tells Bill about his experiences. Bill is dismissive and tells Ralph to see his doctor. This angers Ralph, and he argues with Bill. Ralph leaves after arguing with Bill, and walks to the park in the neighborhood where the senior citizens gather.
At the park, Ralph speaks to some of his friends. People are arguing over the upcoming appearance of Susan Day. Ralph also finds out that another friend of his is in the hospital, and may succumb to cancer. Ralph deduces that Ed Deepneau may be taking lessons on flying an airplane, and decides to head to the police station to relay this news to Officer Leydecker.
On his way to the police station, Ralph notices that the neighborhood stray dog, known as Rosalie, is behaving strangely. Immediately, Ralph connects this with his recent bizarre experiences, and decides to see if he can make the auras appear at will. Ralph is successful, and is able to see the auras, along with the third, sinister bald doctor. The creature is calling to Rosalie, but Ralph calls the dog to him instead. Ralph then confronts the creature and fights it, and it becomes angered, but runs off, threatening Ralph before it disappears.
However, before Ralph can make his way to the police station, he is distracted by the site of Lois Chasse, who is sitting on a park bench and is visibly upset. In fact, Lois is crying. Ralph speaks to Lois, in order to comfort her and find out why she is upset.
When he speaks to Lois, Ralph finds out that she has also been suffering from insomnia, and has spoken to her doctor, Dr. Litchfield about it. However, Dr. Litchfield violated his doctor-patient privilege and told Lois’ son and daughter-in-law about her problems. That morning, Lois received a visit from her son and daughter-in-law, who tried to convince her to give up her autonomy and move into a nursing home. The pair of diamond earrings that Lois’ son gave her has also gone missing, lending more credence to the theory that Lois has developed dementia.
Ralph is able to determine a few things after he speaks to Lois. The first is that he has fallen in love with Lois. The second is that Lois is also able to see the auras, just like he can. The third is that Lois’ daughter-in-law has stolen her earrings, in an effort to make Lois look like senile old woman who needs to be in a nursing home.
The conversation is interrupted by the appearance of the creature that Ralph saw earlier, along with Rosalie, the neighborhood stray dog. This time, Ralph is also able to make Lois see it, along with the auras. Ralph and Lois try to fight the creature, but it attacks Rosalie. However, it does not hurt Rosalie, at least physically. Instead, the creature snips Rosalie’s “balloon string”, or the lifeline that leads to her aura. The color of Rosalie’s aura changes to black, and Ralph is able to intuit that Rosalie will probably die soon.
Lois invites Ralph to her house for lunch, so that they can talk about what has been happening to them. Before he leaves with Lois, Ralph realizes that the creature they saw earlier also has Lois’ diamond earrings, along with Bill’s hat, and becomes frightened. However, Ralph chooses to keep this information to himself for the time being.
Ralph then tells Lois everything that has happened to him, starting with his encounter with Ed two summers ago. Lois believes every word, but is not sure what any of it means. Ralph is also not sure what any of it means, and again becomes frightened, as it seems forces that he does not comprehend are at work. Ralph and Lois then agree to meet up later that night, and Lois leaves town for a few hours for her weekly card game with her friends.
When Ralph returns home, he finds a note from Bill apologizing for his earlier actions. He also receives a call from Officer Leydecker. Leydecker tells Ralph that Charlie Pickering has somehow bonded out of jail, and that Ed Deepneau was the one who bonded him out.
That afternoon, Ralph awaits Lois. He see the auras, and realizes that he has been “stealing” energy from other’s people’s auras, which explains why people think that he looks younger. Ralph worries that he has been hurting people by doing this.
When Lois returns from her card game, she tells Ralph that she was able to use her friends’ auras to win the card game. Lois is also “stealing” from other peoples’ auras, as she also appears younger.
Ralph and Lois’ conversation is interrupted by a car crash. When Ralph looks outside, he sees that the neighborhood stray dog, Rosalie, has been fatally hit by a car driven by his pharmacist, Joe Wyzer. The creature that cut Rosalie’s life force appears to torment Lois and Ralph, and also steals Joe’s comb. Ralph realizes that he must get that comb back, along with Lois’ earrings.
