The Great Race: My Review of The Running Man

Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.

Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass

Or did Barry Allen make an ill-advised trip, and travel back in time, so now that we have a paradox on our hands, so to speak?

(Not to be confused with our beloved Earth 2, where science accelerates at a rapid rate, and villains are the mayors of cities and heroes are well…kinda douchebags, actually.)

Maybe I traveled into an alternate reality, where Superman is the adopted son of undocumented migrant workers, and has a really, really close relationship with Zod, and Batman is literally backwards, and kind of sucks…

Well, actually no.

Not that I am knocking on any of the above, and wouldn’t be open to a little possible experimentation…

Although I could argue that Barry Allen and his ill-advised time travel has had some kind of effect on my reality…

After all, the Cubs are World Series champions!

And we may not have Leonard Snart as mayor, but hey, we have a Cheeto for president! So maybe that time travel did do something!

Now, if only it had won me the lottery…

Or at least given me cool super powers!

Okay, back on topic…

I have actually traveled to alternate reality, even though that trip to Earth 2 is still on my bucket list.

In other words, I have read a book written by that Bachman fella…

Well, I am really not sure if those guys are one in the same, even if that whole story about death from cancer of the pseudonym is slightly suspicious…

Hey, you never know.  If young boys and and middle-aged priests can “die” in one world, and be re-born into another (cooler) world, maybe writers can be stricken with cancer of the pseudonym, and end up being re-born on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, where the writer in question takes a grisly sort of janitorial type of job, collecting macabre souvenirs as a form of payment…

Okay, again back on topic.

So, I read a Stephen King book.

Yeah, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and Cheetos make terrible leaders of the free world…

So what else is new?

Well, this book is actually new, at least somewhat.

As most of us probably know, early in his career, The King of Horror decided that he would like to write non-horror stories, every now and again.

While King has actually written some fantastic books that can be classified as not horror (The Talisman, 11/22/63, Different Seasons and The Eyes of the Dragon all readily come to mind), early on his career, he was bound by some silly rules about how many books he could publish in a year.

Somebody thought that there was such a thing as too many Stephen King books!  And they thought I was the crazy one!

So King did what any sensible King of Horror would do.  He created a pseudonym.

As far as I know, this pseudonym did not come to life and murder people, forcing a flock of birds to be called, so they could carry him off, kicking and screaming.

(However, if he is employed by the friendly folks known as SAMCRO, all bets are off, as you gotta do what you gotta do to survive over there in the charming town of Charming, California.)

King named this pseudonym Richard Bachman.  And for a while, that Bachman fella did pretty well for himself.

He wasn’t a horror writer, per se.  No, Bachman explored the darkness of human nature.  Man’s inhumanity to man, in other words.

He wrote of violence at school, corporate greed and of a dystopian government, that might actually not be fiction at this point.

And Bachman also wrote of our obsession with television, and our need to be constantly entertained, even at the expense of the feelings (and maybe even lives) of our fellow man.

In other words, I am currently reading The Running Man.

Dicky Bachman has come out to play.

So let’s indulge him, as we read and dissect The Running Man.

And, as always:

Continue reading

The Eclipse, Part 1: My Review of Gerald’s Game

When one thinks of horror, often one thinks of horror movies.

You have your classic horror movies, such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.

Or, for a little more modern fare, you can always watch films such as Horns, or Get Out.  Those are good for a fright as well.

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…

And no, I am not talking about the latest American Horror Story, aka the Drumpf presidency, although the survivors of the Bowling Green Massacre may not agree with me on that alternative fact!

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.

I mean, a killer clown that hunts kids?

Check!

A vampire that effectively turns a town into a ghost town that any sane person would want to avoid at all costs?

Check!

A rabid St. Bernard that makes you want to avoid car trouble at all costs?

Check!

An evil entity that haunts a town, and forces you to agree with the statement “Dead is better?”

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.

The Shining is a prime example of this.  Most of us have at least seen the Kubrick adaptation, and quite a few of us have probably read the book as well.

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.

As always:

Continue reading

Caveat Emptor: My Review of Needful Things

Once upon a time, two stories got together.

These stories were named Wall Street and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

gordon gekko

They fell in love, and got married.

something-wicked-this-way-comes-1

One day, there was so much love that a new story came into existence.

And that new story was kind of like its parents.

It dealt with many of the same themes and messages.

needful_things_move_poster

But make no mistake, that new story was also distinct from its mom and dad stories.

It had its own voice, along with a large cast of characters and a pretty awesome villain, to boot.

So, what was this story named?

Surely, it had to have an awesome name to live up to all this hype, right?

Well, since you asked, the name of this story is…

Needful Things.

Yes, *that* Needful Things, written by none other than The Master himself!

Simpsons SK

You are visiting the right blog, in case you were wondering.

Where this month (much like the book in question), we end 2016 with a bang!

Or maybe a stink bomb…now that would be more appropriate, wouldn’t it?

So, strap in, and get ready for one Hell (this is a Stephen King book, after all) of a ride, as we review and dissect one of my all-time favorite Stephen King books!

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

Needful Things begins with an introduction of the town Castle Rock, by an unknown narrator.  The narrator seems familiar with the town and its inhabitants, describing, in particular, the various feuds and rivalries between the inhabitants, and some things that the inhabitants would wish to keep secret.  The narrator also advises the reader that new store, named Needful Things, has opened in Castle Rock, and that the new store will bring some kind of change to the town.

There is much talk and gossip about the new store in town.  However, the store’s first customer is an eleven year old boy by the name of Brian Rusk.

Brian wanders into Needful Things one fall afternoon.  There he meets the owner, a man by the name of Leland Gaunt.

Almost immediately, Brian takes a liking to Mr. Gaunt, and is in awe of the new store.  When Mr. Gaunt asks Brian what he desires, Brian replies that he would like a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card to complete his collection.

Somehow, Gaunt is able to produce that exact baseball card, much to Brian’s amazement.  The card is signed by Koufax, and even has the name “Brian” written on it.

Even though Brian has very little money, Gaunt sells him the card.  Gaunt also makes Brian promise to do something for him.  The deed is never specified, but Brian walks out of the store and is very happy.

When the store finally opens for business, it receives another visitor:  Polly Chalmers.

Polly is a long time resident of Castle Rock, although she spent several years living elsewhere.  Not much is known about Polly, other than the fact that she became pregnant, left town and possibly attended business school.  Polly keeps to herself and does not reveal much about her past.  Polly also suffers from a painful case of arthritis, and is desperate for a cure.

Polly also immediately takes a liking to Gaunt.  She pays him a visit and brings him a cake, and they chat about the town.  Polly reassures Gaunt about his new store, telling him that he will likely have many more customers.

That claim proves to be true, as Gaunt receives several more visits from the townspeople that day.  Some even purchase items from him, negotiating the prices with Gaunt.

The book then introduces us to a man named Alan Pangborn.  Alan is the sheriff of Castle Rock.  Alan has recently lost his wife and younger son due to a car accident and is mourning their deaths.  Alan is also in a relationship with Polly Chalmers.

Later that evening, a man named Hugh Priest is walking down the street, and notices a fox tail for sale in the window of the new store.  Hugh also notices that Needful Things appears to be open for business, even though the hour is very late.  Hugh is alcoholic whose life is beginning to fall apart due to his drinking.  When he sees the fox tail, he is reminded of his high school days and happier times.

Hugh walks into the store and meets Gaunt. He purchases the fox tail from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on a woman named Nettie Cobb, who is Polly’s housekeeper.

The new store does more business the next day.  Myra Evans, the best friend of Cora Rusk (Brian’s mother) purchases a picture of Elvis from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on another person in town.

Nettie Cobb, Polly Chalmers’ housekeeper, also becomes a customer of the new store.  Nettie is a troubled woman, as she has spent time in a mental institution, after killing her abusive husband in self defense.  She was released as part of a work rehabilitation program, and came to work for Polly Chalmers.   Nettie purchases a piece of carnival glass, and agrees to play a prank on Danforth “Buster” Keeton, a town selectman.

Meanwhile, Alan has a busy day as sheriff.  He has his deputy, Norris Ridgewick, write Keeton a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot.  Keeton becomes irrationally angry at this, and attacks Ridgewick after he receives the ticket.  Alan is able to break the fight up, but wonders why Keeton is so angry over a five dollar ticket, and speculates that Keeton may be deeply troubled.

Alan also meets with the Reverend William Rose, the pastor of the local Baptist church.  Reverend Rose is upset because the Catholic church in town will be sponsoring a bingo night in the name of charity, and the Baptist church believes that gambling in any form is a sin.  The reverend tries to convince Alan that this is illegal, but Alan has done his research, and tells the reverend that the Catholics will be able to sponsor their gambling night.  This upsets Reverend Rose, but he finally leaves the police station.

That afternoon,, Alan meets Polly for coffee, and they talk about the new store.  Polly is actually pleased that Nettie visited the new store, as Nettie is timid and tends to shy away from new experiences.  Polly also mentions that Gaunt returned the cake container, along with a note inviting her to visit the store that Sunday, as he has an item for sale that may be of interest to Polly.

Brian realizes that it is time to play the prank that he promised Gaunt that he would play.  Brian convinces himself to play the prank, as he fears his new baseball card may be taken away from him if he does not fulfill his promise to Gaunt.  Brian has not told anyone of the purchase of the card, as he fears that the fact that he now owns an expensive card may rouse suspicion.

Brian heads to the house of a woman named Wilma, who is a neighbor of Nettie Cobb’s.  The two women have been feuding for some time, and simply do not get along.  Brian smears mud on Wilma’s wash that is drying on the clothesline.  He feels some satisfaction after playing the prank, and heads back home to enjoy his new baseball card.

When Wilma returns that evening, she discovers her ruined sheets and becomes angry.  Wilma also assumes that Nettie is responsible, and places a threatening phone call to Nettie.  This upsets Nettie, who has no idea why Wilma is angry, but vows to not let Wilma bully her any more.

Deputy Norris Ridgewick passes by the store and his attention is captured by a fishing rod.  Ridgewick agrees to buy the fishing rod from Gaunt, and agrees to play a prank on another citizen of the town.

Gaunt makes several more deals with various citizens of Castle Rock, where his customers buy items from them that they deeply desire, and agree to play (seemingly) harmless pranks on other citizens of the town.

Danforth “Buster” Keeton also pays a visit to Needful Things and Leland Gaunt.  Keeton has become increasingly unstable and paranoid over the past several years, as he has become addicted to gambling and has been stealing from the town’s treasury to finance his gambling habit.  Keeton is now under the threat of an audit, which means that his embezzling will be discovered.

Keeton purchases a horse racing game from Gaunt, which he believes will help him predict the winner of the actual horse races.  Keeton also promises to play a prank for Gaunt, as payment for the horse racing game.

The next morning, Alan drops by Needful Things, hoping to meet with the owner.  Gaunt is in the store, but Alan does not see him.  Gaunt does not trust Alan, and does not want to meet him.

Polly sits on her porch, anticipating that she is going to experience a very bad bout of pain from her arthritis.  Polly also recalls her past, which she has not been honest with Alan.  When Polly was 17, she became pregnant out of wedlock with her son, Kelton.  She refused to marry the father or accept any help from her parents, who were ashamed of her.  Polly ran away to the West coast and ended up in California.  One night, while she was working, she left Kelton with a babysitter.  There was a fire at her apartment that killed both her son and his babysitter.  Eventually, Polly returned to Castle Rock, as she realized it was her true home.  However, she never told Alan the truth about her son, telling him instead that Kelton died of SIDS at three months old.  Polly knows that she must reveal the truth to Alan, sooner or later, but is not sure how to do that.

That night, Polly’s prediction about her arthritis proves to be correct and she is in terrible pain, and has trouble sleeping.  The next day, Nettie pays Polly a visit and becomes very worried about Polly’s health.  Polly is grateful for the concern, but tells Nettie not to worry and that she will be okay.

After Nettie leaves her house, Hugh Priests breaks into her home, in order to play the prank that Gaunt has ordered him to play.  Hugh kills Nettie’s dog Raider with a corkscrew, and leaves a threatening note on Raider’s collar.

Nettie leaves Polly’s house, and is ordered by Gaunt to play a prank on Buster Keeton.  She complies, breaking into Keeton’s house and leaving several parking tickets with obscene messages, signing one of the tickets as Norris Ridgewick.

Brian Rusk also realizes that he must finish paying for his baseball ticket.  Again, he heads to Wilma Jerzyck’s house, and throws several rocks with the windows, with threatening notes.

Nettie returns to her home.  She finds Raider’s corpse and is heartbroken and angry that someone has killed him.  She also notices the note, and believes that Wilma has killed her dog in retaliation for something.  Nettie finds a large, sharp kitchen knife, and heads to Wilma’s home.

In the meantime, Wilma returns to her home and finds the broken windows and the note.  She is furious, and assumes that Nettie is responsible.  Wilma also finds a large, sharp night, and leaves her house, looking for Nettie.

Wilma and Nettie meet on the sidewalk, and immediately exchange words.  This escalates to blows and the two women begin to stab each other.  Both women are able to inflict fatal blows on each other, and both die in the ensuing fight.

Polly begins to feel a little better and decides to take Gaunt up on his offer, meeting him at his shop.  Gaunt seems to understand how much pain that Polly is in, and offers her an Egyptian charm he calls an “azkah.”  Polly is skeptical, but Gaunt convinces her to try the charm, telling her that she has nothing to lose by trying.  Polly begins to feel better even before she leaves the store, but realizes that Gaunt had put her in a trance.

Keeton returns home from a rare, pleasant outing with his wife, Myrtle, and finds the fake tickets.  He is humiliated and attempts to remove all of the tickets, but his paranoia and instability become apparent.  Myrtle is worried about her husband, but is unable to reach him.

Alan and Norris complete the investigation on Nettie’s death.  Something does not sit right with Alan, but he does not know what.  He sends Norris home for the night, telling him to enjoy his fishing trip that Norris has planned for the next day.

Norris returns to the police station and changes back into his civilian clothes.  He finds a package on his desk, but does not know who the package is from.  When he opens it, his hand is snapped by a rat trap, and Norris nearly loses his fingers.  Norris is outraged and humiliated, and is also convinced that Keeton is responsible for the trick.

A prank is played on the Reverend William Rose, in the form of a nasty note left in the parsonage.  The note is signed by the concerned Catholic men of Castle Rock, but is left there by a young man named Ricky, who has played the prank in exchange for an item from Needful Things.

Gaunt watches over the town in the apartment above his shop, which is void of any furnishings.  He is planning something unpleasant for the town of Castle Rock, and various citizens stir in their sleep, plagued by disturbing dreams.

Pranks continue to be played on the unsuspecting citizens of Castle Rock, including the Baptist church, which receives a threatening note believed to be from the Catholic church.

More trouble rolls into Castle Rock: Ace Merrill, a former resident of Castle Rock, decides to return to town.  Ace was arrested by Alan several years ago in a drug bust.  Ace has been released from prison and is still a cocaine addict.  Ace also owes money to some unsavory people due to his drug habit, and has been given a deadline of November 1st to pay back the money, or he will be killed.

Ace happens to notice a “for hire” sign on the window of Needful Things.  He also notices what he thinks to be a book about hidden treasure in New England that is written by his late uncle, Reginald Merrill.  Ace has been convinced that his uncle had held out an inheritance that should have been due to Ace, and his greed is sparked.

Ace enters the store and speaks to Gaunt.  Gaunt convinces Ace to work for him so that Ace can pay back the money he owes to his creditors.  Gaunt also sells Ace the book on buried treasure, telling him that maybe the book will lead him to his fortune.

Alan soon finds out that Ace is back in town and confronts him.  Ace tells Alan that he has no intention of staying in town and that he will leave soon.

Brian Rusk begins to feel extremely guilty over his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.  However, he receives a call from Gaunt advising him that he was not seen by anyone, and that he will be able to lie if necessary.  Brian does not feel any better, and begins to have thoughts of suicide.

Sally Ratliffe, the speech teacher at the local junior high school, becomes the latest victim of a prank.  Sally is engaged to Lester Pratt, the physical education teacher.  Both are devout Baptists and seem devoted to each other.  However, Sally finds what appears to be a love note from Lester’s ex-girlfriend in his vehicle.  Sally is extremely upset when she finds this, but calms down a bit when she returns home and begins to meditate.

Ace completes his first job for Gaunt.  He travels to Massachusetts and picks up a vehicle, per the instructions of Gaunt, along with a large amount of guns and ammunition.  Ace notices that the there is something strange about the car, as it appears to drive itself, but he return the car and the rest of his cargo to Gaunt, and then proceeds to hunt  for treasure.

Polly buries Nettie, and has Alan drop her off at Gaunt’s shop, so that she can pay for the azka charm.  Alan is skeptical about the charm, even though Polly is feeling better than she has in years.  The two argue, but Alan convinces Polly to pay for the charm with a check, so that she can cancel the payment if necessary.

When Polly enters the shop, Gaunt senses that she is troubled, and tells her that he will accept a check.  He also tells Polly that she must play a prank on someone, and that someone is Ace Merrill.  Polly agrees to the prank, and leaves the store with her azka charm.

Alan deduces that Brian Rusk may have either been involved somehow in the deaths of Nettie and Wilma.  Alan believes that Brian either played the prank, or perhaps witnessed it.  He tries to speak to Brian, but Brian seems distressed and will not open up to Alan.  Alan is then interrupted and called back to the station.

In the meantime, pranks continue to be played on various citizens of Castle Rock, with varying consequences.  In one instance, it is revealed that the principal at the middle school is involved in pedophilia.  In another instance, Lester Pratt, the fiancee of Sally, finds the wallet of Sally’s ex boyfriend in his vehicle, along with a picture of Sally and her ex, leaving Lester to believe that Sally is cheating on him.

Polly returns home and finds a letter waiting for her.  The letter appears to reveal that Alan has made some inquiries about her past and the death of her son, Kelton.  Polly is furious and calls Alan when he is at work and ends their relationship.

Alan is bewildered by the phone call from Polly, but has to put his feelings aside, as fingerprints were discovered at Nettie’s house.  The fingerprints do not belong to Nettie, but actually belong to Hugh Priest.  Alan suspects that Hugh killed Nettie’s dog, and sets out to arrest him.

Chaos erupts in the town, as people begin to seek revenge against those who they believe to be responsible for the tricks that were played on them.  One of Alan’s deputies, John LaPointe, is attacked by Lester Pratt at the police station, as Lester believes John was dating Sally behind his back.  Sheila, the dispatcher, attacks Lester and kills him, defending John.  The phones at the police station begin ringing off the hook, and Alan is bewildered.

Brian Rusk is unable to shake his distress.  Brian ends his life in his father’s garage, shooting himself with his father’s rifle.  Before his death, Brian makes his horrified younger brother Sean promise to never set foot in the store Needful Things.

Polly then makes good on her promise to play a prank on Ace Merrill.  She buries some torn pictures and stamps in a coffee can on some abandoned property, along with a letter addressed to Ace.  Polly questions her actions and her argument with Alan, but still plays the prank anyway.

Shortly after Polly buries the coffee can, Ace uses his book and maps and tracks down the location where the can is buried.  Ace eagerly digs and finds the coffee can, thinking that he has found buried treasure from his uncle.  However, his hopes are dashed when he finds the letter.  The letter appears to be written by Alan Pangborn and taunts Ace, telling him that his uncle left his treasure to Alan and not Ace.  Ace becomes furious, and vows to find Alan.

Chaos continues to erupt in the town.  Danforth Keeton finally becomes completely unhinged and kills his wife, Myrtle, beating her to death with a hammer.  Hugh Priest is also killed by the bartender who believes Hugh played a prank on him.  Alan Pangborn is bewildered, and attempts to question Sean Rusk, Brian’s younger brother, as he is unable to obtain any information from Cora Rusk, Brian’s mother, who appears to be in a daze.

While the chaos erupts in Castle Rock, Gaunt continues to make sales.  This time, he is selling guns, and the guns appear to have poison bullets.  It is also revealed that Gaunt is extremely old, and has been in this business for many centuries, causing chaos wherever he appears.

