Yep, we have all had them. I have had my share, despite my loving husband and the rest of my four-legged family (although reading and writing about Stephen King always makes me feel better!)
Like I said, we all have them…even Batman!
And if Batman can have a bad day every now and then, our favorite ka-tet can also have a bad day too…like I said, no one is immune to bad days…no one!
And boy, did our ka-tet have a doozy of a day! Roland and company were literally all over the place, and had to deal with quite a few pests, which included not only your run of the mill goons sent by the gangster who should already be dead because he was killed in the second book of the series, but also a crazy elemental who has a maternal instinct so strong that she is capable of murder or worse…
Nope, just does not sound like a good day for our heroes. Not in the slightest. But luckily, they are gunslingers! And like Batman, gunslingers always know what to do, right?
Well, maybe. Unlike Batman, our heroes don’t have cool toys to help them through a bad day. But like Batman, they are smart and resourceful, so they may just pull through even the worst of days…
Well, let’s find out! Here is my review of The Song of Susannah!
The Song of Susannah picks of where The Wolves of the Calla left off: Susannah has gone missing, and the rest of the tet remains in Calla Bryn Sturgis. Eddie is frantic, and wants to try to rescue his wife before it is too late. Father Callahan is in shock, as he has found out that he is actually a character in a book called ‘Salem’s Lot, and may actually be the creation of a writer named Stephen King.
Roland and his friends request the assistance of the Manni, Calla Bryn Sturgis’ equivalent of mystics or holy men, in order to travel out of Mid-World to save Susannah, and to also help Calvin Tower, who is being harassed by gangsters to sell the vacant lot in New York City which contains a rose that is “the real world” equivalent of The Dark Tower. Eddie and Roland are transported to 1977 Maine. Father Callahan and Jake are also transported to New York, but arrive in the year 1999. Oy was originally supposed to remain behind in Calla Bryn Sturgis, but someone (or something) else has other ideas, and Oy is transported with Jake and Father Callahan.
The story then switches over to the perspective of Susannah, who is now at least partially controlled by the being known as Mia. Susannah and Mia has traveled to New York City, and it is the year of 1999. Both women are bewildered, but Susannah uses a small scrimshaw turtle in her possession that hypnotizes people to get money from a man, who also gets her a hotel room. Susannah finds out that Mia may have given away the location of Eddie and Roland to agents of the Crimson King, and becomes angry with Mia. Susannah also discovers that she still has some control of her mind and body, and receives a message from Eddie to stall Mia from giving birth. Susannah is able to do this using some visualization techniques, but knows this is only a temporary solution.
Susannah also demands answers from Mia in regards to the baby that they are carrying. Mia and Susannah travel to a construct created by Mia’s mind, and Mia explains that she made a deal with a man known as Walter. Mia surrendered her own demonic immortality in exchange for the ability to bear a child. However, Mia was unable to naturally conceive a child, as demons are sterile. When Susannah was raped in the speaking ring while Jake crossed over from his world in Mid-World, she was actually impregnated, as this particular demon had also had intercourse with Roland in its female form (demon elementals are actually hermaphrodites) and had preserved Roland’s semen. Walter then employed advanced technology to take the fetus from Susannah’s womb and had also mixed the semen of the Crimson King with Roland’s, and was then able to transfer the baby to Mia’s body, in much the same way someone would fax a document to another person. This explained why Susannah experienced some symptoms of pregnancy while still menstruating. Susannah is angered, but promises Mia she will still help her have the baby, which will not be human and may try to kill its mother(s).
In the meantime, Roland and Eddie are transported to 1977 Maine and almost immediately are forced into a gun battle at a general store with Enrico Balazar’s gangsters, who are also working for the Crimson King. Two of the customers are shot, but Roland and Eddie are able to escape with the help of a crafty man named John Cullum. Roland and Eddie are able to locate Calvin Tower, and realize that Tower has not kept his whereabouts secret.
Eddie becomes angered by the actions of Calvin Tower, and confronts the man in his home as Roland and Aaron Deepenau watch. Roland and Eddie then convince Tower that he must sell them the lot that houses for the road for $1, so that the rose may be protected from the Sombra Corporation and North Central Positronics, both of which are companies created specifically for the purpose of aiding the Crimson King in his quest to destroy the Tower. Roland and Eddie inform Calvin that he is selling his lot to the Tet Corporation, which consists of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy. Tower is resistant at first, but is eventually persuaded by Roland and Eddie to sell the lot. It is revealed that one of Roland’s ancestors had a connection to Tower’s ancestors, and that Calvin’s family has been sworn to protect the Rose and the Tower. Eddie also gives Tower some advice on future investments. Eddie then inquires about a writer named Stephen King, and John Cullum confirms that he resides in the area. Eddie convinces Roland that they must visit the writer, and Roland reluctantly agrees.