Ralph also realizes that he needs to pay a visit to his friend Jimmy at Derry Home Hospital, and heads to the hospital with Lois. A woman at the front desk tries to Ralph a hard time about visiting his friend, but he is able to use his new-found telepathic powers to convince her to allow him to visit his friend.
After they enter the intensive care ward where Ralph’s friend is residing, Ralph and Lois are then able to travel to a different level of reality. They are able to see those around them, but those people cannot see them. One of the people they see happens to be Bill, whose aura is now completely black. Lois becomes distressed, but Ralph realizes that nothing can be done for Bill, who will likely die soon.
Ralph and Lois enter Ralph’s friend’s Jimmy’s hospital room, and meet the two “bald doctors” that Ralph had previously see outside May Locher’s house. The entities state that they have no name, but tell Ralph and Lois to refer to them as “Clotho” and “Lachesis”, after the Fates in Greek mythology. The two entities also tell him that the third entity that Ralph had previously encountered can be referred to as “Atropos.”
As he speaks to these entities, Ralph becomes more and more angered, due to the chaos that their interference has caused in his life. However, Cloth and Lachesis tell him that his anger is not justified. Ralph and Lois watch as the two entities sever the “balloon string”, or life force of Jimmy, who passes on to the afterlife. After Jimmy passes away, his room begins to fill up with people, and Clotho and Lachesis bid Ralph and Lois to come with them, as there is much to be discussed.
Clotho and Lachesis explain to Ralph and Lois that they are agents of the Purpose, while Atropos is an agent of the Random. Clotho and Lachesis sever the life forces of people who have been selected to die at a specific time, while Atropos is responsible for those whose time of death is not specific (such as victims of car crashes, fires, etc). The two entities also inform Ralph and Lois that Bill has now passed away. This angers Ralph, as he sees the entities’ interference as being responsible for Bill’s death. He believes that by angering Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis have caused Atropos to target Bill. Ralph then threatens to walk out on the two entities, as he feels that he has been manipulated.
However, Lois convinces Ralph to hear Clotho and Lachesis out. Ralph and Lois learn that Atropos has severed the life force of Ed Deepneau. Ed Deepneau was unmarked: in other words, Ed served neither the Random or the Purpose, and the fact that Ed has lived so long after his life force was severed means that he is important in some way. Ed Deepneau is planning to kill the 2000+ people, and only Ralph and Lois have the power to stop them. Ralph also learns that his and Lois’ auras were altered, which resulted in the insomnia and new found powers, and that his preordained destiny has been changed.
After they return to their own reality, Ralph and Lois set about the task of attempting to prevent Ed Deepneau from committing mass murder. First, they find out the location of the women’s shelter, using their new found telepathic powers, so that they may speak to Helen Deepneau and her friend Gretchen Tillbury. Ralph also realizes that the scarf worn by Ed Deepneau contains the Japanese symbol for “kamikaze” or “suicide pilot,” and becomes frightened again.
Ralph and Lois make a brief stop to eat, and then head to the women’s shelter. When they arrive, they see a large black cloud, or “death bag” surrounding the shelter, and realize that the people there are in danger. The suspicion is confirmed when they hear Officer Leydecker shouting at Charlie Pickering to surrender, as Pickering has set fire to the shelter and killed several people. Ralph and Lois use their powers to enter the shelter and lead the women who are trapped there to safety. Helen Deepneau and her daughter Natalie are among the women trapped in the shelter. The little boy, Patrick, who Ralph saw at the park a few months prior, is also among the people trapped in the shelter, along with his mother. Ralph also uses his powers to render Charlie Pickering into a human vegetable, as Lois begs Ralph not to kill Pickering. Ralph tries to convince Helen to stop the rally at the civic center that night, but she will hear none of it.
As Ralph and Lois leave the shelter, they encounter Doris Marstellar. Doris leads them to a vehicle, which happens to be driven by Joe Wyzer, who Dorrance has apparently recruited to help him. Joe drives Ralph and Lois to the civic center, where he drops them off. Dorrance tells Ralph and Lois that they are involved in something a lot bigger than themselves, and that higher forces are watching them, marking their progress.
At the civic center, a large crowd of women, along with members of the media, is beginning to gather. However, the “death bag” still surrounds the area, reminding Ralph and Lois what will happen if their mission fails. Ralph uses his powers to find the trail of Atropos while Lois distracts the people around them. After he finds the trail of Atropos, Ralph and Lois head to his lair.