Alan is finally able to question Sean Rusk, and is disturbed by what he finds out.  Sean tells him that Brian made him promise not to ever enter the store known as Needful Things before his death.  Sean tells Alan about the baseball card that Gaunt sold to Brian, along with the sunglasses sold to his mother, Cora, and that Cora believes that those sunglasses allow her to visit with Elvis Presley.  Alan realizes that Brian was responsible for the pranks played on Wilma, and that Gaunt is the one actually responsible for the chaos in town.  Alan issues out a warrant for Gaunt’s arrest, and realizes that he must find Gaunt.

Gaunt recruits both Keeton and Ace to help him in his final act of mischief in Castle Rock:  he plans on using dynamite to destroy the town.

A stink bomb is set off in the Baptist Church.  The Baptists blame the Catholics, and the two groups meet with vengeance in mind.  The Catholics and the Baptists begin to fight, and people are badly hurt and even killed in the brawl, as both groups are intent on destroying the other.

Alan is on the hunt for Gaunt.  He vows vengeance on Gaunt, for his actions in Castle Rock.

Norris Ridgewick plans on committing suicide.  He believes that he is at least partially responsible for the chaos in town, as he purchased an item from Gaunt and played a prank.  However, something makes Norris realize that committing suicide is not the answer.  Norris then sees the fishing rod he purchased for what it is:  a piece of old bamboo.  Norris escapes from his noose and destroys the fishing rod, and vows that he will seek revenge on Gaunt.

Polly also has a revelation:  the letter she found earlier that day was addressed to Patricia Chalmers.  However, Polly had always been known as Polly during her time in San Francisco.  Therefore, Polly realizes that the letter was a fake, and that Alan has not made any inquiries into her past.

Polly rips the azka charm away from her chest.  When she does, a spider escapes from the charm.  Polly realizes that this is the manifestation of her arthritis pain, which never really went away, but was transferred elsewhere.  Polly chases the creature into her bathroom, and begins to attack it.

Alan finally arrives at Needful Things and notices that the store that the store appears to be abandoned.  However, Alan finds a note from Gaunt, along with a video tape claiming to capture the last moments of his deceased wife and son.  Alan pops the video into the VCR, and prepares to watch.

Polly continues to battle the spider, attacking it with her mouth and then a toilet plunger.  Finally, she defeats the creature, and realizes that she must find Alan.

Keeton and Ace begin the destruction of the town, using the dynamite.  They are seen by Norris, who orders them to halt.

Unable to stop himself, Alan watches the video tape.  The tape appears to show his wife car being hit by none other than Ace Merrill, whom Alan had previously arrested for selling drugs.  Alan becomes angry, and wants to seek revenge on Ace, who he now believes to be responsible for his wife and son’s death.

Norris attempts to arrest Ace and Keeton.  However, he is shot, and Ace escapes, looking for Alan.

While Norris is attempting to restore order, several buildings in Castle Rock begin to explode.

Polly finds Alan, and begs him to stop his search for Ace.  She is able to get through to Alan, who realizes that something is wrong with the video tape that he watched.

Ace interrupts the conversation, by pointing a gun at Polly.  Alan then has his own revelation: in the video tape, his wife’s seat belt is shown to be buckled.  However, Alan recalls that this was not the case and realizes that he has been tricked.

Alan also sees Gaunt leaving the store, with a valise that appears to contain the souls of his unhappy customers.  Alan has brought a container that has paper snakes with him.  This was something that his son, who enjoyed practical jokes, had purchased before his death.

Alan unleashed the joke on Gaunt.  The snake springs from the can, and is actually a real snake, not a paper one.  Gaunt is fooled, and grabs for the snake.  The snake bites Gaunt, and he screams in pain.   Alan takes advantage of this, and grabs Gaunt’s valise.

Polly breaks free of Ace’s grip and attacks him.  Norris sees his opportunity and shoots Ace, killing him instantly.

Alan continues to use his magic tricks to fool Gaunt, and demands that he leave town.  Alan brings out some trick flowers, which turn into a blazing bouquet of light.  Again, Alan casts out Gaunt.  The valise bursts open, and the trapped souls escape, free to make their journey to their final destiny.

After the valise is opened, Gaunt escapes the town, in his Talisman Tucker.  However, the Talisman transforms into a horse with burning red eyes, and Gaunt transforms into a dwarf.  Gaunt and his supernatural vehicle then vanish, and Castle Rock returns to normal.

Polly, Alan and Norris leave town, to seek medical attention for Norris.  They are heartbroken over the destruction of the town, but relieved that Alan has defeated Gaunt.  Alan tries to let go of his grief for his wife and son, so that he continue to live his life.

An unnamed narrator advises the reader that a new store has opened in the town of Junction City, Iowa.  The store is named Unanswered Prayers and is presumably owned by Leland Gaunt.


My Thoughts

Well, this was unexpected.

When I planned to read and review Needful Things, I purposely picked the month of December to do this.

I mean, Black Friday Christmas shopping, people losing their minds over big screen TV’s and Barbie dolls…

It fit, in other words.

Well, then this happened.

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Just when you thought only Stephen King could scare you, huh?

Whoa, I take that back.  Sorry Molly, didn’t mean to ruffle your evil fur!

Molly 1

At first was I was like:

Hurr

Then I was all:

ermahgerd-1

But now I go back and forth…

Either at this end:

Rory Kinnear as The Creature in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 9). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_309_3066

Or at this end:

Spike

And what, you are probably asking, does the dried up, racist Cheeto that is the bane of existence to *kitty cats* everywhere have to do with this month’s read and review?

Well, I see a lot of parallels.  So, let’s get to talking about the book and discuss those.

Again and again, as I have been re-reading the King classics, I have been reminded of something:  The Master has the ability to create characters who are so realistic that they practically jump off the page and make you want to ask them out for coffee.

There is Polly Chalmers.  She fled the small town life and wanted to forge her own path.  People can’t even decide if she is from Castle Rock (even though she was born there and spent most of her childhood there) or if she is from “Outside,” as they put it, because she spent so many years away.  Being from a small town in Indiana, this struck a chord with me.  I may consider myself to be “from” Bloomington, Indiana, but I am sure there are some that would debate me on that, because I left to forge my own path.  Small towns, aren’t they so (not) funny?

There is Alan Pangborn.  Let me confess, if I ran into Alan Pangborn, I would have much more than “coffee” on my mind…*let awkward throat clearing commence.*  Alan is the consummate good guy, even though he does have his vulnerabilities.  And he loves magic tricks (magicians are always hot, duh.)  Those magic tricks do everything from put frightened kids at ease to save the day!  How much hotter can you get?

 

Alan Pangborn 1

Let’s also not forget the character of Brian Rusk.

Now, as I’ve stated many times before, King likes to write about topics that many would consider to be taboo.

*That* scene in the sewers in It, anyone?

Well, that is one example, but King covers subjects like addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse and quite a few others.

Things that so-called nice people don’t talk about, at least in public.

However, I think the most “taboo” that King has ever gone is his portrayal of the character Brian Rusk.

In the beginning, Brian is innocent.

He’s a good kid.  He loves his family.  He collects baseball cards.  He has a crush on his speech teacher.

needful things 1

However, he loses his innocence, by becoming Gaunt’s first customer.

Gaunt takes that innocent love of baseball cards, and uses it to further his plans for the destruction of Castle Rock.

He forces Brian to play pranks on other citizens of the town, in the name of “paying” for that beloved baseball card.

So Brian is rather rudely pushed into adulthood, when he is forced to take responsibility for what he feels to his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.

However, not all of the child has left Brian.

And because of that, he is unable to cope with his supposed role in a horrific tragedy, and sees no way to live with it.

So, he does the unthinkable, and ends his life at eleven years old.

I have read this book several times, but I am never prepared the part where Brian commits suicide.

I tend to see Needful Things as one of King’s more humorous works (Brian’s mother’s obsession with Elvis and her interaction with Gaunt may have something to do with that, along with the fact that I find the phrase “I’ll be butched” hilarious), although the humor in it is dark.

But at the same time, I find this book to be tragic too, because of the fact that someone who is still a child is forced into adulthood long before before he should be, and this child does not see any way to cope with this tragedy other than taking his own life.

In fact, this may be one of the most tragic incidents in any book I have ever read, let alone a King book.

Stephen King

And we have our bad guy, Leland Gaunt.

We also have another character:  the town of Castle Rock itself.

And the inter-play between these two characters is just fascinating.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that Gaunt is a cool bad guy.

Gaunt 1

In fact, this guy came to mind:

phantasm-2-8

Somehow, the idea of The Tall Man driving a Talisman Tucker (why does even typing that out make me shiver, and shiver in a Lovecraftian way?) is not that far off, actually.

He doesn’t quite stack up to the likes of Pennywise, or Flagg, or even some of King’s “human” villains, like Margaret White, Charles Burnside, etc.

Pennywise 11

But he does have his place in the King universe, so I pay him respect.

However, what was striking to me when I re-read Needful Things, was the fact that most of the horror was of the non-supernatural variety.

Sure, Gaunt planted the seeds, but the ground was already fertile anyway.  Most of the people playing the pranks just needed a little “watering” to grow the seeds of hate and resentment, and off they were, once they got a little drink of that water.

It is a known fact that King excels at writing characters that are realistic and believable.  In fact, this is my favorite thing about King’s work:  he writes believable people and believable situations.

pet sematary 11

After all, who hasn’t dealt with addiction, unemployment, the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, parenthood and the many other scenarios that crop up in all of King’s works, even the ones billed as “horror”?

King also writes the small town extremely well.  This is evident in works such as It, Salem’s Lot, Dolores Claiborne, and quite a few other novels.

Small towns are almost human in some ways, and can be complex characters.  This is definitely the case with Needful Things and its small town character of Castle Rock.

small towns 1

In the beginning of the book, we have that coy narrator (and oh, I so want to know who that is) introducing to the town of Castle Rock and its inhabitants.  It is actually akin to gossiping with someone, maybe a family member or friend, or perhaps a coworker, who just seems to have all the dirt on everyone.

Castle Rock 1

This introduction is brilliant, because it sets up the story so beautifully.

In any organization, whether it be a work place, a family or perhaps a small town, you have all these little interconnections.

There are the people, of course, who are friends and know each other well, perhaps even intimately.

There are the people who are passing acquaintances.  They don’t dislike each other, but they don’t really like each other, either.

Then there are the people who can’t be in the same room with each other.

The people who are the end of the candle to their counterparts’ matches.

In other words, get them together, and you will have a fire, perhaps even an explosion.

In one part of the book, Gaunt even compares his scheme to electrical wiring.  If you do it just right, you can connect a couple of wires and have an explosion.  I found this to be apt, for the events that transpired in this book.

Gaunt 2

As stated before, Gaunt is one bad dude.  No question about that.

However, most of the horror from Needful Things is of the human variety.

People playing pranks on one another to make others think that their sworn enemies were responsible is actually something that happens pretty frequently in “real life.”

Right away, anyone who was the victim of a prank was quick to blame his/her sworn enemy.

Alan Pangborn, the most level headed of them all, even fell victim to this.

And the results of this prank were just horrible.

Well, not entirely horrible.  I did get a good chuckle when the Baptists and Catholics were victimized by the stink bomb and created their own Barf-o-Rama.

barforama

But I was still horrified when people began to hurt and even kill each other, and it was basically for nothing.

Nettie and Wilma killing each other was bad.

Well, Wilma dying wasn’t that sad (crazy bitch) but Nettie’s death was one of the saddest in the book.  She had tried so hard to get her life together, but she was knifed to death over some muddy sheets.  Muddy sheets that she was not responsible for.

Needful things 3

A few citizens, like Polly, Norris and Alan, saw the error of their ways.

However, most did not, and the results were horrific.

And the town of Castle Rock literally went up in flames.

What is happening in our country right now is not unlike what happened in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine.

We have a stranger that has suddenly appeared in town.

It is true that Donald Trump is (probably) not a supernatural creature, but I will take Gaunt or even The Tall Man over Trump any day.

Trump has done exactly what Gaunt has done.

He has swooped into our country.

He is selling people dreams.  At least, he would like us to believe that he is selling us dreams.

Donald Trump 1

He has made promises, and those promises sound good.  After all, who doesn’t want the manufacturing jobs to return to this country?  Those jobs gave everyone, no matter his/her background, a shot at the good life, the so-called American Dream.

For reasons beyond most people’s control, significantly fewer people are now able to obtain this dream.

But we have Gaunt, er Trump, swooping into town.  And he has sold something.

But like the sales made by Gaunt, that something will have a price tag attached to it.

Already, we are witnessing the true price of allowing a man like Trump into our country.

Like Castle Rock, America has gone crazy.

Since Trump was elected, the “pranks” have begun.

We may not be flinging mud at each other’s sheets, but like the citizens of Castle Rock, we are attacking each other, nonetheless.

There has been racist graffiti scrawled on walls.

People of the non-Caucasian persuasion have been attacked for being…well…of the non-Caucasian persuasion.

People have decided to let their hate loose, and it has not been pretty.

Castle Rock literally burned to the ground after the boogeyman paid it a visit.

Will the same thing happen to America?

The boogeyman is here, and he is already working his magic, and he has not even moved into his suite at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, although I don’t think that he even needs to, in order to accomplish his goals.

trump 5

But, I try to hold on to something positive.

After all, Castle Rock may have gone up in flames.

But it was able to emerge from the ashes, and eventually it rebuilt itself.

Fire can be used to destroy, but it can also be used to create.

Perhaps, like Castle Rock, this country may burn to the ground (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense.)

But maybe it can also emerge from the ashes and be reborn.

Being reborn is not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, death and rebirth lead to new beginnings.  And new beginnings are often desperately needed.


Well, that’s it for Needful Things!

And I have to pat myself on the back, actually.

I was able to stick to a New Year’s resolution!

I read at least one King book a month and reviewed it, just like I said I would.

So, it goes without saying that I plan to continue this trend into 2017 and beyond.

I don’t know what my plan is, but I am sure I will figure something out.

There are classics, like Cujo and Christine, that I have not read in many years.

Cujo

There is that Richard Bachman fella…I heard that he is kinda like The Master, actually.

Cleaner 3

There is also The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill, who has some books that are worth exploring as well.

Joe Hill 2

So, what will next year hold?

Well, guess that is up to me!

So, we will talk next year!

Until then, happy holidays to all!

SK christmas 1


Like all of King’s works, Needful Things is set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections that I found:

-Needful Things takes place in the town of Castle Rock, Maine.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King stories, including The Dark Half, Cujo, The Body and The Dead Zone.

dead zone 9

-Ace Merrill is a character in the short story The Body, and references the events in that story.

Ace 1

-Reginald “Pop” Merrill is referenced.  Pop Merrill is a character in the short story The Sun Dog, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.

sun-dog-1

-Norris Ridgewick also makes an appearance in the novel Lisey’s Story.

lisey_1

-Alan Pangborn is a character in the novel The Dark Half, and references the events in that story.

dark half 3

-The tabloid The Inside View is mentioned.  This publication is mentioned in several other King works, including The Wolves of the Calla, The Dead Zone and The Night Flier.

night flier 2

-In the novel Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan encounters Norris Ridgewick and inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn.

bag of bones 8

-Reference is made to Shawshank State Prison, which is the setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Red and Andy

-Junction City, Iowa is the setting for the novella The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.

The_Library_Policeman_by_TheHouseOfIdeas

-Gaunt’s Talisman Tucker appears to be similar to the vehicles driven by the Low Men in the Dark Tower series and the story Low Men in Yellow Coats, which is part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Gaunt’s vehicle also appears to be similar to the title “vehicle” featured in the novel From a Buick 8.

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s All a Wheel: My Review of Doctor Sleep

Sometimes, you just need a break from the horror of it all…

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Yes, it’s that season again…

No, not Halloween.  Something far more frightening…

In other words, the 2016 Presidential Election is upon us.

You know, that time of year when admitting you are from ‘Murica is…well…probably something you want to gloss over, and talk about something a little less awkward, such as…well, anything really.

Like books.

Like books that are horror stories.

Like books that are horror stories written by…

Simpsons SK

I’ll take Stephen King for $19, Alex!

Yep, you guessed it.  And if you didn’t, well remember which blog this is next time, maybe you will have better luck!

So, I needed an escape.  Something to help me cope with the daily horror that manifests itself as a talking Cheeto.

And what better way to do that than to read a Stephen King book?

That will calm me right down, I think.

After all, reading about people with PSI abilities and weird cults that kidnap kids with PSI abilities is good for the nerves, right?

In other words, I chose the book Doctor Sleep for this month’s read and review.

Hmmm, I wonder if I can write in Rose the Hat to make America…ummm…steamy again?

Um, yeah…

But Doctor Sleep is one of my favorite King books.  It is a follow up book to The Shining, which I consider to be the gold standard for King (hey, even The Master needs goals to live up to, right?)

Like most of King’s work, Doctor Sleep is much more than “just” (haha, right) a follow to an iconic horror story which turned the horror genre and even popular culture on its head (redrum, anyone?)

It is a book that has a lot to say about addiction, overcoming childhood trauma and how family can be a huge downfall, or our greatest hope.

And it also doesn’t hurt that the book has a pretty kick ass female character, if I do say so myself (no bias here at all, really.)

So, with all that being said, here is my recap and review of Doctor Sleep.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

Doctor Sleep begins where the novel The Shining ended.  Danny Torrance has survived the horrific events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel, and has moved to the southern United States with his mother, Wendy.

However, Danny is still troubled by the spirits that haunted him during his stay at The Overlook Hotel.  One night, when he awakens to use the bathroom, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey, the woman who died in room 217 of The Overlook Hotel.

After Danny encounters the spirit of Mrs. Massey, he regresses and refuses to get out of bed or eat.  His mother even sees evidence of the spirit in the bathroom, and becomes worried and frightened for Danny.

Wendy is unable to comfort Danny, so she contacts Dick Hallorann, the only other person who survived the events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel.  Dick agrees to talk to Danny, to see if he can help Danny.

Dick arrives at the Torrance home, and speaks to Danny.  He tells Danny the story of his sexually abusive grandfather.  After Dick’s grandfather passed away, Dick was still haunted by the old man’s ghost.  Dick’s grandmother, who also possessed the same PSI abilities that Dick possessed, taught him to keep the spirit of the old man at bay, so that he was no longer haunted by the ghost.

Dick then tells Danny that his memories of the hotel are actually causing the spirits to manifest themselves.  He gives Danny a keepsake box, and tells Danny to make a keepsake box in his mind, to trap the ghosts so they do not continue to bother him.  Danny follows Dick’s instructions, and finds that they are effective.

They story then switches to the perspective of a woman named Andi.  Andi was molested by her father as a little girl, until she attacked and killed him in self defense.  Andi convinces men to take her to the movies.  The men try to have sex with Andi, but Andi has the ability to hypnotize people and send them into a deep sleep.  Andy hypnotizes the men, and then robs them of their cash and any valuables.

One day, Andi catches the eye of a group of people who also possess unusual abilities.  This group of people seems almost immortal, even though they appear to be normal on the outside.  They are led by a woman named Rose, who is also known as Rose the Hat, due to her tendency to wear a top hat.

Rose the Hat and her friends confront, and coerce her into joining them, telling Andi that once she survives what they call “the turning,” that she may also become immortal, and join them in their travels across the country.

Andi reluctantly agrees to attempt the ritual.  Somehow, she survives, and becomes a part of the group.  The group calls itself The True Knot.

The book then introduces the reader again to Danny, now an adult in his early twenties.  Danny has become an alcoholic who also experiments with drugs.  Danny has a tendency to also get into fights while he is drinking, as he is unable to control his temper.

One morning, Danny finds himself in the apartment of a strange woman.  He slowly pieces together the events of the night before, and realizes that his drinking has possibly gotten him into trouble, once again.

Danny realizes that the woman has a child by the name of Tommy.  Tommy is about 18 months old and has been left in the apartment while the woman went out drinking with Danny.  The woman, whose name is Deenie, is also addicted to cocaine, and convinced Danny to buy some for her.  The little boy tries to grab the cocaine, calling it candy, but Danny puts him in bed with his mother, and leaves the apartment.

Danny leaves town, and heads for the northeastern United States.  He continues to drink, and periodically thinks of Tommy, feeling some guilt for leaving him in those surroundings.

Over the years, Danny drifts across the country.  He continues to drink, and works in nursing homes when he can find work.  However, due to his alcoholism, he does not stay in any one place for very long.

One day, Danny arrives in a town called Frazier, in New Hampshire.  For some reason the town catches his eyes.  Danny also sees his childhood friend Tony for the first time in many years, and Tony also compels him to stay in Frazier.