Roland and Eddie then find the house of Stephen King with very little trouble. Both men feel drawn to the place, and realize that they have encountered something special. King faints upon meeting Roland, but does not recognize Eddie (as King has created Eddie yet). Eddie and Roland learn that King is a conduit and his purpose is to tell their story. Eddie and Roland also realize that King is in danger, and has been in the sights of the Crimson King for many years. Eddie worries that King’s vices (mainly his drinking) may result in his demise. King undergoes hypnosis under Roland, and Roland reminds him of his purpose in life: to tell the story of the Tower. Roland and Eddie then leave King’s residence, hoping that King will live to tell their tale. King then awakens, and has forgotten about the visit. King also becomes inspired to start the second book in the series: The Drawing of the Three.
Meanwhile, back in 1999 New York City, Susannah continues to attempt to delay Mia’s labor but this becomes increasingly difficult. Susannah and Mia travel to a restaurant called The Dixie Pig, which is really a gathering spot for the Low Men, and also provides a portal back to Mid-World. Susannah leaves behind a small, magical scrimshaw turtle figurine, in the hopes that the object will assist her friends in finding her later on. Susannah and Mia are then transported to Fedic, a town located in Thunderclap, and Mia’s labor begins.
Jake, Father Callahan and Oy have also been transported to 1999 New York City. Jake discovers the scrimshaw turtle, which gives him that Susannah may still be alive. Jake and Father Callahan also track down Black 13, but nearly succumb to its sinister intentions. However, Father Callahan is able to put the evil object “back to sleep.” Susannah has also left a telepathic message with a preacher, and Jake, Oy and Father Callahan are able to track Susannah and Mia to the Dixie Pig. Jake and Father Callahan enter the restaurant with their weapons drawn and ready to kill. Neither has any hope of surviving the encounter.
The book ends with the diary entries of Stephen King. The diary spans from 1977 to 1999, and details King’s struggles with addiction, his writing and his many near-death experiences. However, the diary is concluded with an article from a newspaper that states King was killed on June 19th, 1999, after he was struck by a mini van while taking an afternoon walk.
Whew, Song of Susannah…
Not that “whew” is a bad thing, but it is the first thing that comes to mind when this book is mentioned.
Song of Susannah does have a different tone than any of the other books. One of its biggest criticisms is that it feels “rushed”, as if the master himself needed to get this one out of the way to go on to bigger and better things…
And I get this criticism, I really do. Song of Susannah is short, but it is almost like an over-packed suitcase that someone put too much in because he/she didn’t want to pay the airlines those pesky extra fees (really, I would know nothing about this).
But after I finished my read this go-around, I got to thinking (*insert danger right here, I know*). And one of my thoughts was: Is the rushed feeling something that King did on purpose? Did he want us to feel rushed, when we read it, perhaps to set the mood for the last book in the series? Did he want to create a sense of urgency, because things became urgent for our favorite ka-tet? In other words, did he want to convey that “shit just got real?”
And the more time I spend thinking about it in this way, the more I think that I may be right. The first three books could be almost meandering at times. Sure, there was urgency in them (Eddie heroine addiction, saving Roland from Detta and Jake’s “birth” in Mid-World all come to mind), but the first three more have the feel of making love, where your lover takes his/her time, getting to know every inch of your body and is eager to find out what makes you tick, and just covers you with deep, slow kisses…
And if the first three are the literary equivalent of making love, Song of Susannah is the literary equivalent of a quickie. Song of Susannah is urgent, and does not take the time to get to know you. It will still kiss you, but the kisses are greedy and even a little rough at times. Song of Susannah shoves you against the wall, grasping you with its rough hands, and will do its business with you, not caring that your clothes are not fully removed, or even that you are in the kitchen instead of the bedroom. And this is perfectly fine, as you are eager to move forward, and the sense of urgency has been growing…
And there is nothing wrong with a quickie, literary or otherwise. In fact, a quickie can have its charms, and Song of Susannah has many of those.
One of the charms of Song of Susannah is the title character herself, Susannah Dean. Previously, Susannah’s character had not been emphasized as much, with Roland, Eddie and Jake receiving most of the attention. However, this changes in Song of Susannah, and Susannah’s thoughts and feelings are now front and center. In particular, we get to see Susannah’s interaction with Mia, who has possessed her body and will stop at nothing to deliver her offspring, although there is the risk that the offspring may kill both of its “mothers”, along with its father. The origin story that Mia provides to Susannah is fascinating, along with the explanation of how her offspring ties to Roland. Susannah is still loyal to her ka-tet and desperately wishes to be reunited with them, especially her husband, Eddie, but also feels a pull of sympathy towards Mia, who she knows has bought the lies, hook, line and sinker,told by the Crimson King and his henchmen. Through the eyes of Susannah, Mia becomes a somewhat sympathetic character, even though she is still not on the side of the “white” (Roland and company) and is one of “the bad guys.”