Finally, Ralph and Lois find Atropos’ lair, which happens to be the trunk of a dead oak tree. They descend into the creature’s lair, and immediately notice the large collection of odds and ends that Atropos has accumulated over the years. One of them is Joe Wyzer’s comb, which Ralph immediately pockets. However, he still cannot find Lois’ earrings. As Ralph and Lois make their way through the lair of Atropos, they notice that he has accumulated a large pile of cash, which provides the explanation as to how Ed Deepneau has obtained his money. They also notice a large “death bag”, or pulsating black cloud. This cloud contains more items, but these items belong to people who are still living. One of the items is Helen Deepneau’s sneaker, which Lois ties to her wrist before moving on.
Ralph is also able to slice open the “death bag.” When he does so, he also finds Ed Deepneau’s wedding ring, and notices that when he removes it, another “copy” of the ring appears in its place. However, there is only one “real” ring, and Ralph and Lois take that as well.
On the way out of the lair, Ralph and Lois have a confrontation with Atropos, who is not pleased that they have taken Ed’s ring. Both Ralph and Lois also notice that the creature is wearing Lois’ earrings. Ralph battles the creature, and is able to take Ed’s ring, along with extracting a promise from Atropos that he will leave Ralph and Lois alone and not interfere in their quest to stop Ed Deepneau from committing mass murder. However, Atropos shows Ralph a vision of something happening to someone he cares about in the future, which causes great concern for Ralph.
After Ralph and Lois return to their own level of reality, Ralph summons Clotho and Lachesis. Ralph confronts these two entities, as he feels that they have not been truthful with them. This assumption turns out to be correct, and Ralph extracts the true nature of his and Lois’ quest from Clotho and Lachesis: they actually must save a little boy, who will grow up to do something very important. The little boy is Patrick Danville, and is actually the same little boy Ralph saw at the park and in the basement of the burning women’s shelter. However, Ralph refuses to help Clotho and Lachesis, unless they will spare the life of someone else who is also important to Ralph. After some arguing, Clotho and Lachesis finally agree to the deal, and a cut is made on Ralph’s arm.
While Ralph is making the deal with Clotho and Lachesis, Lois is visited by an entity that she describes as “the green man.” The entity returns Lois’ earrings to her, and Lois gives those to Ralph. Ralph then prepares to continue on his mission to stop Ed Deepeneau.
Ralph is able to teleport himself to the plane that Ed Deepneau is flying. However, as he is trying to stop Ed Deepneau, Ralph sees someone that he thinks to be his deceased mother. But this is not his mother and is actually the entity known as the Crimson King, and the entity forces Ralph to come to his “court,” where he warns Ralph about his “meddling.” Ralph surprises the Crimson King by stabbing him with Lois’ earrings, and is able to defeat the entity.
Ralph then drops back down to his own level of reality, and distracts Ed Deepneau. Ralph is able to divert the plane away from the civic center. Susan Day is decapitated, and several others are killed, but not as many are killed due to Ralph’s actions. The life of Patrick Danville is also saved, and the Universe breathes a sigh of relief. Lois reels Ralph into the same level of reality as Clotho and Lachesis, and his life is also saved.
Clotho and Lachesis bid Ralph and Lois goodbye. Ralph again reminds them of their promise, and the two entities reluctantly agree.
The insomnia is no longer an issue for Ralph and Lois after their adventure, and their lives return to normal. They get married, and move into Lois’ house, and their lives are more or less happy. The memories of the incident also begin to fade, and Ralph and Lois no longer remember just what it was that they did, even though they know it was important.
Helen and Natalie Deepneau also lead happy lives after the incident at the civic center. Helen receives a windfall from Ed’s life insurance policy, and buys a house in Ralph and Lois’ neighborhood. Ralph and Lois spend much time with Natalie and Helen, and Natalie becomes a grandchild of sorts to them. Ralph and Lois also adopt a dog, who they name Rosalie.
For the next several years, Ralph and Lois are relatively happy. However, the insomnia returns to Ralph, and he begins to see the auras again. Ralph also remembers the promise that he made, and understands that his days are now numbered.