Danny meets a man name Billy Freeman, and the two hit it off immediately.  Danny is then able to secure short-term employment as a sort of maintenance man, and contemplates applying for work at the local hospice.

One night, Danny dreams of Deenie, the woman he met a years ago at a bar.  Deenie appears to be dead, and warns him to stay away from the woman in the hat.  When he awakens, Danny finds her son Tommy in his bed, dead but asking for candy.  When he awakens again, Danny realizes that Tommy has died, most likely due to abuse and possibly neglect.

The next morning, Danny craves a drink, but does not give in to the craving.  Danny goes about his day, forgetting the dreams that he had the night before.  However, Danny again experiences troubling dreams later that night.  Danny again struggles with the urge to drink, but Billy Freeman finds him, and tells him that he has other options.

Danny begins to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and finds a sponsor.  Danny quits drinking and finds steady employment, making a life for himself.

In the meantime, a child named Abra Stone is born to a couple by the name of David and Lucy Stone.  Almost right away, Abra’s parents and great-grandmother (Conchetta) notice that Abra is unusual.  For example, Abra’s parents, when Abra is still an infant, have a dream of Abra covered in blood and holding a sign with numbers in the dream.  The next morning, Abra is taken to the hospital because she will not stop crying.  There is no medical reason found for Abra’s behavior.  However, this incident takes place on the morning of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.  The numbers seen by Abra’s parents in their dreams were the flight numbers of the planes that were attacked.

One day, Danny speaks to one of the members of his Alcoholics Anonymous group.  The man is John Dalton, who is also a pediatrician.  John has lost a watch that was gift from his wife and is upset.  Danny is able to use his “shining” ability to tell John that he left the watch in restroom at work.  John is able to find the watch the next day, and is grateful for Danny’s help.

John Dalton also happens to be Abra Stone’s pediatrician.  At the request of Abra’s parents, John attends Abra’s third birthday party, so that he can observe her in her home for any unusual occurrences.

Shortly before Abra’s third birthday party, Danny receives a message written on the blackboard of the room he rents.  The message simply says “Hello.”  Danny has been receiving some telepathic communications, and conjectures that the message is from Abra.

At the birthday party, John Dalton gets his wish: he observes some unusual occurrences that can only be attributed to Abra.  Abra’s doctor, parents and great grandmother find various utensils hanging from the ceiling by their own accord.  When this is pointed out to Abra, the utensils drop to the ground, seemingly proving that she is responsible for the occurrence.

The Stone family speaks to Dr. Dalton, who tells them that Abra is likely blessed (or maybe cursed) with PSI abilities, but that they need to love her and continue to raise her as a normal child.

The years pass, and one night Danny receives at phone call.  He is informed that one of patients in the hospice that he works at is getting ready to pass away.  The woman making the phone call knows that the patient is getting ready to die because the cat that was adopted by the hospice, Azriel (or Azzie) has made an appearance in his room.  Azzie is able to detect when death is near, and therefore alerts the staff and Danny.  Danny is called in because he is able to use his abilities to make the transition from life to death a little less frightening for the patients.

After Danny helps the latest patient pass peacefully over to the other side, he senses a presence in the room that he believes to be Abra.  In her bed at her home, Abra also senses Danny’s presence.

In the meantime, The True Knot runs into trouble, as they are running low on the essence of psychic children, which is what keeps them immortal.  They find a young boy in a small town, and partake of his essence, which helps them, at least temporarily.

Abra, who is now 10 years old, dreams of The True Knot kidnapping and torturing the young boy.  She describes the dream to her mother, who is disturbed.  Abra also talks about her friend “Tony,” along with Tony’s dad (aka Danny), telling her mother that Danny works in a hospice and is assisted by cat named Azzie.

The True Knot then realize that Abra can sense them, and that Abra is a powerful psychic.  They realize that Abra will provide them with plenty of essence, which will keep them alive for years to come, but that they must wait for her abilities to mature in order to get the full benefit.

Again, Danny senses Abra’s presence in his apartment.  This time, he sends her a message.  Abra receives this and tells her mother that Tony’s dad spoke to her.  Lucy is a little troubled, but decides to let it go, as Abra seems happy.

Shortly after sending the message to Abra, Danny sees his friend Billy Freeman.  Immediately, Danny senses that something is horribly wrong with Billy and convinces him to see a doctor.  Danny’s intuitions were correct, as Billy is suffering from an aneurysm that would have killed him, if left untreated.  Billy is grateful from Danny’s help, but Danny reminds Billy that it was he who helped him many years ago, when he arrived in Frazier.

Later that evening, Danny is overcome by the urge to drink.  He calls his friend John Dalton, and the urge passes.  When Danny arrives at his home, he finds a message on his chalkboard from Abra, but does not hear from Abra for another two years.

Two years later, Abra’s great grandmother, Conchetta, suffers a broken hip.  Conchetta is also diagnosed with cancer, and is given only months to live.  This causes Abra and her family to shuffle back and forth between their residence in Frazier, and the hospital in Boston, where Conchetta is staying.

One day, Abra comes home and picks up the mail.  She finds a circular with pictures of missing children, and realizes that one of the pictures is of the boy she dreamed about two years earlier.  This frightens Abra, and she struggles on whether or not to take any action.

Abra’s abilities then allow her to project herself into the mind of Rose the Hat.  However, this connection is brief, as Rose resists her presence, forcing Abra back to her surroundings.

Rose discusses Abra with the fellow members of The True Knot, and tells them that they must capture Abra, as she could provide them with eternal life.  Rose schemes on how to capture Abra, and plans to use drugs to subdue her.  Rose also makes an appearance at Abra’s window, frightening Abra, and causing her to call out to Tony for help.

Danny receives Abra’s psychic beacon, and the signal is so powerful that it renders him momentarily unconscious.  When Danny arrives at his home, he finds Abra’s email address written on his chalkboard.  Danny sends Abra an email, and makes arrangements to meet with her, so that he can find out what is wrong.

Abra and Danny finally meet outside the town library, and Abra tells Danny what has been happening with Rose the Hat, and what The True Knot did to the young boy.  Danny tells Abra to be careful, as Rose the Hat will be looking for her, and that he will be back in touch.

That night, a patient at the hospice where Danny is employed passes away.  Before she dies, the woman tells him to wait, and Danny obliges her.

After a few minutes, the dead woman begins to talk.  Danny realizes that he is actually speaking to his childhood friend Dick Hallorann, who has been dead for several years.  Hallorann gives Danny information in regards to The True Knot, but it is cryptic.  Hallorann tells Danny to refer to his childhood, and that the members of The True Knot will need to eat their own poison.  The ghost also tells Danny to talk his friends who understand what he really is.  After dispersing the information, the ghost leaves the body of the old woman, and Danny must figure out how to keep Abra safe.

Danny speaks to his friends Billy and John, and tells them what is happening to Abra.  John agrees to travel with Danny to Iowa, so that they can find the baseball mitt of the missing boy and confirm Abra’s story.

Things go from bad to worse with The True Knot, as it is discovered that one of their members, known as Grampa Flick, appears to be dying.  Rose does not understand how this is happening, and demands that the group’s “physician,” attempt to examine him.

Rose also tries to enter the mind of Abra.  However, Abra is prepared, and is able to resist Rose, even causing her physical pain.  This angers Rose, who realizes that Abra will be difficult to subdue, and will need to be drugged.

Danny travels to Iowa with John.  During the trip, Danny also tells John of the winter he spent at the Overlook Hotel and the traumatic experiences he endured.  John is skeptical, but becomes less so when he and Danny are able to locate the body of this missing boy and his baseball glove, per Abra’s instructions.  They return to New Hampshire with the baseball glove, in the hopes that Abra will be able to use the baseball glove to obtain more information in regards to The True Knot.

The True is able to narrow down Abra’s identity, and begins to close in on her.  Grampa Flick has died, and the cause of his death is discovered:  he has somehow contracted measles.  This is likely due to ingesting the essence of the young boy, who may have contracted the disease before his death.  Several other members of the group also become ill with measles.  This raises the stakes for the group, as they believe that ingesting Abra’s essence may provide some sort of immunity against the disease.

Danny and John return from Iowa.  Danny informs Abra that her parents need to be informed about what has been going on.  Danny and John arrive at Abra’s house and are greeted by her father, Dave.  Dave is not happy, but hears the story out.  Danny and John then give Abra the baseball glove, to find out if she can obtain any information from it.

After Abra touches the baseball glove, she obtains some information in regards to The True Knot.  The most important piece of information is the location of their base of operations.  Not surprisingly, The True Knot’s base of operations is located in Sidewinder, Colorado, on the grounds that once housed The Overlook Hotel.  Danny, John and Abra then come up with a plan to try to stop The True Knot before they are able to kidnap Abra.

The next day, Danny, John and Dave picnic at one of the town’s tourist attractions.  Abra astral projects herself info Danny, so that The True Knot will believe she is on a picnic with her father, instead of at school or at a friend’s house.  Abra’s father tells some family stories during this outing.  One of these stories is in regards to Lucy’s mother, or Abra’s grandmother.  Lucy was conceived out of wedlock, and her father’s identity was unknown.  Lucy’s mother died when Lucy was an infant, and Lucy was raised by her grandmother, Conchetta.

Later that evening, Abra stays at a friend’s house.  However, she decides that she is safe from The True Knot, as she believes they have fallen into the trap that Danny set for them.  Abra then decides to head home.

Several members of The True Knot arrive at the picnic grounds.  Danny, John and Dave are prepared, and shoot them.  However, one member, known as Crow Daddy, manages to escape the gunfight, and heads straight for Abra.

Crow Daddy finds Billy Freeman and overpowers Billy.  Crow Daddy then kidnaps Abra, using powerful drugs to sedate her.  When Abra awakens, Crow Daddy threatens Billy’s life, telling Abra that he will be killed unless she obeys him.

Danny, John and Dave quickly realize that Abra has been kidnapped, after Danny loses his telepathic connection to her.  However, Danny has a revelation, when he understands more of what the ghost of Dick Hallorann was trying to tell him.

Danny then astral projects himself into Abra’s body.  By doing this, he is able to fight Crow Daddy, and Crow Daddy is killed.  Danny then has Billy drive to a nearby hotel, so that he and Abra can get some rest before returning Abra to her parents.

The group then heads to the hospital, where Conchetta is living out her last days.  They tell Lucy what happened, and Lucy panics.  However, Dave is able to calm her down, reminding her that Danny is there to help.

Danny visits with Conchetta, who is dying.  He offers some words of comfort, and the two also exchange something else that is not specified.

After the visit with Conchetta, Danny speaks to Lucy and Dave.  He tells them that he has realized that he is actually Lucy’s half-brother and Abra’s uncle, due to an affair his father Jack had with one of his students.  After getting a good look at Danny, Lucy understands that he is telling the truth, even though she is still very worried about her daughter.

In the meantime, Rose the Hat and the rest of The True Knot make plans to locate Abra and kidnap her again.  The situation becomes more urgent, as more of the members either begin to sicken or die, or leave the group.

At the request of Danny, Abra places a call to Rose the Hat and taunts her.  Abra also requests to meet Rose in person, at her home base in Sidewinder, CO.  This riles up Rose even more, and she agrees to meet with Abra, telling her that she will seek revenge for the death of her friends.

The next day, Abra is reunited with her parents.  Abra and her family return to New Hampshire, while Danny heads to Colorado with Billy to confront Rose the Hat and the rest of The True Knot.  Danny feels ill during the trip, but he is determined to stop The True Knot.

Once again, Abra phones Rose the Hat, taunting her, and setting up a meeting time at the home base in Sidewinder.  She is able to astral project himself into Danny’s mind, tricking Rose into thinking that she is in Colorado, instead of in her home in New Hampshire.

Billy and Danny arrive at the site of where The Overlook Hotel used to stand.  The site is now a campground.  Abra is also with them, but in spirit, as she has used her talent for astral projection to trick The True Knot.

Danny is confronted by Rose the Hat and the remaining members of The True Knot almost immediately.  However, Danny is prepared and attacks them.  For the past few days, Danny has been carrying the essence of Abra’s great-grandmother.  He unleashes this essence upon The True Knot.  Since the old woman had been dying of cancer, the members of The True Knot are sickened almost immediately when they inhale her essence.

Rose then tricks Danny into thinking that Abra is Rose, and Danny begins to choke Abra.  He realizes his mistake, and vows not to repeat the mistakes of his father.  He and Abra then return to the corporeal world, promising to win the fight against Rose.

Ghosts are literally unleashed from Danny’s mind, as he unlocks his memories of his stay at The Overlook Hotel.  The remaining members of The True Knot are also attacked, leaving Danny the resources to focus on Rose the Hat.

Rose the Hat is then pushed from the balcony, and killed.  Danny sets fire to Rose’s top hat, destroying it.  As Danny and Billy leave the campground, Danny catches a glimpse of the ghost of his father, Jack.  Danny leaves the campground, bidding his father goodbye.

Two years later, Danny attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and celebrates the fact that he is 15 years sober.  Danny also confesses what happened at Deenie’s apartment all those years ago, and what happened with her son, Tommy.  His fellow addicts are not surprised, and are almost indifferent to his story.  However, Danny feels redeemed, and knows he is on the true path to recovery.

A few days later, Danny attends a birthday party for Abra.  At the request of Abra’s parents, Danny speaks to Abra alone.  It turns out that Abra has attended a party and had her first sip of alcohol.  Later, she got into an argument with her mother and broke several plates in a fit of rage.

Danny tells Abra of his own grandfather and father, and how alcohol ruined their lives.  Danny also talks of his own struggles with his alcohol and his temper.  Danny reminds Abra that she must control her own temper, so that she can stay out of trouble and not go down the path that he walked.  Danny then receives a phone call from his employer in regards to a dying patient, and cuts the evening short.

The dying patient is a man named Fred Carling.  Fred had previously been employed by the hospice where Danny is currently employed.  Fred was also a bully and disliked by many of the other employees, including Danny.  That night, Fred was the victim of a terrible car accident, and it has become clear that he will not live.

However, Danny puts his feelings aside, and visits Fred.  Danny realizes that life is truly a wheel, and brings the man comfort as he dies and passes to the other side.


My Thoughts

Doctor Sleep.  The book with so much beauty.

And I am not just saying that because Danny apparently resembles my man Jax Teller, either!

SONS OF ANARCHY: 203: L-R: Charie Hunnam and Maggie Siff on SONS OF ANARCHY airing Tuesday, Sept. 22'rd, 10 pm e/p on FX. CR: Prashant Gupta / FX

(Although, really, that doesn’t hurt.  Doesn’t hurt in the slightest.)

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Doctor Sleep is billed as a sequel to The Shining.  And in a way, it is (more on that later.)

But to think of it Doctor Sleep as only as a sequel to The Shining (which is one of my favorite King books ever and likely my favorite ghost story ever) is limiting.

For one, I don’t think of this book as a direct sequel to The Shining.  I find it better to think of it as a follow up.

Sure, we have some of the same themes, which include addiction, life after death and people who don’t quite fit the fold.

However, I find Doctor Sleep to actually be pretty different from The Shining.  And this is a good thing, as anyone who has ever heard my rant about sequels will tell you.

Let’s admit it: sequels sucks!  Carrie 2 anyone?  Or how about Pet Sematary 2?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

But, you have Phantasm 2, which expands on the original story.  And the Star Wars movies, which build on the first movie to make a complete story, and stand on their own as well.

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And now we have Doctor Sleep.  It also builds on the original story of Danny Torrance, and is a stand alone book.  This is a good thing, as we are staying out of the ridiculous sequel territory, which seems to plague the horror genre in particular.

However, I can’t help comparing and contrasting both books.  So, let’s get it out of our system…

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The Shining is one of the most frightening books ever written.  The ghost of Mrs. Massey.  The clocks with blood in them (still thinking about that weeks after the fact, thanks Stephen King!  And let me thank Obama for good measure!)

Now, Doctor Sleep does have its scary moments.  Dick Hallorann’s story about his grandfather and the old pedophile’s ghost (yeah, there I said it) is great nightmare material.  And of course, the resurgence of Mrs. Massey (and her “leavings”.  If that didn’t make you want to throw up in your mouth, then you are not human) and Horace Dewent added some creepiness as well.

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(Oh, and that top hat.  Is there anything creepier than a top hat drifting in the wind?  I mean besides a red baseball cap worn by a loudmouth, racist Cheeto?)

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But, due to the tone and the messages, I consider Doctor Sleep to be more dark fantasy than horror.  In fact, with the children in danger and the seemingly oblivious adults, Doctor Sleep is closer to The Talisman, or even The Eyes of the Dragon, than anything else.

Even the “villains” in Doctor Sleep (Rose the Hat, Barry the Chink, Diesel Doug, etc) remind me more of villains in a children’s fantasy novel than anything.  Not that there is anything wrong with this.  In fact, given what King was trying to accomplish (again, more on that later), I actually think that this works very well.

In fact, Abra herself reminds me of someone in a young adult novel.  Katnis Everdeen, perhaps?  Or maybe Pippi Longstocking?

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Abra is what I wished I was when I was her age:  courageous, confident, smart and just kicks ass overall.  In fact, she may be a little overconfident (and loves Game of Thrones, woot), but I don’t care.  I loved how she was willing to take on Rose the Hat, taking pleasure in the fact that she hurt Rose.  Talk about taking names and kicking ass!

However, this is a King book.  So there is much more to Abra than meets the eye.  The scene at the end, when Danny tells the stories of his father and grandfather, and Abra’s reaction, is proof of that.  Like Danny, Abra is flawed.  And will probably struggle with alcoholism.  But like Danny, she has hope.  And she will (hopefully) rise above her struggles and do good in the world.  And that is just one thing that makes her one of King’s best female characters to date.  Maybe, if we are lucky, we will one day get a story on grown-up Abra too.

Okay, time to talk about the elephant in the room…

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Well, actually not really.  Or at least a very cute elephant?

That’s right, I am talking about Danny Torrance, all growed up!

In case you can’t tell, Danny is one of my book boos.  I may be happily married, but I think there is a clause in my wedding vows that allows for book and TV boos.  So, relax, I am legal, folks!

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Like King, I would wonder about Danny off and on.  How did he fare after escaping The Overlook?  What kind of man did he grow up to be?  Did he have kids?  God forbid, did he follow in his father’s footsteps?

Not well, awesome, no, and yes and no would be the answers to the above.

And, in all seriousness, what did we expect?

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Cynical, I know.  I was actually reminded of the essay Lime Twigs and Treachery, written by Henry Miller.  I read this waaayyyy back in high school (over 20 years for you nosy folks) and it has always stuck with me.

I had actually forgotten about that essay.  Then I read Doctor Sleep.  And remembered it again.

The basic gist of that essay was that the sins of the father get passed down to the children.  And that we will never be able to escape those sins, which may include abuse.  And alcoholism.  And addiction.

And that is exactly what happened to Danny:  the sins of the father were passed down right to him.  On a silver platter, in fact.

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And what did we expect to happen?

Danny lived through the experience at The Overlook, yes.  But he lost his father, who he loved very much, despite of (or maybe because of) his faults.

He was forced to grow up, and quickly.  He learned some lessons that many people I know in their 30’s still have not learned.

His family unit dissolved.  His mother never fully recovered, either physically or emotionally, as she never remarried.

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So is it any surprise that Danny started drinking in high school?

Is it any surprise that he continued to drink, even when it was obvious that it was destroying his life?

Even as he clearly alienated people?  I don’t think Danny was single because he was ugly.  Rather, he was single because of his demanding mistress:  the booze.

I think that my favorite part of Doctor Sleep is not the part about the monsters, and revisiting Sidewinder (although those parts were certainly no slouch.)

My favorite part of Doctor Sleep was Danny’s journey.

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I loved the fact that the story picked up right after The Shining, showing us that things were not all right with Danny.

I loved the fact that Dick Hallorann was a constant presence in the story, even after he died.

But most of all, I loved the story of Danny’s struggles and his recovery.

One think that King is good at (and believe me, that is a long list) is writing real characters and real situations.  He is able to juxtapose the horror/fantasy element with the reality element (which has included job loss, addiction, bullying, hate crimes and many other familiar situations) and make his story that much more plausible.