Even though the emphasis on Song of Susannah is on Susannah herself, a few other characters shine through. One of these characters is Eddie Dean. Previously, Eddie was a heroine addict. Eddie became “clean” after his forced entrance into Mid-World, despite the fact that he fought Roland tooth and nail, and even tried to kill Roland, in an attempt to get back into “the real world.” But Eddie then falls in love with Susannah, and stays with Roland in Mid-World to help Roland further his quest. In Song of Susannah, Eddie’s love, Susannah, is taken away from him. And then Eddie is taken away from Mid-World, and thrust back into the “real world,” giving him a chance to pick up his old habits again. However, even though Eddie has had his rock taken away from (Susannah), he does not succumb to the temptation, and even behaves admirably, fighting in another gun battle with Roland and then helping to persuade Calvin to sell the vacant lot so that the rose (and therefore the Tower itself) can be protected. Eddie easily could have lapsed back into his old ways, but behaves admirably instead. In other words, he (again) proves himself to be a true gunslinger.
Of course, no discussion on Song of Susannah would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room…
Yes, its time to get meta. Meta-fiction, that is.
Stephen King included himself as a character in the Dark Tower series. This decision is controversial, to say the least. Often, the reaction to this decision is something like this:
The reaction is also varied: some love it, some hate it. And there is also the persistent rumor that one day King will rewrite the series, and not include himself as a character in it.
However, King meeting his own characters in Song of Susannah was one of my favorite parts of the book.
There, I said it. And let me repeat myself: KING MEETING HIS OWN CHARACTERS IN SONG OF SUSANNAH WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PARTS OF THE BOOK.
See, I even used all caps, in case you didn’t hear me!
Oftentimes, as a artist, your creations can feel as if they are part of you. And they can become real. I dabble in painting, drawing and so forth, and when I am really working on a painting or drawing, I feel as if I am part of that piece of art. In other words, part of me lives in my artwork, and continues to live in that artwork, even when it is “finished.” A little piece of me goes into everything that I create. In fact, you might even say that my artwork is “alive”, in some sense.
So imagine how Ser King must have felt. King has been working on this series from the very beginning, and it has never been very far from him. And like his characters in the book, he must have felt a sense of urgency to finish writing the series, due to some interesting letters from fans, and his own internal pressure.
And as the pressure mounted, the world of Roland and his friends likely became more vivid to King. Maybe he began to dream about them. Or perhaps he heard their voices, calling out to him to finally finish the tale. Or maybe they paid him a visit…
Yes, maybe the characters paid him a visit. Like I said, I feel that my artwork lives, in some way. And I am sure that King feels the same way: his artwork also lives. And sometimes, art imitates life. Or does life imitate art? Either way, by including himself as a character, I believe that King was trying to drive home a point: artists really do live in their own little world. And that world can sometimes feel more “real” that the so-called “real world.” And an artist’s creations are never far from him/her, and can cry out to the artist, begging to be “finished.”
So that’s it for Song of Susannah. Join me and our heroes on the last leg of this fantastic journey, as we review and dissect the final book: The Dark Tower. Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!
Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in Song of Susannah.
-Eddie tells Roland that he sees a “death bag”, or black aura, surrounding Stephen King. This brings to mind the black auras seen by Ralph Roberts in Insomnia, when he encountered people (or animals) who were near death.
-Roland thinks of Susannah’s proclivity to be able to “house” another personality, given the fact that Detta was another personality of Susannah’s for so long, and now Mia has also taken up residence in Susannah’s mind. Another character in the King universe with this proclivity was Thad Beamount in The Dark Half. Tad’s mind housed George Stark, who was eventually given life and was also able to cause trouble, in much the same manner as Mia.
-When Roland speaks Calvin Tower in regards to his and Tower’s ancestors, the subject of dragons rears its head. Roland states that one of his ancestors wanted to kill a certain dragon, but that dragon had already been killed. This may be in reference to Niner, the dragon who was slain by King Roland in the book The Eyes of the Dragon. Randall Flagg also made an appearance in this book, so this is another confirmation that Roland’s world and the world in The Eyes of the Dragon are likely the same world.
-The Rose is said to have healing powers, and seems to be able to cure almost any ailment. The Rose seems to be similar to the Talisman in the book of the same name. In the book The Talisman, once Jack Sawyer found The Talisman, he was able to cure his mother and her Territories Twinner of the cancer that was killing both women. It is possible that the Talisman may be another world’s manifestation of the Rose. In other words, the two may be Twinners.
-Again, Breakers are mentioned in Song of Susannah. Breakers also play a role in a few other books and short stories, including Hearts in Atlantis, Everything’s Eventual and Black House. Characters with PSI abilities are rampant in the King universe, and include Carrie White, Abra Stone, Dinky Earnshaw, Ted Brautigan and Danny Torrence, among others.