One day, Ralph decides he wants to go for a walk. However, he knows that something is about to happen to Natalie Deepneau, and that he will die saving her. Ralph finally confesses what is happening to Lois, and she becomes upset and tries to stop him. However, Ralph will have none of that, and Lois gives in, and accompanies Ralph on his final journey.
Ralph and Lois then encounter Natalie in front of Ed and Helen’s old house, along with their dog Rosalie. Ralph’s abilities have returned and he also sees Atropos, who is trying to distract Rosalie to get Natalie’s attention. This works, and Rosalie runs out into the street. Natalie runs after the dog and is caught in the path of an oncoming vehicle. Ralph then throws himself between Natalie and the vehicle, taking the hit that was intended for Natalie, saving her life.
The accident proves fatal for Ralph, and he passes away, with Lois at his side. Before he makes his final journey, he sees Clotho and Lachesis and his memories of them are awakened. Clotho and Lachesis also provide some comfort to Lois, as she watches her husband pass on.
Move over, Chuck Norris…
There is another bad ass in town, and his name is Ralph Roberts.
Chuck Norris may not need to turn on the shower because he makes the shower head cry, but Ralph Roberts battled the Crimson King. And won.
So Ralph wins, as I have yet to hear of Chuck Norris kicking the ass of the Crimson King. Although I am sure that battle would be epic…swoon…
However, as epic as Ralph’s confrontation with the King of Big Bads in all of literature (or at least in the Stephen King universe) was, I think my personal favorite Ralph Roberts moment was when he confronted…wait for it…Ed Deepneau!
Yes, the confrontations with Atropos and the Crimson King were awesome. Ass kickingly awesome, as a matter of fact. But I will always remember my man Ralph Roberts for his confrontation with the milquetoast man down the street.
Although Ed Deepneau was not really a milquetoast, as we Constant Readers know. Far from it, in fact.
But let’s get right down to it: Ed may have had his life force cut “prematurely” and been under the influence of Atropos and The Crimson King. And yes, Ed could not have controlled a lot of what happened. But “a lot of” does not mean “all of.” As Clotho and Lachesis reminded us, Ralph and Lois had choices. And so did Ed.
And one of those choices that Ed made was to beat his wife, probably even while she was pregnant. Somehow, I don’t think that the Crimson King or Atropos had much to do with those choices.
Ralph also made a choice: he made the choice to confront Ed, and call him out for beating Helen an inch within her life. Everyone else had the “deer in headlights” look, but the 70 year man who was only getting a couple of hours of sleep at night became the decisive one. In fact, the 70 year man who was only getting a couple of hours of sleep at night became the knight in shining armor that day.
And I love Ralph for that. As a survivor of domestic abuse, I often felt invisible, along with ashamed and broken. I looked for my knight for a long time, but he never came. That is proof that we need more of Ralph Roberts in the world: people who are not afraid to do what is right, despite what the rest of society may think. People who care about what happens to the little people. The fall of the sparrow, in other words.
There are so many things about Ralph that are swoon-worthy. In fact, Ralph Roberts is now one of my “book boos.”
A seventy year old man makes me swoon. There, I said it. And I am not ashamed.
In fact, I am proud to call Ralph one of my “book boos.” Not only did the man save the world (or all of the worlds in all of the universes), he sacrificed his own life, so that Natalie could live, and so that Natalie’s mother would not have to deal with what would have been the extremely painful loss of her only child. And any man who has those kind of thoughts is a man worthy of being called my “book boo.”
There is the ending to Insomnia. It gets me. Every. Single. Time.
With most other writers and most books, it would have ended when Ralph and Lois saved the lives of all those people at the civic center. The easy thing to do would have been to would be to let Ralph and Lois walk into the sunset, have their “happily ever after.” And that still would have made for an all-right book.
But we are not reading something by most other writers. We are reading something written by The Master. And this ending proves why he has earned the right to be called “The Master.”
In reality, there are hardly any “happily ever afters.” Instead, tragedy can strike, and sometimes out of nowhere. Good people are taken from us much too soon, and sometimes, trade-offs have to be made.
One of King’s strengths as a writer is that he is able to juxtapose the realistic with the fantastic. He does this by creating characters, places and situations that we can all identify with. Even in a novel like Insomnia, which is actually a dark fantasy.