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He did that in The Shining, and that is perhaps his most memorable moment.  Who can’t relate to Jack Torrance his struggles to provide for his family and achieve some sort of success somewhere, whether it be with writing, teaching or being the caretaker at a remote hotel?

And King also did it with Danny.  Addiction is a real issue.  Many people struggle with that.  So is childhood trauma and abuse.  Many have also struggled with that.

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King created another “Everyman” in Danny Torrance as well, in detailing his struggles with addiction, and his gradual recovery.  And that is just one of the reasons why calling Sai King “The Master” is not hyperbole.

The answer to the last question, if Danny grew up to be like his father, is yes and no.

Danny did grow up to become an alcoholic.

Danny also became someone with anger issues.

So that’s the yes part.

However, we cannot ignore the no part.  The no part is what makes Doctor Sleep so beautiful.

I love The Shining, but I consider it to be one of the bleakest books I have ever read.  Danny does escape the hotel, but at a huge cost, as his family unit is forever shattered.  Indeed, The Shining is a tragedy, along with a horror story.

Doctor Sleep is the opposite of The Shining.  It offers hope.  And I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use some hope right about now.

When I read Doctor Sleep, I look at it as a kind of redemption.  A cycle is broken.

It is true that Danny followed in his father’s footsteps (see above.)

However, Danny succeeds where his father had failed.

For one thing, he does not succumb to his alcoholism.  He recognizes the problem and seeks treatment for it.  This allows him to be able to hold down a job and maintain a stable home for himself, which is another thing that his father could not do.

Like his father, Danny had his demons.  He literally has his demons, as they escape from The Overlook and follow him into his new life.  Danny is also able to overcome those, unlike his father.

And because Danny is able to conquer his alcoholism and his demons, he is able to step up for Abra and be the man that his father could not be.

It is true that Abra is kidnapped, but Danny and the other adults do most of the dirty work to defeat The True Knot.  This allows Abra to maintain a little more of her innocence, as she can trust that the adults in her life will do the right thing.

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I also loved how Danny was able to use the ghosts of his past to defeat The True Knot.  Finally, the demons are unleashed.  The suffering is not in vain.

In fact, there is something empowering about being able to take something has caused you so much pain, and using it to do good.

We all have our demons.  Sometimes, we suppress them.  But the most courageous of us face those demons, rising above them, finally breaking the cycle.


Well, that’s it for Doctor Sleep!  Join me next month as we take a look at the state of current affairs in these parts, as we read and dissect Needful Things!

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

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Doctor Sleep is another King book set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections to other King books that I found:

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-The most obvious connection is to The Shining.  The Shining details the time that Danny and his family spent at the haunted Overlook Hotel, and of Danny’s experiences at the hotel.

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-Danny makes the statement “that there are other worlds than these.”  This is similar to a statement uttered by Jake Chambers in The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series.

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-The town of Castle Rock is mentioned.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King novels and short stories, including The Body, Needful Things, Cujo, The Dark Half and The Dead Zone.

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-Jerusalem’s Lot is also mentioned.  The town of Jerusalem’s Lot is the setting for the book ‘Salem’s Lot, along with the short stories Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road.

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-Abra’s favorite boy band is ‘Round Here.  This band figures into the Mercedes trilogy, which includes Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch.

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-Abra is one of a long line of King characters blessed (or perhaps cursed) with psionic abilities.  These characters include Carrie White, Jake Chambers, Ted Brautigan, Kira DeVore, Tyler Marshall, the Breakers (featured in The Dark Tower series) and several others.

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-Abra’s “ghostie people” bear some resemblance to the vagrant dead featured in The Wolves of the Calla, The Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower.

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-The name Charlie Manx is mentioned.  Charlie Manx is the villain in the book NOS4A2, written Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King.

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-Mention is made of Dick Hallorann in the novel It, as Dick saved the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go to father a boy named Mike Hanlon, a member of the Losers Club.

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-The number 19 is mentioned.  This number is of particular importance in the last three books of The Dark Tower series.

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My Review of The Dark Half

By nature, most human beings possess dual natures.

It makes sense if you think about it, actually.

We have our public selves.  That’s the self that we present to the world.  That self is polite.  That self observes “social mores.”  That self knows not to cut in line, for example.  Or it knows that we use eating utensils to eat, and not our fingers.  Our Sunday best self, in other words.

And then there is the private self.  That self has no problem eating with its fingers.  Or maybe cursing at someone to get out of its way already.  Some may call this the “id”, per Sigmund Freud.  Or, if we want to be kinder, the casual Friday self.

Often, being creative requires one to get in touch with that darker side.  Some of the best art is born from darkness, actually.  Art can be a good outlet for that darkness, allowing the artist to express those dark desires.  At the very least, people may admire the end result.  Or perhaps the artist can even make a viable living by expressing that dark side.

Usually, that dark side is kept under wraps.  Artist does his/her thing, perhaps gets praised for it in some way, lets off steam, and it’s done, right?

Well, most of the time…

However, (wait for it) if you are a character in a…you guessed it…Stephen King book, its not that simple.  No, nothing in a Stephen King book is ever that simple, is it?

(In case you forgot which blog you were reading.)

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One of my favorite novels by The Master is The Dark Half.  On the surface, it is a horror novel.  After all, someone’s pseudonym comes to life and does horrible things.  And don’t get me started on sparrows…

But, as with most of King’s work, The Dark Half is much more that what it seems to be on the surface.  This is a novel that has much to say about the creative process, and the effect that process can have on the writer and the writer’s loved ones.

Plus, it takes place in one of my favorite King towns, aka Castle Rock.  And it has Alan Pangborn as a character…Pangborn has long been one of my favorite King book boos!

In other words, what’s not to love about The Dark Half?  It has a fascinating villain, along with some creepy imagery.  It’s perfect, in other words.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Dark Half.

And, as always:

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Synopsis

The book begins in 1960, and we are introduced to a young boy named Thad Beaumont.  Thad is an aspiring writer, and already receiving recognition for his writing.  Thad has also begun to suffer from serious migraines, but his doctor is unable to find a cause.  Along with the migraines, Tad hears the sound of birds.

One day, Thad collapses at the bus stop.  He is rushed to the hospital, and his doctors believe that he may have a brain tumor.  However, the doctors do not find a brain tumor when they operate on Thad.  Instead, they find eyes, teeth and other body parts in Thad’s brain.  The doctors believe that they have found an unformed twin that was digested by Thad in the womb.  The doctors elect not to tell Thad’s parents the full truth in regards to their discovery, and Thad’s parents are led to believe that the doctors have found a brain tumor.  The surgery is successful, and Thad is soon released and goes back to living a normal life.

We are again introduced to Thad, twenty five years later.  Thad is married to a woman named Liz, and is the father of fraternal twins named Wendy and William.  Thad is also a writer, but has only found success using the pseudonym of “George Stark.”  Under George Stark, Thad has written crime novels that have achieved commercial success.  The novels written under Thad’s own name have not been nearly as successful, commercially or critically.

Eventually, a man named Frederick Clawson discovers that Thad Beaumont and George Stark are the same man.  Clawson attempts to blackmail Thad, but Thad discloses the fact that he is also George Stark in a People Magazine interview, and even holds a mock “funeral” for George Stark. Thad then decides that he will attempt to write a “serious” novel under his own name, and is even glad that George Stark is “dead”, as Stark appears to be a violent, insane man.

Shorty after the “death” of George Stark, strange things begin to happen.  Homer Ganache, Tad Beamont’s caretaker, is beaten to death with his prosthetic arm.  Frederick Clawson is also murdered.  Thad’s fingerprints are somehow found at the scene of both crimes.

In the meantime, Thad writes a mysterious sentence in the novel he is working on.  The sentence is “The sparrows are flying.”  This sentence is also written in blood on the walls of Frederick Clawson’s apartment.  Tad also begins to hear the sound of birds again.

The fingerprints are traced back to Thad, and Thad is questioned by Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is certain that Thad is guilty of both murders.  However, Pangborn becomes less convinced once he speaks to Thad, and everyone is mystified by the murders.

Thad visits his doctor and undergoes a CAT scan, as he has been hearing the bird sounds again.  At his office at the university, he appears to go into a trance, where he writes some seemingly random words on a piece of paper.  This incident frightens Thad, and he burns the piece of paper.

In New York City, a woman named Miriam is attacked by a blonde man who calls himself George Stark.  The man forces Miriam to place a call to Thad, and Miriam tells Thad that she is being attacked.  Miriam turns out to be the ex-wife of Thad’s agent, Rick.

Thad is frantic, and finally reaches Sheriff Pangborn.  He has Pangborn check on Miriam in New York, and tells Pangborn that Miriam’s attacker is calling himself George Stark.  Thad also gives Pangborn the names of everyone associated with the People magazine article on himself and George Stark.  Thad gives Pangborn a description of Stark, and tells him that he will fill him on the rest of the details in person.

In the meantime, in New York, the man calling himself George Stark murders three more people associated with the People magazine article in gruesome fashion, along with two police officers.  One of the murdered people is Rick, the ex-husband to Miriam.  While the murders occur, Thad dreams of them in his home in Maine.

The next morning, Thad tells Sheriff Pangborn everything, including the headaches he experienced as a child, and of how George Stark came to be.  Thad is convinced that George Stark has come to life, and is seeking revenge for his “death.”  Pangborn is skeptical, but says that he will speak to Thad’s doctors, including the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, to see if he can get any more leads.

The authorities wire-tap Thad’s phone, in an attempt to track down Stark.  Shortly after the phone is tapped, Stark calls back, and says that he has killed more people.  Later, it is discovered that Thad’s voice print and Stark’s voice print are nearly identical.

Pangborn also places a call to the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, and leaves a message for the man to call him back.

Thad also speculates that he knows exactly what George Stark wants:  for Thad to write another novel under Stark’s name.  Thad contemplates doing just that, if it will put an end to Stark’s violent rampage.

One day, Thad makes a trip to the local grocery store and receives a phone call from George Stark while he is shopping.  This call confirms Thad’s suspicions:  Stark does indeed want Thad to write another novel under the Stark name.  Stark threatens to hurt Thad’s family if Thad does not comply.

Over the next few days, Thad and his family are on edge, as they wait for Stark to make another appearance.  One afternoon, Thad and Liz’s infant daughter, Wendy, takes a tumble from the stairs and receives a bruise.  Later that evening, Wendy’s twin brother, William, also receives a bruise in the same place on his body, even though he was not physically injured.  This gives Thad some insight into George Stark and his relationship with Stark, even though he is still not sure what to do about Stark.

Thad attempts to communicate with Stark in his study one afternoon.  When he does so, he finds out that Stark needs him to write another book because Stark is dying and will only live if Thad writes another book.  Thad also sees a large group of sparrows outside of his house, and is forced to stab himself in the hand with a pencil, courtesy of George Stark.

In the meantime, in New York City, George Stark experiences what Thad is experiencing, and also stabs himself in the hand with a pencil.  We also learn that Stark’s body is deteriorating, presumably because Thad has not written any George Stark novels.  Stark leaves New York City, and makes his way to Maine and Thad.

One day, Thad goes to his office at the university where he is employed during the school year, under the guise of doing some work.  However, Thad is really attempting to get in touch with Stark again.  Stark contacts him on the phone of one of Thad’s colleagues, and again demands that Thad begin work on a new novel.  Thad also finds out that Stark is calling from Thad’s house, and also sees a large group of sparrows again.

Thad’s colleague Rawlie explains the significance of sparrows in folklore:  sparrows are psychopomps, or harbringers between the living and the dead.  The job of the sparrows is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living.

After speaking to Stark, Thad agrees to meet him at his and Liz’s summer home in Castle Rock.  Stark tells Thad that his wife and children are unharmed, but he has killed the two police officers who were supposed to protect Liz and the twins.

On the way to his summer home, Thad calls his colleague, Rawlie, and requests his help.  He meets Rawlie, and takes Rawlie’s car, so that he can drive it to his summer home.  While he is talking to Rawlie, Thad sees another large group of sparrows.

Sheriff Pangborn is finally able to speak to the doctor who operated on young Thad.  The doctor tells Pangborn that he did not actually remove a tumor from Thad’s brain.  Rather, he removed body parts of an unformed twin which had been consumed by Thad while he was still in the womb.  The doctor also tells Pangborn that a large group of sparrows was seen outside of the hospital during the operation.

Pangborn also receives a report of a stolen vehicle.  The stolen vehicle is an Oldsmobile Toranado, which happens to be the vehicle that Thad described George Stark as driving.  After receiving the report of the officers killed at Thad’s home, Pangborn deduces that Thad may be headed to his summer home, and follows him there.

Stark arrives at the summer home with Liz and the children.  He ties Liz up after discovering a pair of sewing scissors that she had hidden on her skirt.  Pangborn also arrives at the summer home, but Stark also captures him and ties him up.

Soon, Thad also arrives at the summer home, and sees that Stark is holding Pangborn and his family hostage.  Thad also notices the large group of sparrows, which Stark does not appear to see.

Stark demands that he and Thad begin writing a new novel, and Thad complies.  Stark holds Thad’s children as hostages, using them as a collateral of sorts.  Liz and Pangborn are forced into another part of the house.

For a time, Stark and Thad work on the new novel.  Previously, Stark had literally been deteriorating, but his wounds begin to heal.  Suddenly, the sparrow descend upon the house.

The sparrows invade the house and head for Stark.  Stark attacks Thad and tries to run from the sparrows but is unsuccessful.  The large group of sparrows descend upon Stark, and literally carry him away from Thad and his family.

Some time later, Thad meets with Sheriff Pangborn at his summer house, which has nearly been destroyed by the incident with Stark and the sparrows.  Pangborn is still having trouble believing what happened, but knows that he has witnessed something unbelievable.  With Pangborn’s blessing, Thad sets fire to the house.

For a time, Thad watches the flames, and then leaves with his family.  Pangborn wonders what will become of Thad’s marriage, as Liz has witnessed what Thad is capable of creating.


My Thoughts

The Dark Half.

In other words, never a more appropriate title.  Especially the second word in the title.

Stephen King has been known, obviously, for his dark subject matter (no pun intended.)

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Novels like Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Roadwork and quite are few others are books are known to be especially bleak.  The Dark Half is another one that it bleak.  And I think that The Dark Half may be one of his bleakest, possibly almost as bleak as Pet Sematary.

One of the things I noticed about The Dark Half is the character development.  King is known for creating likable characters.  I mean, who doesn’t love a Stu Redman, Eddie Dean, Beverly Marsh or even ole long tall and ugly himself?

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However, I cannot say the same thing about the characters in The Dark Half.  In fact, I would have to say that my favorite character in The Dark Half is the minor character, aka Sheriff Alan Pangborn.

This isn’t to say that I actively disliked Thad Beaumont, who is the protagonist and so-called “good guy.”  I just found little to like about him, and thought that he was more of a prop for the bad guy, George Stark.

I would characterize The Dark Half as a book that is more plot driven than character driven.  There is nothing wrong with this, either.  I actually find the premise of this book fascinating, and yet another underrated Stephen King book.

One of the things I find fascinating about The Dark Half is actually George Stark himself.  And there are a few reasons why I find him so interesting.

George Stark

For one, he is just evil.  Pure evil.

With some of King’s bad guys (Jack Torrance comes to mind), sympathy can be summoned.  Sure, the person is bad, but they are human underneath it all, and may actually have reasons for being bad, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with those reasons.

Not so with George Stark.  There is nothing good about George Stark.  Nothing good at all.  The man (and I use that word loosely, more on that later) is just evil incarnate.

He’s ruthless.  He’s vindictive.  And creative.  He may not be able to write a story by himself, but he sure comes up with inventive, horrible ways to kill people.

In fact, I did think a bit of this guy when I read about Stark:

parker 1

It’s true that this guy may be a little more humane than Stark, but still, the comparison stands.

And there is just some about a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil…in other words, I love it!

So…

Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog…

So what the hell is Goofy?

Or, in this case, what the hell is George Stark?

The Master does tease a bit about Stark, but trying to determine his true origin is almost as difficult as trying to determine Goofy’s true species.

We know that Thad had an un-formed twin that he absorbed as an infant.  And that parts of that un-formed twin were found in Thad’s brain, of all places.

Somehow, this un-formed twin became an issue right when Thad hit puberty, and developed his writing talent. The doctors removed it.  And there was nothing unusual then, other than a large flock of sparrows that invaded the hospital where Thad was staying.

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Then, years later, Thad’s wife miscarries.  She was pregnant with…twins.  Not coincidentally, George Stark comes into being.  And Thad starts becoming somewhat successful as writer, using the George Stark pseudonym.

Then, Stark “dies” again, although he refuses to stay dead, and makes life miserable for a lot of people, including the man who is either his creator, or maybe just his brother, aka Thad.  And then the sparrows come back, although Stark cannot see them.  However, Thad is aware of their presence.

My theory is that Thad has the ability to create twins.  After all, he fathered twins twice.  He himself was a twin.

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So did he create Stark?  I think that he did, actually.  I think Thad was perhaps blessed (or maybe cursed) with that ability to create and harbor other personalities, much like Susannah Dean of the Dark Tower series.  And Thad’s ability to create and harbor these other personalities seems to be directly linked to his creative ability.  In fact, maybe Thad’s ability to create other personalities is an extreme manifestation of his writing talent, similar to how Edgar Freemantle (Duma Key) is able to alter reality with his paintings.

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Another reason why I love The Dark Half is because this is a book that has a lot to say about the subject of creativity.

King has written several book that touch on the subject of creativity.  Duma Key, Misery, Finders Keepers, Bag of Bones and even The Dark Tower are all books that touch on the subject.

Additionally, many of King’s characters happen to be writers, or artists of some kind at, at the very least.  Mike Noonan, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears and Jake Epping are all King characters that dabble in writing of some form.  Even poor Jack Torrance (The Shining) was an aspiring writer.  Writing is something that King is familiar with (for obvious reasons), so it often gets incorporated into his stories.

Sara Laughs 1

However, King is not merely content to incorporate writers as characters into his stories.  Since he is The Master, he needs to take an extra step or four.

In other words, King often writes about writing, not just the writer.  In fact, the art of writing is a major plot point to several of his stories, including Bag of Bones, Misery and even The Dark Tower.

The effect of fiction on both the writer and the reader is another major theme in many of King’s works.  Again, Misery, The Dark Tower, Finders Keepers and Bag of Bones, along with several other stories, also address this theme.

And it could be argued that The Dark Half addresses all of these themes in one fell swoop.

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We have the main character, Thad Beaumont, who is a writer.  Thad struggles to obtain the kind of success he wants, since the “literary” books that he writes do not sell well, and he is forced to rely on the “pulp” books about Alexis Machine to pay the bills.  This is a struggle, and causes Thad to question where he fits in as a writer.

Obviously, The Dark Half deals with the effect of fiction on the reader.  When he wrote as George Stark, Thad found a rabid fan base.  When Thad writes as himself and not George Stark, his fans (although they could really be considered Stark’s fans) are disappointed, and refer to his work as “terrible.”  Often, fans of a particular offer become entitled, and grow angry when the author does not “deliver.”

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The effect of fiction on the writer is also addressed in The Dark Half.  Thad claims to want to write a “serious” novel, but it seems his heart is never in it.  He blames the distraction of George Stark on not being able to write his “serious” novel,   However, Thad gets enjoyment when he starts writing the novel that Stark demands of him.  Again, this causes Thad to question just where he fits in as a writer, and just what success means.  Does success include writing something that he himself is satisfied with?  Does it include pleasing his fans?  Does include “critical” success?

As most Constant Readers know, Stephen King, for a time, wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.  In King’s mind, writing under the Bachman name would allow him to step outside his “genre,” or write works that were not “just horror.”  King had become typecast as a horror writer, and feared that he would be unable to explore any other type of writing, as people had come to expect him to write horror stories, and nothing else.

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Of course, anyone who pays attention to King should know that he is a great writer, period.  He does write scary stories, but there is so much more to King than “horror.”  The Dark Tower series is an epic fantasy series, much like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.  11/22/63 is a story about time travel and King’s feelings in regards to the Vietnam War.  The collections Hearts in Atlantis and Different Seasons both contain stories that cannot be classified as horror stories.  In fact, it can be argued that King’s strength is writing about ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations.  This is evident even in his books that are horror stories, in characters such as Danny Torrance, the members of The Losers Club, Jack Sawyer (The Talisman and Black House) and so forth.  King’s writing is so effective because people can relate to it, and the situations become that much more believable,

morgan sloat

But early on in King’s career, he likely felt compelled to write horror fiction, at least under his own name.  People had come to expect that, after all, and wouldn’t read something outside the horror genre, something that dealt with “real life situations.”  Even today, there are people who are still prejudiced in regards to King:  they either still think he “only writes scary stories” or have no interest in the non-horror works written by King.  I have known more than a few people who have complained about that Dr. Sleep is not a direct sequel to The Shining, despite the fact that The Shining was written when King was much younger and in the beginning stages of his problems with drugs and alcohol.  Their reactions are similar to a fan’s reaction to Thad’s work not written under the George Stark name:  they are unable to read it, because it is not the formula they had grown used to.

In order to write other types of fiction, King developed the pseudonym of Richard Bachman early on in his career.  Under the Bachman pseudonym, he was finally free to write other types of fiction, i.e. not horror fiction.  And with the exception of Thinner, most of the Bachman books do not contain supernatural themes.  Roadwork, The Long Walk, Rage and The Running Man are all disturbing on some level, but they are disturbing because they deal with “real life horrors,”  such as the exploitation of our youth, corporate greed and our need to be entertained via television.  In other words, Bachman’s work may be a little more mainstream, even though the Bachman books could still be considered to be in the horror category, although not the supernatural or fantastical horror category.

Long Walk 1

For several years, Bachman, like George Stark did for Thad, provided King an outlet to explore other types of writing.  However, all good things must come to end.  Like Thad, King was forced to kill off his “twin” when it was discovered that Richard Bachman and Stephen King were in fact the same person.  And, like Thad, King went about the “murder” in humorous fashion, even saying that Bachman passed away from “cancer of the pseudonym.”

(Side note:  Bachman never died.  He just works on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, helping Jax and his friends dispose of dead bodies, demanding to listen to music when he works.)

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But, like George Stark, Richard Bachman will not stay dead.  Eventually, Bachman emerged in other King works, like the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Misery and Cujo, which are all books that contain themes of real life horror, as opposed to supernatural horror.  Dicky Bachman even managed to publish posthumous works, such as The Regulators and Blaze.

In other words, an artist’s “dark side” can never truly be killed.  Richard Bachman is still alive and well, manifesting himself through the works of Stephen King.  And George Stark may have been carried off to parts unknown by an unimaginably large group of sparrows, but do we really believe that was the end of him?

sparrows

Darkness lives in all of us.  And like it or not, it is a vital part of the creative process.  And any attempts to bury that darkness will backfire on us.  Eventually, the darkness will be unleashed.  And the world is not usually able to accept or handle that darkness.


Well, that’s it for The Dark Half!  Join me next month, when I review and dissect Black House.

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


Connections

Like of all of King’s work, The Dark Half is set squarely in the King universe and is connected to several other King books.  Here are some of the connections I found:

-Part of The Dark Half is set in the town of Castle Rock.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King books and short stories, including The Dead Zone, The Body (Different Seasons), Needful Things and Cujo.

Castle Rock 1

-Thad Beaumont is mentioned by Mike Noonan in the book Bag of Bones.  It is revealed that Thad commits suicide several years after the events in The Dark Half.

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-Alan Pangborn is a major character in the book Needful Things.  Pangborn also alludes to Thad’s suicide and the fact that his wife divorces him shortly after the events in The Dark Half.

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-The town of Ludlow is mentioned.  Ludlow is the setting for the novel Pet Sematary.

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-The town of Harlow is also mentioned.  Part of the novel Revival takes place in Harlow.

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The Final Concert: My Review of End of Watch

So, the month of June is upon us.

And we all know what that means…

Yes, it’s my birthday month.  Yes, I really will be 38 years old (ugh.)  And yes, I accept donations of any kind.  I prefer cash, but checks are ok too…haha!

But, that’s not actually why this month is special (even if my birthday is pretty special…duh.)

No, the month of June is special because of Stephen King.

Stephen King

(Don’t forget, it is this blog, after all.  The Master trumps everything, even the birthday month of yours truly.)

And it’s not because of the book The Dark Half, which could be construed to be a book written about Thad Beaumont, the ultimate Gemini…but I digress.

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June is special, or has been special the past couple of years, because The Master has been releasing his Mercedes trilogy books the first week of June.

The fact that he releases these books right before my birthday (back to that again, yes) is a nice courtesy, don’t you think?

And June of 2016 is extra special, because we have the release of End of Watch, the third and final (maybe) book of this series.

So finally, we find out what will happen to good old Bill Hodges, along with his friends Jerome and Holly.

Finally, Hodges gets to square off one more time against his nemesis, Brady.  And quite possibly put this obsession to bed, one way or another.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of End of Watch.

As always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with a flashback to the Mercedes Massacre, which had occurred in 2009.  The flashback is told from the perspective of Rob and Jason, two paramedics who are called to the scene after a then unknown killer uses a stolen Mercedes as a weapon to kill and injure several people at a job fair.  One of the victims is Martine Stover, who is unconscious when Rob and Jason arrive at the scene.  Rob and Jason manage to save Martine from death, but it appears that Martine’s injuries have made her a quadriplegic.  Rob and Jason are saddened by the deaths and injuries, and hope that the perpetrator faces justice.

The book then flashes forward to January 2016.  Bill Hodges is awaiting an appointment with his doctor, when he receives a call from his soon to be retired former partner, Pete Huntley.  Huntley tells Hodges about his final case, which looks to be a murder-suicide.  One of the victims is Martine Stover, who was rendered a quadriplegic after the Mercedes Massacare.  Huntley tells Hodges that Martine appears to have been murdered by her mother, and that her mother then committed suicide.

Hodges picks up Holly Gibney, the woman who is his partner in the private investigation firm that he started after his retirement.  He then meets with Huntley and his partner, Izzy, at the crime scene.  It is confirmed that Martine’s mother used oxycontin and vodka to kill her daughter and herself.  Hodges thinks there is nothing special about the case, but Huntley believes otherwise.

Huntley tells of another murder-suicide that occurred the previous year.  Keith Frias and Krista Countryman were also victims of the Mercedes Massacre.  The two had met in a therapy group, and had planned to get married.  However, they committed suicide by overdosing on pills one day, and died in each other’s arms.  Holly notices a mysterious letter Z in the bathtub where Martine died.  Hodges and Holly are reminded of Brady Hartsfield, the man responsible for the Mercedes Massacre.  Hartsfield was stopped by Holly and Hodges, but not before he was able to manipulate several people into committing suicide.  One of these victims was Olivia Trelawney, Holly’s cousin and the owner of the Mercedes used in the murders.  Hartsfield was able to steal the vehicle and use it to murder several people, and was also able to manipulate Olivia into committing suicide.

On the drive back to the office, Holly voices her suspicions to Hodges.  She tells him that she investigated the upstairs room to the house, and discovered a computer.  The computer contained no indication that either Martine or her mother had ever researched suicide.  Holly also finds a Zappit, which is an electronic device used for playing games.  She and Hodges both feel that this is odd, as neither woman was an expert on gadgets.  Holly says that she will be tracking down Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper employed by Martine Stover and her mother, in the hopes that the housekeeper can shed some light on the mystery.

Hodges is able to speak to Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper for Martine and her mother.  Nancy is extremely surprised by the deaths of Martine and her mother, telling Hodges that Martine had accepted her condition, and that she also got along well with her mother.  Nancy also sheds light on the mystery of the Zappit, telling Hodges that the gadget was a gift for filling out a questionnaire.  It is also revealed that a mysterious man in a parka had been seen around the house, and that he would look into the windows of the house.

Holly and Hodges have lunch that day.  Hodges points out that the Zappit is actually an outdated piece of technology, and that Martine may have fallen victim to a scam.  Hodges also checks out the house across the street from Martine Stover, and discovers the casings to a pair of binoculars, indicating that someone may have been watching Martine and her mother.  Hodges also finds a letter Z carved into the wall of the garage.  Someone driving down the street in a Chevrolet Malibu is also spying on Hodges, but Hodges is distracted by a terrible pain in his knee and his stomach, and is reminded of his doctor’s appointment that he has rescheduled for the next day.

That night, Hodges speaks to Holly and schedules a meeting with her and Huntley, before his doctor’s appointment.  Hodges’ health also appears to worsen, as he vomits blood later that night.  Hodges becomes extremely worried about his future.

Meanwhile, something strange occurs at the hospital where Brady Hartsfield is a patient.  Brady is thought to be comatose, but speaks to Nurse Valdez, badly startling her.

Earlier that day, a nurse named Ruth Scapelli had paid a visit to Brady Hartsfield.  Nurse Scapelli had expressed her disdain for Brady by twisting his nipples, as she believed that Brady had given her an obscene gesture earlier.  Nurse Scapelli is paid a visit that night by Dr. Barbineau, Brady’s doctor.  Barbineau tells Nurse Scapelli that he knows of her earlier actions, and that she will face consequences for them.  After Dr. Barbineau leaves, Nurse Scapelli receives a visit from what appears to be Brady Hartsfield.  Brady appears to flicker in and out of existence, but starts to convince Nurse Scapelli that she is worthless, and that no one will help her now that she caught breaking the rules.

Later that night, Hodges is unable to sleep, so he gets up and turns on his computer.  He discovers he has a message on program called Debbie’s Blue Umbrella, which is the program that he had used to talk to Brady Hartsfield.  The message is from someone named Z-Boy, and simply states;  He’s not done with you yet.

Hodges and Holly meet with Huntley and Izzy the next morning.  The meeting does not go well, as Izzy is upset that Holly took the Zappit from the scene, possibly compromising evidence.  Huntley and Izzy also feel that the investigation should be closed as a murder suicide.  This upsets Holly, but Hodges comforts her, telling her that they are done with the case yet, as he hurries to his doctor appointment.

At his doctor appointment, Hodges receives some terrible news:  he has been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer, and learns that he may only live for another year.  His doctor urges him to see a specialist right away, but Hodges declines, saying that he needs to think things through first.

The body of Ruth Scapelli is discovered later that day.  Nurse Scapelli’s daughter had contacted the police earlier, after receiving a strange email from her mother.  The cause appears to be suicide, but there is a letter Z written in blood on the floor.

We also learn that Brady Hartsfield has been given experimental drugs by Dr. Babineau, in the hopes that Brady will regain consciousness at some point.  Dr. Babineau does not have much hope for his patient, and eventually stops giving him the medication, as it appears that Brady is still in a vegetative state.

However, Brady has regained some form of consciousness, and is aware of the actions of the doctors and nurses in his hospital room.  Brady has also gained some form of telekinesis, as he is able to move objects without touching them.

One day, Brady discovers another PSI ability:  he has the ability to switch consciences with other people.  In other words, he can momentarily take over the minds of other people, in certain instances.  Brady realizes that he needs to practice using his new abilities, and alerts the doctors and nurses that his head hurts, along with asking for his mother.

After Hodges discovers the message on his computer, he returns to work and hides his cancer diagnosis from Holly.  Hodges and Holly discuss Brady Hartsfield.  Hodges believes that Brady is not actually unconscious, and may have somehow convinced a nurse to commit suicide.  Hodges decides that he will pay another visit to Brady, and Holly urges him to be careful, as she believes that Brady may now be gifted with PSI abilities.

While Hodges riding the bus to the hospital where Brady is a patient, he is preoccupied with thoughts of his health, and does not notice the Chevrolet Malibu, or the old man in a parka who appears to be watching him.

Holly suspects that Hodges is not telling the truth about his health, and sneaks a peek at his computer files while he is gone.  She finds out that he has terminal cancer, and becomes very upset.

Hodges also receives a call from his former partner Huntley, who informs him that the Zappit may have a virus on it, as it is not functional, and there is no way that Martine Stover or her mother could have used it.  Huntley also tells Hodges to stop badgering him and his partner Izzy, as his input is no longer wanted.

While Hodges is on his way to the hospital, his neighbor, 16 year old Barbara Robinson (sister of Jerome) has made her way into a dangerous part of town.  Barbara is African American, but feels she has very little understanding of her culture, due to her family’s relative wealth and success.  Barbara is also in possession of a Zappit device.  The apparition of a young man appears in a store window, and convinces Barbara to commit suicide.  Barbara steps in front of a bus, ready to do just that.

Back at the hospital, Dr. Babineau, who is actually under the control of Brady, informs Brady that Hodges has figured out what he is doing.  Brady becomes furious, but is still trying to convince Barbara Robinson to commit suicide, as she is associated with Hodges.

Barbara’s attempt at suicide is interrupted by the arrival of a young man who takes her Zappit.  Barbara becomes furious and tries to get the gadget back from him.  Barbara grabs her device back, and runs right into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Brady orders Dr. Babineau to keep Hodges out of his room, as he is flushed and does not actually appear comatose.  Dr. Babineau agrees to do what he can.

In the meantime, Tanya Robinson, Barbara’s mother, receives a call from the police, letting her know that something has happened to her daughter.

When Hodges arrives at the hospital, he is refused visitation of Brady, by Dr. Babineau.  Hodges brides an intern to take a message to Nurse Norma Wilmer, who has helped him the past.

Jerome Robinson, who is in Arizona volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, receives a call from Holly, who tearfully informs him of Hodges’ cancer diagnosis.  Jerome also receives a call from his mother, who tells him that something has happened to his sister Barbara.

Hodges meets with Nurse Wilmer, and agrees to meet her for a drink.  Hodges then receives a call from Tanya Robinson, and rushes back to the hospital.

At the hospital, Hodges finds that Barbara has a broken leg, but is not otherwise severely injured.  She also tells Bill that the young man pushed her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, preventing a much worse injury, maybe even saving her life.  Hodges makes contact with the police station where the young man is being held, so that he may question him about the incident.

Hodges receives a call from Holly, who is upset and confesses to her snooping regarding his health.  Holly picks up Hodges, and together they head to the police station to talk to the young man who may have saved Barbara Robinson’s life.

Holly and Hodges learn the name of the young man who was responsible for saving Barbara’s life:  Dereece Neville.  Dereece is also a star athlete and a good student, and will likely go to college on a scholarship.  The police have told him that he is free to leave, but he has elected to stay at the police station until he finds out that Barbara is all right.

When Hodges speaks to Dereece, he confirms that Barbara was carrying a Zappit device.  Dereece though that Barbara was under the influence of some substance, but tells Hodges that Barbara appeared to return to her normal self once the Zappit device was taken away from her.

Later on, Hodges meets Nurse Wilmer for a drink.  The nurse agrees to see if she can find Brady’s so-called visitor list for Hodges, and tells Hodges that she thinks that Dr. Babineau may be experimenting on Brady.  She also confesses that she and some of the other nurses believe that Brady can move objects with his mind.

Holly visits Barbara at the hospital.  Barbara confesses to Holly that she has been feeling depressed, as she has experienced harassment at school and other places due to the fact that she is African American.  She also tells Holly that a strange man gave her the Zappit for filling out a questionnaire.  Barbara tells Holly that she has heard of the voice of a young, who convinced her to commit suicide.  Barbara also tells Holly that one of her friends may also have a Zappit, which could be dangerous.

At the hospital, Brady switches consciousness with one of the orderlies, named Brooks.  It appears that Brady is using Brooks’ body to hand out Zappits and spy on Hodges.

We also learn how Brady used the Zappit device to control the body and mind of others.  Once Brady discovered his ability to take over the minds of certain other people, he also discovered a game on the Zappit that had an hypnotic effect on certain people.  Brady was able to use this device to take over the body of Brooks and Dr. Babineau, along with other people.

Brady takes over the body of Brooks, and shows up on the doorstep of Dr. Babineau.  He attacks the doctor’s wife, and takes over Babineau’s body, which is younger and stronger than Brooks’ body.

Hodges visits Dinah Scott, one of Barbara’s friends, who also owns a Zappit device.  Hodges learns that Dinah obtained the device as a consolation prize for a missed concert.  The concert was cancelled due to Brady Hartsfield attempting to set off a bomb.  Brady was stopped by Holly, Jerome and Hodges.  Hodges takes the device from Dinah, so that he can possibly use it to track down more clues.  Hodges brings up the fishing game (the game that is being used by Brady to hypnotize people) and confirms that it does indeed have a hypnotic effect.

We also learn that Brady has bribed a woman named Freddi, one of his former coworkers, to accept questionable packages at a condo that has been set up for this purpose.  Freddi begins to suspect that Dr. Babineau is actually her former coworker.  Brady has Freddi execute a computer program that he needs for his future plans.  When he determines that the computer program works, Brady attacks Freddi so that she will remain quiet.

That night, Hodges receives a call from Holly.  Sunrise Solutions, the company that was giving away the Zappit, was not actually a sponsor of the cancelled concert.  Holly also advises to see Barbara, as Barbara is still suffering the effects of Brady’s invasion of her mind.  Hodges also receives a call from Huntley, telling him that Nurse Scapelli, Brady’s nurse who committed suicide the day before, also owned a Zappit.  Huntley also tells Hodges that Martine Stover’s mother had purchased a computer for her daughter, which is not the act of someone planning to commit a murder-suicide.

In the meantime, Brady has completely abandoned his own body and taken oven Dr. Babineau’s mind.  He heads back to Dr. Babineau’s house and speaks to Brooks, telling Brooks that he murdered Babineau’s wife.  Brooks is upset, but Brady tells him that he was hypnotized and unable to help himself.

Freddi regains consciousness.  It turns out that she is not dead, as her pack of cigarettes protected her from Brady’s bullet.  Freddi is hesitant to call 911, she is involved in some illegal activities.  She wants to leave town, but is afraid that Brady will track her down.

Early the next morning, Hodges receives a call from Huntley informing him that Brady has died.  The cause appears to be a suicide, via an overdose of prescription medication.  However, both Hodges and Holly are skeptical that this is the last of Brady Hartsfield.

Hodges places a call to the bankruptcy trustee who had represented Sunrise Solutions.  The attorney tells Bill that he received a call from someone calling himself Myron Zakim, who had bought several Zappit units when the companies assets were liquidated.  Hodges also speaks to Nurse Wilmer, who is skeptical that Brady committed suicide, and tells Hodges that besides himself, the only other person to ever visit Brady was an unrelated woman.

Holly returns to the office with Jerome, and she and Hodges bring Jerome up to speed on what has been going on.  Holly conducts some research, and finds out that there has been some concern over the fishing game on the Zappit, which seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people.

Hodges then receives a call from Huntley, informing him of the murder of Dr. Babineau’s wife.  Huntley also tells Hodges that Brooks has confessed to the murder, and appears to be under the influence of someone or something.  Huntley confirms that the pills found in Brady’s mouth were not ones that he was prescribed, and that there are questions as to how he was able to obtain them.

While inspecting the Zappit, Jerome falls under a trance, and tells Holly and Hodges that he is viewing his own funeral, which is beautiful.

We learn that Brady is using his newfound abilities, along with the program created by Freddi, in order to induce mass suicide.  He tries to invade the mind of a young woman named Ellen, but she is unsuccessful in her suicide attempt, which frustrates Brady.

Holly is able to bring Jerome out of his trance state.  Hodges deduces that Brady is behind it somehow, and that he distributed the devices to the young girls who attended the concert as a form of revenge.  Holly also discovers that there is a new program on the devices that has just become active, and it appears to be a program that encourages people to commit suicide.  Hodges then attempts to trace the source of the program, so that it can be destroyed.

Brady reminisces about how he came to control Dr. Babineau, by blackmailing him (after he had taken over Brooks’ consciousness) in regards to the experimental drugs that were being given to Brady.  Brady uses Dr. Babineau’s body, along with his money, to carry out his plan to induce mass suicide.

Freddi attempts to crash Brady’s mass suicide program but is unsuccessful.  Brady figures out that she is still alive, and becomes furious.

Hodges, Holly and Jerome connect Freddi to Brady, as they spoke to her when they were previously investigating the Mercedes Massacre.  They track Freddi to her apartment, where she is packing her bags, in an attempt to leave town. Jerome discovers the device that is sending the signals to the Zappit devices that Brady purchased, and destroys the device.  Freddi also tells Hodges and his friends that Brady is not dead, and they learn the story of how Freddi came to be involved with Brady and his plan.

In the meantime, a young gay man commits suicide in front of his father, while he is under the influence of Brady Hartsfield.