And this book is taken to the next level by the description of the last few years of Ralph’s life. We get to experience the joy and love that Ralph experiences, and we are lulled into a sense of security, and expect a happy ending.
But life is hardly ever fair, and tragedy is always just around the corner. Many of King’s works, such as Bag of Bones, The Shining and Duma Key, remind of us this. Insomnia is no different, driving home the point that everything, even an innocent child’s life, comes at a price. And that price must always be paid, no matter how much that payment hurts.
Another thing I love about Insomnia is the fact that King gave us another Dark Tower novel. Now, it may not have Dark Tower anywhere in the title, but that is just a minor technicality, right?
In other words, I consider Insomnia to be the ninth Dark Tower novel that King always wanted to write, even before he was finished with the Dark Tower series.
Funny how a series can be that awesome, where it inspires its ninth book, when only four of the eight books of the actual series were published at the time. But such is the scope of the series like this one. King has said that the Dark Tower series is all encompassing, and Insomnia is a perfect example of that.
I have read this book many times, but every time I read the part about Patrick Danville drawing a picture Roland and telling his mother that Roland is a king too, I shiver. Literal goose flesh breaks out on my arms. Roland turning in his blankets under the “alien constellations”. There is just something about that is mind-blowing to me. Two old people who should have been ready for the old folks home (at least according to our society) are busy kicking ass, and that ass kicking had a direct effect on Roland Deschain, another ass kicker who Chuck Norris bows down to (or should, anyway.) Actually, mind blowing does not do that feeling I get justice, so universe blowing, perhaps?
The Crimson King is the ultimate Big Bad in the Stephen King universe, and is ultimately responsible for all of the bad things that occur there (after all, even Randall Flagg has to answer to someone.) He is mentioned in several works, such as Black House and The Dark Tower series, and ultimately shows up in the last book to do battle with Roland the gunslinger.
I did enjoy the Crimson King’s appearance in the Dark Tower series, but I think that my favorite representation of the Crimson King is the representation in Insomnia.
The Crimson King is an evil being. We saw a bit of this in the Dark Tower series, but he also seemed to be a stupid being, which diminished the evil part. However, in Insomnia, the Crimson King was vicious and evil. The way he tried to trick Ralph, by pretending to be Ralph’s dead mother…shudder. And speaking of shudder: that memory of the catfish that attacked Ralph when he was child and the egg sac that thing contained…eek! Insomnia is not what I consider to be a scary story by any means (I categorize it as fantasy or maybe even dark fantasy) but that memory reminded me that I was in fact reading something written by the modern day Boogeyman. And King comes by that title honestly. Who else could horrify me in a story that is a modern day Lord of the Rings? The Master, that’s who!
Well, that’s it for Insomnia. Join me next month as I review the case of life imitating art? Or is it art imitating life? In other words, I will be reviewing and dissecting The Dead Zone!
And speaking of the apple not falling far from the tree…
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
As always, all of King’s works are inter-connected. And much of the fun (at least for me) in reading a King book lies in finding those connections. Insomnia does not disappoint in that regard. Here are some of the connections I found:
-Mike Hanlon is a minor character in Insomnia. Mike is one of the members of The Losers Club, a group who banded together as children and later reunited as adults to defeat Pennywise the Clown, in the novel It.
-Ralph makes reference to the flood that occurred in 1986. Of course, this was when the Losers Club faced Pennywise the Clown in the novel It for the second time, defeating the monster for the final time.
-Ralph Roberts also makes an appearance in the book Bag of Bones, where he briefly speaks to Mike Noonan.
-Patrick Danville is a major player in the final Dark Tower book, where he helps Roland defeat the Crimson King.
-Dorrance Marstellar is referenced by Jamie Morton in the novel Revival.
-Susan Day is mentioned in the book Rose Madder.
-“Ka” (loosely defined to mean destiny) is mentioned several times in Insomnia. Ka is also a phrase commonly used in the Dark Tower series.
-Patrick Danville is a talented artist, much like Edgar Freemantle in the book Duma Key.
-Atropos was in possession of a sneaker owned by Gage Creed. Gage Creed was the son of Louis Creed, both characters from the novel Pet Sematary.