Holly begs Hodges to shut down the suicide website that has now infected several Zappit devices.  Hodges places some phone calls to the police department, and finds out that Huntley has officially retired from his duties as a police officer.  Hodges is only able to speak to Izzy, who reluctantly agrees to help.  Hodges deduces that Dr. Babineau/Brady may have headed to Dr. Babineau’s vacation home, and makes plans to head there too.

An overweight young woman commits suicide by overdosing on pills, while she is under the influence of Brady.

Hodges and Holly head to Babineau’s cabin, leaving Jerome behind, as they do not want him to be involved in what could potentially be a messy situation.  Hodges and Holly learn of three more suicides that Brady likely had a hand in.

Holly and Hodges arrive on the property and are almost immediately accosted by Brady.  Brady forces Hodges to play the fishing game on the Zappit, telling him that if he scores a certain number of points, he will allow Holly to live.  As Hodges plays the game, he feels Brady invading his mind.

Hodges fights Brady, hitting his face with a ceramic pen holder.  Brady then fires his gun, and shoots Hodges in the shoulder.  Holly regains consciousness, and begins shooting at Brady with her gun.  However, she is unable to get a clear shot, and Brady gets away from her.

However, Brady is not able to run far, as Jerome comes to the resuce in a Sno-Cat.  He tells Holly and Hodges that Barbara told him to come help them, as she thought Brady would kill them.  Jerome runs over Brady with the vehicle, but that does not kill him.  Brady begs for mercy, and Jerome shoots him.  Hodges receives a text message from his daughter wishing him a happy birthday, and passes out.

A few days later, Hodges, Holly, Huntley, Barbara and Jerome celebrate Hodges birthday at the hospital.  Huntley tells of several more suicides and suicide attempts that have occurred due to Brady’s program, but thinks that the situation will be under control soon.  Hodges has begun his cancer treatments, although the prognosis is not good.  However, his friends still have hope for him.

Eight months later, Hodges loses his battle with cancer.  A funeral is held.  Hodges’ company was left to Holly, who hires Huntley so that the detective work can continue.  Jerome and Holly decide to attend a movie, and leave an empty seat between them, so that they may remember their friend.


My Thoughts

Oh, so much to say, and so few words to say it in, unless I want the word count to be sky high in this post…the struggle is real, yo!

In the past, I have thought of the books in the Mercedes trilogy as Bachman books.

As we all know, Bachman faked his death from cancer of the pseudonym, and really works as a guy who drives a funny looking motorcycle and helps out Jax and his friends on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower.  Oh, and he likes to take macabre souvenirs…

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And I still think of these books as Bachman books, make no mistake about it.

However, End of Watch had much more of a Stephen King flavor, if you will.

For one thing, there was the supernatural element.

Typically, most of Bachman’s work does not contain anything supernatural. Books like Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk and so forth are about human fuckery, as opposed to haunted hotels, sewer dwelling clowns, evil shop owners and the long list of other supernatural pests that haunt the King universe.  Human fuckery does play a part in most if not all of King’s work, but there is usually a supernatural backdrop.  Not so in the Bachman universe, as most of his stories can be considered “real world” stories.

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End of Watch still had a “Bachman flavor.”  In other words, we had the real world:  a murderer at large, who posed a threat to a lot of people.

However, enter the supernatural.  The murderer (Brady) now possesses supernatural powers, which make him even harder to stop.  And no, this is not King taking the easy way out, and writing what he knows.  The fact that Brady acquired PSI abilities made the story that much more interesting, and provided that much more suspense, as Hodges and everyone else needed to figure out what was going on in order to put a stop to Brady.

In other words, we have King doing what he does best:  writing a damn good story that we don’t want to put down, until we finish it.

For the record, I should stop being surprised by Sai King.  He may write about the supernatural or the fantastic, but he constantly weaves “real world” issues into his stories, even if they are horror stories.  In The Drawing of the Three, we get a discussion on mental illness, along with racism.  In Insomnia, we discuss aging and how our society treats it (not kindly, for the most part.)  In Misery, we glimpse how fiction can have a huge impact on the reader, and the writer as well.  A novel like The Gunslinger could be considered a good metaphor for addiction.  I could go on.  And on…

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End of Watch is no different.  I was pleasantly surprised at the glimpse I got into Barbara Robinson’s life.  Barbara may have looked like she had everything under control, and had everything a person (or a teenage girl, at any rate.)  But appearances are deceiving, and Barbara is no different.  I understand the pain of not having a peer group quite well, as I don’t find too many other nerds I can relate to (although the internet is wonderful.)  Now, this is not the same a Barbara’s pain, as she is the only African American in her school.  But my heart broke for her when she described how she was treated when she went out on a date with a white boy, and I understood the feeling of disconnect quite well.  Often, we don’t really know what a person may be going through at any one moment, and that someone can appear outwardly happy, but that person is really experiencing a great deal of pain inside.  And this is probably the case more often than not.

King’s description of Barbara Robinson and her inner battles was probably not “necessary” to the story, but it sure did add a great deal of depth to the story.  And that is why King is The Master.

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And we have the character of Holly, who has turned out to be one of King’s most fascinating characters, in this little old blogger’s humble opinion.

With Holly, King has created a strong female character.  And one who we can relate too, as Holly is not perfect.  I would guess that Holly is somewhere on the autism spectrum, given her quirks.  Holly has also suffered her share mental health issues, as she candidly talks about her suicide attempts.

I love how Holly, over the three books, has broken free from her prison.  In Mr. Mercedes, she is almost a minor character, at least at first.  However, she becomes a major player in the chase for Brady, and saves the day at the end, by hitting him on the end.  This allows Holly to stand up to her non-supportive family, and start living life on her terms.

In Finders Keepers, Holly continues to be an integral part of Hodge’s team and life.  She uses her smarts and computer skills to help track down the bad guys, and also keeps Hodges at least somewhat grounded, as she looks after him, in almost the same way that spouse would.

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And in End of Watch, Holly continues to shine.  She talks to Barbara after her suicide attempt, and is the only able to get Barbara to open up (this really was one of the most beautiful moments in the book.)  She fights Brady again.  And she will be responsible for the continuation of Hodges’ legacy, as she the business has been left in her (more than) capable hands after his death.

Will Holly continue to be a presence in the Stephen King universe?  Hopefully, us Constant Readers will be so lucky as to catch another glimpse of her.  But only time will tell.

Then, there is the ending, along with the build-up to said ending.

So let’s talk about that.

Now, when I first heard the title of the final novel in the Mercedes trilogy (which I had to look up the meaning of…gotta love Google!), I cautioned myself not to take anything too literally.

“End of watch” is police-speak for the death of an officer, but this is Stephen King.  He is always full of surprises, right?  The title could mean anything, so don’t read too much into it, right?

Well, sometimes we need to take things literally.  The title to the final book in this trilogy is meant to be taken literally: it is the end of watch for our beloved Bill Hodges.

I was somewhat reminded of this season of Arrow, in fact.  At the beginning of the season, Damian Darhk tells Lance that he will kill his daughter if Lance does not comply.

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And the show teased a funeral of a major character, from the first episode of the season.

But I told myself not to take things too literally.  After all, anything could happen, right?

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Well, it turned out that Darhk’s threat could in fact be taken at face value.  Laurel Lance, aka the Black Canary, was killed, and Damian Darhk was in fact responsible for her death.  In other words, he carried through on his threat.

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And Stephen King also carried through on his threat, with the death of Hodges.  Seriously, the man likes to kill off main characters.  Maybe the tears of his readers provide seasoning for his food?  Well, I guess that’s one way of making sure that chicken turns out right…kill off a major character, and use the tears from your readers as seasoning.  Works every time!

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The second I found out that Hodges had pancreatic cancer (and you know you had to read up until that point to find out what was the matter with him, because, like Holly, you didn’t buy the whole ulcer theory), it felt like I found out that a friend or family member had terminal cancer.

Because that is what Stephen King characters do:  they become friends, or maybe even family.  And finding out that your friend or family member has terminal cancer is hard.  In fact, my heart felt heavy the day I finished reading that part of the book.  And I thought to myself that maybe the title can be taken literally, even though I still held on to a thin thread of hope that somehow Hodges would conquer his cancer.

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Finding out that Hodges had cancer also made the story that much more tense and suspenseful.  I knew that Hodges was ill, but I still wanted him to have the satisfaction of defeating Brady.  Ka is a wheel, as some other King character stated.  It started out with Brady, and it ended with Brady.  And if anyone deserved some closure, it would be Hodges.

I also feared that Hodges would die in his attempt to take down Brady.  And that ending would not have worked for, as that would have meant that Brady would have still won, even if Brady himself died.

But my man did not let me down.  Even while in the grip of terminal cancer, Hodges (and his friends) still managed to kick some major ass.  So Hodges won, and Brady lost.

The last chapter in the book made my eyes just a little bit leaky (seriously, what is wrong with my plumbing these days?)

I had hope that Hodges could beat cancer as well, but deep down, I knew that hope was futile.  But still, there was that tiny glimmer.

So I was saddened at the end, although not too surprised.  Hodges passed on to the clearing at the end of the path.

Holly and Jerome did something beautiful to remember their friend, by placing a popcorn box in an empty seat at the movie theater.

In other words, they saved him a seat.  And that’s what you always do for your friends, as they will always be there, right by your side.  In life and death.

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So this concludes The Mercedes trilogy.  To paraphrase a certain famous King character, ka is a wheel that comes back to where it started.  And that was the case for William Kermit Hodges.  He came back to where he started.  And he ended it in grand fashion.  A true gunslinger, right to the end.

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RIP, Hodges.  You will live in my memory forever.

That’s the great thing about Stephen King characters.  Somewhere out there, there is a Constant Reader discovering his characters for the first time.  And since they are always being discovered, they can never die.

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Join me next week as I review and dissect the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dark Half.

Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

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Connections

Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in End of Watch:

-Brady’s hospital room is room 217.  Room 217 is a room that has significance in the novel The Shining.

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-Brady awakens from his coma with PSI abilities.  This is similar to what happens to Johnny Smith in the book The Dead Zone.

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-There is a character named Brooks in the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which is a part of the collection Different Seasons.

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-Brady’s abilities are similar to the abilities of several other characters, including Carrie White, from the novel Carrie.

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-A pink Zappit device is mentioned.  In the short story UR (part of the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams), there is a pink Kindle device that is able to access stories and books from alternate realities, along with newspaper articles from the future.

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-The song Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult, is mentioned.  This song is also mentioned in the book The Stand.

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Making Castle Rock Great Again: My Review of The Dead Zone

As I have stated before, one of Stephen King’s strengths as a writer is that he writes about “real life”, and is able to write about it very well.

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And this is a good thing for a few reasons.

For one, it makes the stories more believable.  The Shining is a good example of this.  We may know the book for the scary hotel and the lecherous ghost in a certain famous room, but much of the book centers around the Torrance family and their problems, which include financial issues, abuse and substance abuse.  These are all topics we are familiar with, so when the familiar is juxtaposed with the supernatural, it makes the supernatural that much more believable.

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In other words, seeing Jack’s struggles with addiction and his need to provide for his family adds an element of credibility, and suddenly we can believe that an old hotel is really haunted by angry ghosts that want to use you as a human battery of sorts, because you really do have those psychic abilities.

(Ok, maybe a stretch on the psychic abilities part.  But, still you never know.)

King also creates great characters.  These characters also add to the story, allowing one to emphasize with the horrible situations they are put in.

In fact, King has the ability to create a sympathetic “good guy” and a great bad guy.  Both of these are essential to any good story.

Actually, bad guys are unfortunately a part of real life…

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 10: Presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures after Carly Fiorina says she met with Russian President Putin at a one on one meeting, during the Republican Presidential Debate sponsored by Fox Business and the Wall Street Journal at the Milwaukee Theatre November 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The fourth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top eight candidates, and another for four other candidates lower in the current polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Coincidentally (or maybe not), one of King’s most iconic bad guys is, in fact, a politician.

Again, real life can actually be much scarier than a clown in the sewers or a haunted hotel.

In case you were wondering, the character I am talking about is Greg Stillson, from the book The Dead Zone, which also happens to be one of my favorite King novels (and movies!)

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With it being an election year that has proved to be horror show that scares even motherfuckers like Stephen King, there was only one thing to do.

That’s right:  a read and review of The Dead Zone!  Makes perfect sense!

So join me, if you will, on my recap and dissection of The Dead Zone…hope you don’t scare easily!

Oh, as always:

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Synopsis

The prologue of the book features two people.  One is a young boy by the name of Johnny Smith.  Johnny suffers a head injury as a child due to an ice-skating accident.  This accident is not serious, but it does briefly render Johnny with precognitive abilities.  However, these abilities soon become dormant, and the rest of Johnny’s childhood is normal.

The other person is a man named Greg Stillson.  In the beginning of the book, Stillson is a young man who does door-to-door sales, but aspires for something better for himself.  However, there is something not quite right about Stillson, as he is shown to be a cruel man.  On one of his stops, Stillson kicks a dog to death out of anger, and proceeds to cover the act up so that he will not be caught.

Several years later, Johnny has graduated from college and secured a job as a teacher.  He is also dating a young woman named Sarah Bracknell.  One fall night, Johnny and Sarah attend a fair.  Johnny wins big in one of the gambling games and plans to consummate his relationship with Sarah.  However, Sarah becomes ill, and Johnny takes a cab back to his apartment.

Tragedy strikes on the cab ride back to Johnny’s apartment:  the cab collides with another vehicle.  The driver of the cab is killed, along with the passengers in the other vehicle.  Johnny survives the accident, but suffers from severe brain damage and falls into a coma.

For nearly five years, Johnny remains in the coma.  His parents, Herb and Vera Smith, are grief-stricken.  However, Herb is able to cope with the accident a little better than Vera, who succumbs to a sort of religious mania, and begins to subscribe to beliefs that can only be described as “fringe science.”  Sarah is also grief-stricken, but falls in love with a man named Walt Hazlett and has a son by him.

While Johnny is in the coma, a killer that becomes known as the Castle Rock begins to terrorize the town of Castle Rock.  Several women are murdered, but the murders go unsolved.

One day, Johnny awakens from his coma.  His mobility is limited, and he lacks control over certain bodily functions, but he is coherent and remembers his name, his parents, etc.  Johnny is also devastated to find out that Sarah has re-married, but holds no ill will against her.

Almost as soon as he awakens from his coma, Johnny begins to manifest precognitive abilities.  When Sarah visits him in the hospital, he is able to touch her and tell her where she lost her wedding ring.  He is also able to touch one of his doctors, Dr. Weizak, and determine that Weizak’s mother did not die in the Holocaust, after all, and is living in California.  Both of premonitions are subsequently verified, and bring attention to Johnny.

Johnny continues with his physical therapy and rehabilitation, even though it is painful for him.  One day, he touches his physical therapist, and has a premonition that the woman’s house has caught on fire.  Luckily, the fire department catches the fire on time, and no serious damage is done to the woman’s house.  However, this incident continues to bring more unwanted attention upon Johnny, in the form of curious reporters.

Shortly after the incident with his physical therapist, Johnny is hounded by news reporters who are curious about his abilities.  With Dr. Weizak at his side, Johnny attempts to answer some of their questions.  When he touches one reporter, Johnny is able to obtain some information about the reporter’s deceased sister, and there is no explanation as to how Johnny could have obtained this information.  The reporter becomes angry and calls Johnny a charlatan, even though the information is not false.

However, Johnny is distracted from the reporters when he finds out that his mother is in the hospital, as she has suffered a stroke.  Vera passes away shortly after Johnny’s arrival at the hospital, and Johnny and his father are devastated.

While Johnny is recovering from his accident, Greg Still becomes the mayor of a small town in New Hampshire and is on a rise to power.  However, his methods of keeping order in his city are unorthodox, to say the least, and some question his legitimacy.

After the death of his mother, Johnny moves back into his childhood home with his father.  Shortly after he moves back home, Johnny is approached by a man named Richard Dees.  Richard Dees works for a tabloid magazine called The Inside View, and offers Johnny a job at the magazine that promises to be quite lucrative.  Johnny becomes angry, and chases the reporter off his property, threatening to hurt Dees if he ever returns.

Sarah visits Johnny a few days after the incident with Richard Dees.  Even though she is happily married to Walt, Sarah consummates her relationship with Johnny, reminding Johnny on what he has missed.  Sarah then leaves, and she and Johnny agree not to contact each other again.

The weeks and months pass by, and Johnny struggles to return to a normal life.  An article accusing him to be a charlatan is published in The Inside View, in retribution for his refusal to work for the tabloid.  However, Johnny ignores the article, and the publicity surrounding him begins to die off.

One day, Johnny receives a call from Sheriff George Banner in regards to the Castle Rock Strangler murders.  Sheriff Bannerman requests Johnny help in solving the case, as the case has remained unsolved for several years and quite a few women have fallen victim to the murderer.  Initially, Johnny refuses to help, as he feels that he is being mocked.

However, when Johnny watches a news report on the murders, he changes his mind and agrees to meet with Sheriff Banner.  He meets with Sheriff Bannerman in a local diner, and finds out that the latest victim of The Castle Rock Strangler was a nine year old girl.  Johnny heads back to the police station with Bannerman, so that he can touch something that may have belonged to the killer, and hopefully get some information on the murderer.

When Johnny touches the cigarette carton that may have belonged to the murderer, he does not get any information.  However, Johnny heads to the site where the murder occurred, in the hopes that he will be able to obtain some information from the area.  And Johnny is successful in making this visit, and reveals the murderer to be Frank Dodd, who is actually one of Sheriff Bannerman’s deputies.  When Johnny makes this revelation, Sheriff Bannerman is angered, but agrees to at least investigate the possibility that Frank was involved in these murders.

The sheriff and Johnny then head to Frank’s house to confront him in regards to the murders.  When they arrive, they find that Frank has somehow figured out that he has been caught, and has committed suicide by slitting his throat with a razor.  He has also written “I confess” on his bedroom mirror in red lipstick.

After The Castle Rock Strangler has been caught, Johnny’s life has been turned upside down.  He is hounded by the press, and loses a teaching contract that he had previously secured.

The years pass, and Johnny eventually moves to a nearby town and obtains a job tutoring a high school boy named Chuck.  Johnny is quite good at his job, and helps Chuck overcome his difficulties with reading.

Greg Stillson continues to gain popularity as a politician, and runs for a seat in The House of Representatives.  Johnny is somewhat skeptical of Stillson, but does not pay him much mind, as he continues to try to live a normal life.

One afternoon, Johnny attends a rally to hear Greg Stillson speak.  Johnny is able to shake Stillson’s hand, and has one of his premonitions:  he sees Stillson being elected president and wreaking havoc on the United States and the rest of the world.  This frightens Johnny badly, causing him to faint.  When he awakens, he is questioned by the police, but released, as they cannot charge him with a crime.

Johnny continues to work with Chuck, and to live his life.  However, Greg Stillson is never far from his mind, and Johnny decides that something needs to be done about him, although he does not like the idea of killing, even a psychopath like Stillson.  Johnny begins to keep obsessive notes on Stillson, and wonders just what he can do.

One night, Chuck gives Johnny a hug, thanking him for his help.  Johnny has another premonition.  He sees the restaurant that is hosting a graduation party that Chuck is planning on attending get struck by lightening, killing several students.  One of these students may be Chuck.  Johnny convinces Chuck not to attend the party, and Chuck agrees, hosting a party of his own at his parent’s house.  Later that night, Johnny hears a radio broadcast that there has been a fire at that restaurant, and that 75 people were killed in the fire, which was caused by a lightening strike.

After the incident at the restaurant, Johnny flees New England and heads to Florida.  He is determined to stop Stillson at any cost, and purchases a gun.  He then heads back north, in the hopes of catching Stillson at a town hall meeting in Jackson, New Hampshire.

At the meeting, Johnny fires his gun at Stillson.  In order to defend himself, Stillson grabs an infant and uses the boy as a human shield.  A nearby reporter takes a picture of Stillson’s act of cowardice.  In the meantime, Johnny is shot by Stillson’s bodyguards and dies almost instantly, but knows that even though he was unable to shoot Stillson, he has still completed his mission.

Once the picture of Greg Stillson’s act of cowardice is brought to the public’s attention, his political career is killed, and the world is safe from the nuclear war that otherwise would have occurred.  It is also discovered that Johnny Smith was suffering from a brain tumor and had only months to live.  His letters to his father and Sarah indicate that he was of clear mind in his decision to stop Stillson.

Sarah visits Johnny’s grave, and feels distressed.  However, she feels a ghostly, gentle hand on her cheek, and knows that Johnny is not truly gone.


My Thoughts

The Dead Zone.  Many know Stephen King as the guy who writes scary stories.  And they would not be wrong, some of King’s material can scare someone right into a change of pants.

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But then, you have the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dead Zone.  In other words, the other Stephen King.  And people often forget that King does indeed have another side.  And this side is not the one that can scare you into a change of pants.

No, one of the things that the other Stephen King is good at is feelsies.

Yes, the guy that can (literally) scare the crap out of you can also reduce you to tears, and not the kind of tears brought on by a certain homicidal clown or by a creepy woman who has taken up resident in the bathtub in a certain famous (or is it infamous?) room in a haunted hotel.

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No, these are the kind of tears that you shed for the human condition, which is actually one of the most fucked up conditions of all time.

And The Dead Zone is a constant reminder of this, even from the very beginning.  Tragedy does not wait to strike in The Dead Zone.

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Rather, it rears its ugly head right away, as Johnny falls into the coma right away.  When Johnny falls into a coma, his life is forever changed.  He was a young man with a bright future with the woman he loved.  However, the accident changes everything for Johnny.  He is no longer the young man with a bright future, the young man who made being a high school teacher look effortless, the young man who had a beautiful girlfriend who he planned to marry.  He is now a vegetable, and even his father prays for death for him, so that he can receive some form of mercy.

The lives of Johnny’s loved ones are irrevocably changed as well.  His parents have effectively experienced the death of their only child.  To witness your only child suffer like that…it’s no wonder that Vera basically went insane, and Johnny’s father prayed for his death, so that he would not have to witness his only child suffering.  Who could blame them?

And there was another victim to tragedy:  Sarah Bracknell.  It is true that Sarah was not married to Johnny, or even engaged to him.  Sarah’s tragedy was the future that never came to be:  her marrying Johnny, building a life with him, possibly even having children together.  However, the accident robbed Sarah of that, and made her live with “the what if” for the rest of her life.

The tragedy continues, even when Johnny awakens from his coma.  “The world has moved on” (in the words of another famous King character.)  Johnny has missed out on almost five years of his life.  Not only does Johnny not know who the president of the United States is, he has missed out so many other things, like his career and his family.  And perhaps the saddest part is that Sarah has moved on and married another, so he has also lost the love of his life, along with the five years he will never get back.

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Stephen King often writes about ordinary people placed into extraordinary situations.  The Stand, It, The Shining and even the Dark Tower series are all examples of this.  And The Dead Zone is, as well.

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At first glance, the ability to predict the future may seem like a good thing.  After all, knowing that something terrible with happen gives us a chance to prevent it, and preventing something terrible from happening is always a good thing, right?

More like nope, at least in The Dead Zone.  Johnny’s abilities make him a pariah.  They frighten other people, because most people fear what they don’t understand.  Often, Johnny’s knowledge brings some unwelcome revelations.  Sheriff Bannerman punched Johnny for accusing Frank Dodd of being the Castle Rock strangler.  Bannerman literally needed to have the evidence in front of his face before he would even entertain the notion.  And even then, he wasn’t convinced.  Bannerman was only fully convinced when he got a written confession from Dodd, and by then it was too late for Dodd to face justice.

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Johnny’s abilities also put him in a moral predicament.  He knows that a nuclear war will ensue if Greg Stillson becomes president.  But is there any way to prevent this from happening, without resorting to actions which make Stillson such an awful person (as Stillson has shown he is not above murder, by killing law enforcement officials who possibly would have put a stop to his political career)?  However, unlike Stillson, Johnny is not someone who can so easily resort to murder.  Johnny struggles hugely with his decision, and often (rightfully) curses his “gift”, which has caused so much turmoil in his life.

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Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?

Throughout my re-read of The Dead Zone, I wondered this.  A lot, actually.

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And I think we all know what I am referencing…

Although I will also take a dig at Her Nibs here, just to show I am not just picking on The One Who Won’t Be Named.

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In all seriousness, the resemblances to our current political climate is just unreal.  That’s the only word I can think of to describe it.

King’s description of Stillson’s antics at his rallies is so strikingly similar to Donald Trump’s antics.  In one scene, Stillson crawls across the stage like a dog.  In another scene, Still promises “free hot dogs for all.”  I am sure that if I actually watched some Donald Trump rallies (while we are on the subject of being scared into a change of pants), I would find footage of The Donald crawling across the stage like a dog.  Probably barking too.

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And don’t even get me started on the subjects of hot dogs, since Mr. Trump has so generously let us known that his…ummm…man parts are fully functioning and of proper size.  Actually, if you never want to eat hot dogs ever again after reading this paragraph, I won’t hold it against you!

But, let’s get serious again.  Stillson founded his platform on hate, just like Mr. Trump.  Donald Trump has been repeatedly promising us that wall that Mexico will so magnanimously fund.  Stillson also had a hatred of the “outsiders”, promising his constituents that he would eradicate them.  Both Trump and Stillson attracted a certain type of voter:  white, lower middle class, ignorant and convinced that their problems were causes by “the outsiders” (Muslims, an African America president with a “foreign” name, any “foreigners”, etc), and not by a system that is inherently unfair to anyone who is not rich, like Stillson and Trump.  So both men were able to take the rising fear experienced by their supporters, and got the results that they wanted:  supporters who are frightened, and because they are frightened, are actually zealots as opposed to supporters.

dead zone 7

When reading this book, I was also struck by the description of the violence at Stillson’s rallies.  One woman had a miscarriage. People broke bones and suffered other injuries.

Like I said, art sometimes imitates life.  And I may be insufferable in regards to the jokes I have been making about Trump and Stillson lately.  But then King throws in a detail, like the fact that a woman suffered a miscarriage due to the violence at one of Stillson’s rallies.  I can also watch footage of violence at Trump rallies, as there has plenty.  And I can’t joke any more, since I am reminded of the horrible problem we have in this country, where these types of incidents are accepted.  Footage like this is much, much scarier than anything that has ever come out of the mind of Stephen King.

Trump 3

Johnny Smith prevented Greg Stillson from starting a nuclear war.  This is a scenario that would be all too plausible if Donald Trump was to be elected the leader of the free world.  When someone uses fear as his/her campaign platform and actually gets elected, what else can we expect?  The campaign was not based on rationality, so why would any decisions, especially the important ones, be based on rationality?  In other words, campaigns based on hate and fear do not end well, and will probably end in disaster.

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In school, I remember reading Animal Farm.  1984 also may have been required reading.  However, The Dead Zone was not required reading.  And that was a damn shame.  Perhaps, if this book was required reading in high school, “Making America great again” would not be a political platform in 2016.

animal farm 1


Well, that’s it for The Dead Zone.  Join me next month for the review and dissection of another Castle Rock tale, The Dark Half.  And there will be a bonus recap and review, as the final installment of The Mr. Mercedes trilogy, End of Watch, will be released next month.

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


Connections:

Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in The Dead Zone:

The Dead Zone takes place in the town of Castle Rock.  Castle Rock is the setting for several other King stories, including Needful Things, The Body, Cujo and The Dark Half.

Needful things 3

-Sheriff George Bannerman also makes an appearance in the novella The Body (part of the collection Different Seasons), and in the book Cujo.

Cujo

-The events from the book Carrie are referenced.

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-Beverly Marsh mentions the Castle Rock Strangler in the book It.

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-Richard Dees, the writer from the tabloid The Inside View, is also a character in the short story The Night Flier, which is part of the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes.

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Eddie makes mention of the tabloid The Inside View in the novel The Wolves of the Calla.

Roland dance

 

 

Dead is Definitely Better: My Review of Pet Sematary

Well, I just finished A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.

So now, we wait.  And wait and wait.  And wait some more for books six and seven, at least, according to history, as our beloved GRRM is not exactly the quickest when it comes to publishing books.  However, I love this series so much, so I forgive the bumbling writer of what will probably be one of the most epic fantasy series of all time.

melisandre 1

In fact, I think of it as karma:  I discovered The Dark Tower series after all the books had been published, so I was able to read them at my leisure.  So now the universe has paid me back by forcing me to wait on Game of Thrones.  It’s all good though, I am sure I can find something else to occupy my time before my return to Westoros

DT movie 1

Well, good thing we have The Master!  Really, are you even surprised any more?

Simpsons SK

So, in order to relax while waiting for book six in A Song of Fire and Ice (yes, I may fight windmills while I am waiting for that, actually), I decided to pick up another Stephen King book.  In other words, I have time to kill (see what I did there).

I casually thought about what relaxing book of King’s to read.  I mean, there are quite a few to choose from.

So, I chose Pet Sematary.

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

I mean, that’s a relaxing read, right?  It will give me some pleasant dreams, right?  It’s good family fun, right?

Ok, you got me.  I really need to stop abusing the sarcasm font.  Seriously…

I deliberately chose Pet Sematary.  If memory serves, this is the one King book I have only read once, and there are very good reasons for that.

I first read this book when I was about 13 years old.  Shortly after, my parents made me stay in this really weird place…I think it’s called Arkham Asylum?  And I met some really funny folks there and they became my lifelong friends!

joker and harley

In other words, Pet Sematary scared me into a change of pants.  I couldn’t sleep with lights off for at least a couple of nights.  Being alone in the house sucked.  And I felt the need to hug my cats really, really tight, claws and teeth be damned.  I may have been turned off from horror and had to resort to watching Disney flicks after this book, as a matter of fact.

Of course, I decided to re-read it, nearly 25 years later.  Makes perfect sense, right?

Well, horror is about confronting fears, to an extent.  In fact, King has written about that, in more than a few books.

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So if a group of plucky kids can travel down to the sewers and confront their fears, why can’t nearly 38 year old me re-read a book that terrified her at age 13?

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Therefore, I convinced myself to read Pet Sematary.  Don’t worry, I have the Blue Heeler Protection Agency at my service, so I will be safe at all times…screw you, Wendigo!

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Anyway, here goes nothing, aka my recap and review of Pet Sematary.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


 

Synopsis

The story begins with the introduction of the Creed family:  Louis Creed, who is a doctor; his wife Rachel; his five year old daughter Ellie and his infant son Gage.  The Creeds have relocated to Ludlow, Maine from Chicago, and have also brought their pet cat Church along.  The Louis and his family meet  their new neighbor, Jud Crandall, shortly after their arrival at their new home, and become fast friends with Jud and his wife Norma.

Louis and his family quickly settle into their new life in Ludlow.  Louis begins his new job at the nearby university.  Ellie starts kindergarten.  Gage slowly settles into his new routine, and Rachel also becomes friends with Jud and Norma.

One afternoon, not long after Ellie’s first day of school, Jud Crandall stops by the house and invites Louis and his family to take a walk with him.  Jud takes the Creed family for a walk on their property that is about a mile long, and shows them something that is called the “Pet Sematary.”  This is actually a graveyard for family pets, many of which were victims of the busy nearby highway.  Louis and Ellie find the site to be a curiosity, although Rachel is disturbed by it.

The next morning, Ellie becomes upset over the idea of the Pet Sematary, as she realizes that her cat, Church, will not live forever.  Louis tries to calm her and explain death to her, but Rachel becomes extremely upset over the conversation, as her sister Zelda died when Rachel was a child.  Rachel becomes so angry that she forces Louis to promise tonever bring up the subject of death again with their daughter.  Louis becomes troubled, thinking that there may be much more to the story of Zelda’s death than Rachel has told him.

The next day, the university that employs Louis is back in full session, so the real work begins for Louis.  And Louis is put to work right away, as one of his first patients is a young man who is the victim of a car accident.  The young man’s name is Victor Pascow, and Louis quickly realizes that his patient will die.  Before the young man passes away, he mentions the “Pet Sematary”, and tells Louis that is not the real cemetery.  However, before Louis can ask any more questions, Pascow passes away from his wounds.  Louis dismisses the young man’s words as a trick played on him by his ears, and proceeds to do his job as a physician.

That night, Louis encounters Victor Pascow in what he believes to be a vivid dream.  Louis follows the being claiming to be Victor Pascow to the Pet Sematary.  The being then warns Louis not to go beyond the Pet Sematary, no matter how tempted he becomes, and that the destruction of himself and all that he loves is very near.  The next morning, Louis finds pine needles on his bedroom floor.  Louis dismisses the incident as an extremely vivid dream accompanied by an episode of sleepwalking, and continues with his day.

The weeks pass by, and the memory of the incident with Victor Pascow begins to fade.  On Halloween, Louis takes Ellie out trick-or-treating and stops by Jud’s house.  While he is there, Jud’s wife Norma has a heart attack.  Louis is able to administer treatment to her, and Norma survives the incident and makes a nearly complete recovery.

For Thanksgiving, Ellie, Rachel and Gage fly back to Chicago, while Louis remains in Maine.  While his family is gone, Church the cat is run over by a vehicle on the busy road.  Louis is upset and wonders how he will break the news to Ellie, who is very attached to Church.  However, Jud tells Louis that he may be able to help him, and insists on burying Church that night.

Jud leads Louis to the Pet Semetary, and Louis believes that he will bury Church there.  However, there is a burial ground beyond the Pet Semetary, and this is where Louis buries his daughter’s cat.  Jud tells Louis that his burial ground is a Micmac burial ground and that it may contain magical properties.  Louis is skeptical, but buries Church there anyway, and returns home shortly after, still wondering how he will break the news to Ellie.

The next day, Louis gets the surprise of his life when Church returns to his house.  Initially, Louis thinks that he perhaps made a mistake in thinking that Church was dead the night before, and was perhaps just unconscious.  However, the cat seems to have changed, and Louis cannot get rid of the feeling that something just is not right.

That night, Jud tells Louis the story of how he buried his dog, Spot, in the same burial grounds.  Like Church, Spot is resurrected, but is not quite the same.  Jud tells Louis that he was relieved when his dog died a few years later, as his personality had changed, and always smelled like dirt.  Jud also tells Louis that this could be a good lesson for Ellie, to help teach her that death is not such a bad thing.

Rachel returns home with Ellie and Gage, and Louis is glad to see his family again.  However, Ellie notices that something is different about Church.  She says that he stinks and no longer allows the cat to sleep with her.  Other than that, life continues on its normal course for the Creed family.

That winter, Norma Crandall passes away in her sleep.  The Creed family and Jud are extremely saddened by this.  Over Rachel’s objections, Ellie attends the funeral with Louis, and this becomes a rite of passage of sorts.  Rachel finally tells Louis about the death of her sister, Zelda, who passed away from spinal meningitis when she was ten years old.  Rachel was left alone in the house to care for Zelda before she passed away, and the experience was extremely traumatic.  Rachel has spent her life feeling guilt in regards to Zelda’s death, and Louis tries to convince that she finally needs to let go of the guilt and move on with her life.

Tragedy strikes that spring.  Gage is struck by a truck on the busy highway near the family’s home, and is killed almost instantly.  The entire family, including Louis, succumbs to a state of shock and grief.  Rachel’s parents blame Louis for Gage’s death, and Louis gets into a fistfight with his father-in-law at Gage’s funeral.  Louis is in so much pain that he is unable to offer much comfort to either his wife or daughter.

Jud speaks to Louis, as he is afraid that Louis is considering burying Gage’s body in the Micmac burial ground, in the hopes of bringing his son back to life.  Jud tells of a young man who was killed in WWII and buried in the burial grounds by his grieving father.  The young man was resurrected, but did not come back as his former self.  The young man’s personality became vicious, and he only wanted to speak of the nasty secrets kept by Jud and a fewer other townspeople.  Jud theorizes that the man was possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo.  The young man is killed again by his father, who also commits suicide.  Jud and the other townspeople who convinced the young man’s father to end the experiment had their lives spared, but Jud feels that coming into contact with the Wendigo has cursed him, and possibly caused the death of Gage Creed and the pain that the Creed family is now suffering.  Louis promises Jud that he will not bury Gage in the burial ground, but the thought never strays far from his mind.

Despite his promise to Jud, Louis decides to carry out his and attempt to bring Gage back to life.  He sends Rachel and Ellie back to Chicago with Rachel’s parents, promising them that he will join them in a few days.  However, both Rachel and Ellie sense that something is not right with Louis, and Ellie begins to have disturbing dreams in regards to the Micmac burial ground, her father and her brother.  The ghost of Victor Pascow also speaks to Ellie in her dreams, telling her that he can warn her of the danger, but that he cannot interfere.  After hearing of her daughter’s dreams, Rachel attempts to call Louis but receives no answer.  This prompts Rachel to call Jud and ask him to check on Louis.

Jud complies with Rachel’s request and checks on Louis.  However, he finds no sign of Louis in the family home, and fears that Louis intends to attempt to resurrect Gage via the Micmac burial ground.  Jud also fears that the curse of the Wendigo is upon him and the Creed family.

Louis steals the corpse of Gage from the graveyard, intending to carry his plan through.  In the meantime, Rachel rushes back to Maine from Chicago, in the hopes of stopping Louis from doing something potentially dangerous.  Rachel speaks to Jud via the telephone, and Jud promises to tell her the whole story the next day.

Louis buries his son in the Micmac burial ground, and returns to his house to wait for Gage, in the hopes of making his family whole again.  Meanwhile, Rachel frantically tries to return to Maine, but it seems as if someone or something is trying to prevent her return.

Jud is awakened early in the morning by a noise in his house.  It turns out that Church the cat and Gage have paid him a visit.  However, Gage is no longer a little boy, and begins to torment Jud with speculations of his wife’s infidelity.  Jud realizes that he has been tricked, but it is too late, and he is murdered by Gage with a scapel.

Rachel is finally able to drive back to Maine, and heads directly to Jud’s house.  She also encounters Gage and Church, and is attacked by Gage.

The next morning, Louis receives a call from his father-in-law with the news that Ellie has been hospitalized due to hysteria. Ellie has also been having prophetic dreams in regards to her family. Louis’ father-in-law tries to persuade Louis and Rachel to come back to Chicago, and Louis promises that they will attempt to return that night.

Louis then finds Church the cat, and kills the animal by giving it a shot of morphine.  Louis then goes to Jud’s house, where he finds the old man’s body.  Louis then discovers the body of Rachel, who has also been murdered by Gage.  Rachel’s corpse also appears to have been cannibalized.  Louis is then attacked by Gage, and is forced to administer him a fatal short of morphine.  After killing his son, Louis then burns down Jud’s house.

After burning down Jud’s house, Louis brings Rachel’s body to the Micmac burial ground.  He is convinced that he waited too long to bury Gage, and that was the reason why Gage turned evil.  Louis has convinced himself that by burying Rachel right away, things will be different, and buries her in the grounds.

That night, Louis is playing solitaire in his house.  His hair has gone completely white.  He hears a voice, and a cold hand falls on his shoulder.  The voice is full of dirt, and simply says, “Darling.”


 

My Thoughts

Let’s get one thing straight:

Pet Sematary is a good book.

And if you are crazy enough to be reading this blog and have gotten this far, you may be thinking:  Well, water is wet.  The sun does set in the west, right?  Why do we need to state the obvious, in other words?  Of course Pet Sematary is a good book…it was written by The Master, right?

Stephen King mit Katze "Clovis", tierischer Held des Films "Schlafwandler". Der Meister des Horrors wird am Sonntag (21.09.1997) 50 Jahre. Mit 50 hat er mehr als 30 Romane veröffentlicht, ein Sachbuch, fünf Geschichtensammlungen und neun Drehbücher. dpa (zu dpa-Korr vom 17.09.1997) nur s/w

Well, there is that.  However, I have talked about this book in an unflattering light at times, so I wanted to set the record straight:  this is a good book.  I may have taken 25 years to re-read this book, but it is an excellent book.

As stated earlier, I was scared into a change of pants the first time I read this book.  And this is still true:  I consider this to be King’s scariest book ever written (more on that in a bit).  However, when I re-read the book at the almost impossibly ancient age of 37 going on 38, my feelings were a bit…mixed…is the best word I can come up with.

If you are a member of the approximately 5,000 Stephen King fan pages that I am member of on social media, you will see Pet Sematary memes on a regular basis (yeah, I need to get out more, I know).  And they are funny.

Church grumpy cat

And joking around is ok.  Really, it is.  A bit of whistling in the dark is ok, especially when you are dealing with serious topics, and Pet Sematary has many of those.  In fact, Pet Sematary is overflowing with…feelsies…

Yes, the book with the “grumpy cat”, Zelda and the creepy guy who reminds us that “dead is better” is also filled with feelsies.  In fact, there are so many that King should have put up a caution sign, so his Constant Readers aren’t liable to trip on them.

For example, we have the story of Zelda (also the subject of more than a few social media memes).  And the subject of quite a few nightmares.

And the scene involving Zelda is scary, it really is.  But it is also tragic.  When I read this book this time around, however, I was more saddened than anything when I read that part.  Obviously, I was saddened for Rachel.  The description of what Rachel witnessed and how it affected her, even into adulthood, was just heartbreaking.  I was also saddened for Rachel’s parents.  Rachel’s parents may not have made the best decisions in handling care for their daughter, who was facing a horrible, painful death without the slightest shred of dignity, but I was still sad for them, as no parent should ever have to face that.  But most of all, I was sad for Zelda herself.  Zelda was not a monster.  She never was.  She was simply a child who received some extraordinarily bad luck in life, and whose life was cut off too soon.  Her illness transformed her into something else entirely:  something in constant pain and unrecognizable to the ones who loved her the most.  She was robbed of her childhood.  When she should have been playing with dolls, running around outside with her sister and doing whatever other things that kids do, she was a prisoner to her pain in a back bedroom, where she lived her last days and served as a living reminder to her family that life is never fair, and is perhaps the most unfair to those whose deserve such unfairness the least.

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We also have the Creed family.  As I have stated before, the only “bad guy” in Pet Sematary is the Wendigo (more on that later).  When I was younger, I do confess to thinking that Louis was not entirely a “good guy.”  I thought that he was weak and played a role in the events that transpired.  However, this re-read has caused me to re-think this, and I no longer believe that Louis was a weak man.

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In fact, I like Louis Creed.  I like his whole family, actually.  The Creed family reminds me a lot of my own family.  I even have brother who is younger by about the same number years as Gage was to Ellie.  Louis also reminds me of my own father:  he wants to keep his family happy and safe, and for his children to have the best life he can give them.

King spends a lot of time letting his reader get to know the Creed family.  I loved reading about the day to day life of the Creed family.  I loved the interaction between Ellie and Gage.  Again, it reminded me of growing up with a younger brother who could be a pest, but I still (secretly) loved to pieces any way, even if he drove me crazy most of the time.  I also loved the relationship between Louis and Rachel.  They took their duties a parents seriously (again, each wanting the best for their kids), but they also had a great partnership.  Louis and Rachel were lovers as well as parents and partners, and their chemistry jumped off the pages.  The description of the day-to-day life of the Creed family may have seemed mundane, but King managed to the turn the mundane into something extraordinary.

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Because King turns the mundane into the extraordinary, the events that transpire are that much more heartbreaking.  I have said it before, and I will say it again:  King has the ability to create monsters, but his greatest strength is writing about everyday life.  Pet Sematary is a great example of this.  King lets us get to know the Creed family and maybe even fall in love with them a little.  Then, tragedy strikes.  The death of Gage splits the family apart, as any death will, especially of one so young.  And King gives us a cutting description of the split.  One of the scenes that struck me in particular was the fight that Louis had with his father-in-law at this son’s funeral, where the fight comes down to fists.  I actually had sympathy for both sides, since I could understand the feelings, especially Louis’, given his shaky relationship with his in-laws.  The fact that the family was fighting, instead of supporting each other, was just so tragic.  However, it was also unfortunately realistic, as people don’t always show their best faces in times of tragedy.

Time to talk about the Wendigo.

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In re-reading this book, I came to a realization of what a big role the Wendigo actually plays in the events that transpire in this story.  And I did not realize what a large role this entity plays in the fate of…well, pretty much everyone is what it boils down to.

As I said before, when I was younger, I blamed Louis for much of what happened.  My though was that he should have known better and been able to fight against the unnatural forces that ended up destroying him and his family.

However, I no longer feel that way.  I believe that Louis was actually just another pawn in a horrific game.  In fact, I believe that everyone was a pawn in that game, even Jud Crandall.

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The Wendigo clearly had its designs on Jud for a long, long time.  And this is not really Jud’s fault, he fought the Wendigo because he was forced to fight it, due to someone else burying a human in those burial grounds.  Jud was also just trying to help his friend Louis teach his daughter some lessons about death.  Jud had no idea just how far out of control events would spiral, when Louis performed an experiment that should not have been performed.  In fact, I believe the Wendigo used the Creed family to get to Jud, as revenge for being defeated all those years ago.

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When reading this book, I was struck by the apparent influence that the Wendigo had over the town of Ludlow.  For example, the driver of the truck which hit and killed Gage stated that he felt compelled to speed for no reason when passing through Ludlow.  I don’t think that this was just a coincidence, rather I think this is just one piece of evidence of how much control the Wendigo really has.  I may even be able to make that same argument in the case of Church the cat, who felt compelled to cross the street for no reason, resulting in his death and Louis finding out about the burial grounds, which was a secret that should have stayed a secret.  Early on, the Wendigo was working its horrible power for its own gain.

I love how King subtly works the the mythology of the Wendigo throughout this book, even right up to the very end of it.  Louis sees the Wendigo as he takes Rachel’s body to the burial grounds, but his co-worker Steve also sees the Wendigo and is touched by its evil.  I also noticed that Steve has noted the run of bad luck of the people around him that year.  This is just not in regards to what happened to the Creed family in recent months, but it also appears that other people around Louis have had a run of bad luck.  Additionally, Steve is nearly pulled into Louis’ madness, but is able to resist it.  Interestingly enough, Steve moves far away from Ludlow shortly after that encounter, and never returns again.

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So is the town of Ludlow, Maine controlled by the entity known as the Wendigo, in much the same way that Derry, Maine is controlled by Pennywise the Clown?  I actually think the answer may be a resounding “yes.”  The citizens of Ludlow are protective, in a way, of the burial grounds and the Wendigo, in much the same way that the citizens of Derry were protective of Pennywise the Clown.  Like Derry, the Wendigo is a part of Ludlow, and anyone who interferes (like Jud and Louis) will be forced to pay in the form of some unpleasant consequences.

Pennywise 11


 

Well, that’s it for the dark journey known as Pet Sematary.  But it is a journey worth taking, as I gained much from this re-read.  Join me next month as we spend a few sleepless nights in Derry.  In other words, we will be reviewing and dissecting the book Insomnia next month.

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


Connections

Pet Sematary is set squarely in the middle of the Stephen King universe.  I did not find a of connections, but here are the few that I found:

-Rachel Creed passes by a sign for the town ‘Salem’s Lot and thinks that it is not a nice name for a town.  ‘Salem’s Lot, course, is the setting for the book of the same name, along with two other King short stories, One for the Road and Jerusalem’s Lot, both are which a part of the collection Night Shift.

salem's lot 3

-The town of Derry is mentioned a few times. Derry is the setting for several King novels, including It, Insomnia and Bag of Bones.

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-Louis thinks of a medical case where a fetus consumes an un-formed twin.  This is the premise of the novel The Dark Half.

sparrows

 

Ghostly Love: My Review of Bag of Bones

As anyone who knows me will tell you:  I am not much of a “girly girl.”

In fact, I could almost be mistaken for “one of the guys”  (although hopefully this does not happen too often, due to certain “assets” that I possess).

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

I am rude and crude at times.  I love to watch football and scream copious of amounts of profanity  and cheer for my team.  I laugh at bodily functions.  I make dirty jokes.  After all, I can’t help that both penises and vaginas are still hilarious even after my nearly 38 years on Earth!

innuendo

Of course, the non-girly tendency extends to my taste in books, movies and television.  As a rule, I don’t “do” chic lit.  I prefer fantasy and horror, although I like to think my repertoire is vast.

GoT meme

As for movies and TV, I generally consider them a waste unless at least one person is getting blown up.  Bonus for fiery car crash scenes.  And they have to be quotable, too.  More bonuses for clever usage of the word “fuck”, which happens to be among my favorite words, actually.

boondock-saints-quotes-hd-wallpaper-22

But, there are always exceptions to the rule.  Every once in a while, I feel “girly” and decide that a good, ugly cry may be cathartic, after all.

ugly cry

And my soul is not completely black, I like to think that there is a little bit of color hidden in all that darkness.  In other words, I do enjoy romance, at least a little bit.

roland and susan 2

So who do I turn to when I need a dose of chic lit?

You guessed it…The Master himself!  Again, this blog, you being surprised…I won’t even get into it any more!

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Yep, it turns out that old Uncle Stevie can write romance really well…is there anything The Master can’t do?  Well, maybe interpretive dance, but don’t feel bad, Sai King, I kind of suck at that myself, actually!

Many of King’s books actually contain some great romances.  These include Wizard and Glass, It, 11/22/63 and quite a few others.  As I have stated many times before, King is much more than just “America’s Boogeyman.”  He includes that element of reality in his stories that take them from good to unforgettable.  And romance is a part of everyone’s life.  After all, even cold-blooded killers can fall in love and get their hearts broken, just like the rest of us.

Roland 1

The novel Bag of Bones is on the list of books written by King that do justice to romance.  On the one hand, it is “classic” chic lit.  We have a widower.  We have a single mom.  There is a cute kid.  And a mean old guy trying to ruin the lives of said single mom and cute kid, until the widower steps in and offers his help, falling in love with the single mom and cute kid in the process.  But on the other hand, it is classic King.  There are ghosts.  Lots and lots of ghosts.  Senseless deaths.  A mystery that needs to be unraveled soon, or someone (well, make that several someones) will be in grave danger.  The best of both worlds, in other words.

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So a spooky ghost story that also has some “feelsies”?  Well, it’s been awhile since I had any catharsis, so sign me up!  Time to take another journey into one of my favorite King novels, so buckle up for the ride!

As always:

Homer spoiler


 

Synopsis

The story is told from the perspective of Mike Noonan, who is a moderately successful novelist living in the town of Derry, Maine.  The book begins in tragedy:  Mike’s wife Jo dies in a drugstore parking lot of a brain aneurysm. Even more tragically, Mike finds out that Jo was about seven weeks pregnant with the couple’s first child when she died.  Mike spends the next four years in a haze of grief, unable to write.  Any time Mike tries to write again, he becomes physically ill.  Mike also begins to dream of the couple’s summer home, Sara Laughs.  Even though he has not spent very much time in the home since the death of his wife, Mike decides that he will spend a few months in the home, with the hopes that the change in scenery will help him overcome the writer’s block that he is suffering.

Almost as soon as Mike arrives at his summer home, he senses a ghostly presence.  The ghostly presence indicates that it may or may not be his late wife, Jo.  Mike also makes the acquaintance of Mattie Devore, one of the residents of small town.  Mattie is a fan Mike’s work.  Mike rescues Mattie’s daughter Kyra, who has wandered onto the highway while Mike is driving.  This spells trouble for Mattie, as she is a widow engaged in a custody battle with her rich father-in-law, Max Devore.  Almost immediately, Mike receives a harassing phone call from Max Devore, and is summoned to appear in a court deposition in regards to custody of Kyra Devore.  Mike also meets Rogette Whitmore, Max Devore’s personal assistant, and George Footman, a local sheriff’s deputy who also works for Devore on the side.  It is clear that Mike has made an enemy of the old man, and he becomes angered at the old man’s  harassment of Mattie and Kyra Devore.

Mike also begins to realize that he is not alone in Sara Laughs.  He continues to sense a ghostly presence, and also realizes that his wife Jo had made a few visits to Sara Laughs before her death without Mike’s knowledge.  Jo was also seen in the company of an unknown male, and Mike begins to wonder if Jo had been having an affair.  Mike also begins to receive messages from someone or something in regards to Mattie and Kyra, begging him to help Maddie with her custody battle.  Mike then hires a lawyer named John Storrow to represent Mattie in her custody battle.  Mattie is grateful, and promises that she will do anything she can to repay Mike.  Mike also begins to fall in love with Mattie, and has a strange dream that includes Mattie, his late wife Jo, and Sarah Tidwell, a blues singer who inhabited the land now occupied by Mike back in the 1900’s.  Mike grows curious in regards to the history of his house, and begins to conduct his own research.

Shortly after arriving at his summer home, Mike is able to write again, and begins work on a new novel, hoping that the writer’s block is permanently gone.

Mike also receives a visit at his home from Max Devore and his assistant Rogette, and the visit is not a friendly one.  Mike is attacked by Rogette, and nearly drowns in Darkscore Lake.  However, he receives some help from the ghost of his wife Jo, and manages to survive the encounter.  Mike also receives a visit from Richard Osgood, another hired gun employed by Maxwell Devore.  Osgood serves Mike with a letter asking him to drop the custody case for Kyra Devore, and Devore will do the same.  The letter also taunts Mike in regards to his previous encounter with Devore and Rogette.  Mike speaks to Rogette on the phone, and tells her that he will fight back if either her or Max Devore tries to attack him again. Mike also receives a distressed phone call from Mattie, who has lost her job at the library due to the actions of Max Devore.

The next day, Mike receives a call from his caretaker, Bill Dean.  Bill tells him that Max Devore passed away the previous night, supposedly committing suicide by drowning himself in the bathtub.  Mike meets with Mattie and Kyra, and shares a kiss with Mattie.  Mattie plans a party to celebrate the fact that she no longer has to worry about the custody case, and invites Mike and the lawyers he hired.  Mattie also tells Mike that there have been some strange things going on in her house, namely magnetic letters that spell out messages and the names of people, including Mike’s deceased wife.  Mattie gives Mike one of the messages, but he is not sure what it means, other than the fact that it may pertain to one of his crossword puzzles.

That evening, Mike speaks to Jo’s brother, Frank.  Mike learns that Jo had been doing research on Sara Laughs, and had perhaps stumbled onto something in regards to the house and Mike’s family history.  Frank confesses that he met Jo at Dark Score Lake, and that Jo was not having an affair.  Frank also tells Mike that Jo stated that she would never return to Sara Laughs, and that she would tell Mike her secret when she was ready.

That night, Mike has what he believes to be a dream where he visits the Fryeburg Fair in the 1920’s.  Kyra Devore also joins him the dream, and the dream is extremely vivid, causing Mike to believe that he has actually traveled back in time.  Mike and Kyra see Sara Tidwell perform with her band, The Red Tops.  Sara is wearing a dress that belongs to Mattie, and clearly has evil designs directed towards Kyra.  Mike and Kyra also encounter people who appear to be the ancestors of some of the people in town, including one man named Jared Devore, who is likely related to Max Devore.  Mike is able to escape the past through a fun house, with the help of Kyra.  After Mike arrives safely at his house, he hears someone screaming, and thinks it to be the ghost of Jo.

Mike speaks to Mattie, and tells her that she may still be in danger, although Mattie is extremely happy because she got her job at the library back.  Mike talks to several of the people in town, and learns that several children who has names that sound similar (Carla, Kerry and even Kia, his unborn daughter), have died mysteriously over the years, and that this likely has something to do with Sarah Tidwell, her brother Reg and his son Kito.  In the process, Mike loses the services of his caretaker and housekeeper, who become upset when he begins asking questions.  Mattie’s lawyer, John Storrow, also speaks to Mike and informs that Mattie has inherited 80 million dollars from Max Devore.  The only catch is that she must remain in town for at least one year after his death.  Mike continues to sense a presence in his house.  He hears a child crying, and figures that must be Kito.  He also encounters the ghost of Sara Tidwell in his bed.  Mattie and Kyra also sense a supernatural presence in their home, and Kyra’s magnetic alphabet letters mysteriously vanish.

A crossword puzzle book finally provides Mike some more clues in regards to Sarah Tidwell and the history of the town.  When he looks in the phone book, Mike sees many names that are similar, especially in the families that have lived in town for some time.  Mike begins to fear that Kyra is in danger, as her name is is one of the similar ones.

Mike meets John Storrow at the airport, and he, John and the rest of the team that assisted on Mattie’s case meet at her house for a celebration.  However, the celebration comes to a tragic end, as it is interrupted by gunfire from George Kennedy, one of Max Devore’s hired hands.  John Storrow is wounded in the firefight, and Mattie is killed almost instantly.

Mike calls the authorities, and flees to Sara Laughs with Kyra, comforting her the best that he can.  However, Mike is nearly overcome by another force that almost compels him to drown Kyra in the bathtub.  Mike is then distracted by the ghost of his wife Jo.  He realizes that he has been inadvertently writing clues in the novel he was writing.  One of those clues indicates that Mike needs to looks under Jo’s old studio for two plaster owls.  Mike heads to the studio, unsure of what he will find.

When Mike arrives in the studio, he struggles with the ghost of Sara Tidwell.  With the help of Jo’s ghost, he finds the plaster owls.  Mike finds several newspaper clippings in regards to Sara Tidwell and her band, the Red Tops.  Mike also finds several newspaper articles showing the deaths of children, all of whom have similar names to Kyra’s, and has a vision of the father of his caretaker Bill drowning Bill’s twin sister Carla.  Mike realizes that the ancestors of the townspeople had done something horrible to Sarah Tidwell, and that he is also descended from one of those men.  Mike also vows to keep Kyra safe, and put the ghosts to rest once and for all.

The ghosts of Sara Laughs then tell the story of what happened to Sara Tidwell.  Sara and her band the Red Tops had settled in Dark Score Lake and called it home.  Most of the townspeople had no objection to their presence, even though they were black and this was turn of the century Maine.  However, Jared Devore, an ancestor of Max Devore and a small group of his friends did object to the presence of black people in their town, especially a black woman with Sara’s personality.  One afternoon, Jared and his friends confront Sara as she is walking along the lake.  Sara laughs at Jared, and is gang raped for her actions and then murdered to keep her from talking to the authorities.  Sara’s son Kito also witnesses the rape and murder of his mother, and the men drown him to keep him from talking to the authorities.  Mike then destroys the remains of Sara Tidwell, putting her spirit to rest.

However, all is not well.  Mike finds out that Rogette Whitmore has tried to kidnap Kyra, and he must rescue Kyra.  With the help of the ghost of Mattie, Mike is able to do that, although Rogette is killed in the process.  Mike realizes that Rogette was not just Devore’s assistant but also his daughter and Kyra’s aunt.

The book ends with Mike telling the story to Jo’s brother Frank, when he and Kyra spend Christmas with Frank.  Mike has retired from writing, and it attempting to get custody of Kyra.  The process is slow, but the now recovered John Storrow tells Mike that the odds are likely in his favor.


My Thoughts

One of Stephen King’s strengths  is that he can write “real-life horror” extremely well.  He has demonstrated this in books like The Shining, It and Pet Sematary.  Sure, ghosts, vampires, zombies, etc are terrifying, but anything having to reality can be even more terrifying (i.e. domestic abuse, alcoholism, the death of a child and so forth).

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And King also does this really well with Bag of Bones.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some scary ghosts in this book, and I give them their due.  But the scariest parts to me had almost absolutely nothing to do with anything supernatural.

For instance, the part where Mike is chased into the lake by Rogette and Maxwell Devore…shudder!  If I had to pick a way to die, drowning would NOT get my vote, the idea just scares me to death (no pun intended).  King’s description of the torture that Mike goes through is just brutal, and definitely can make someone re-think the idea of swimming by his or herself.

Another brutal scene in the book is the one that details the rape and murder of Sara Tidwell.  When I first read the book, I always saw Sara Tidwell’s ghost as somewhat sympathetic, even before I read this scene.  But she got my full sympathy when I read this scene, no questions asked.  This is another brutal scene.  She is gang raped, in front of her son.  And then murdered, along with her son, so that they will both stay quiet.  The fact that the rape and murders are racially motivated makes them that much sadder.  The fact that no one was brought to justice because the victims were African American also makes it sad.  I do not excuse Sara Tidwell for killing generations of kids, and coming thisclose to killing another one, but who could blame her?  The kind of pain that she endured is just not something can be erased.  Covered up, perhaps, but again, that kind of pain does not stay buried, and is something that will be felt for a long, long time.

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Another thing I loved about Bag of Bones was…you guessed it…the portrayal of the small town!

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Yes, Sai King writes the small town extremely well, and Bag of Bones is just one example of that.  It was a fascinating look at how the town in question created the ghost, and just how far the locals will go to protect their own and attempt to keep that secret.  Small towns may appear to be idyllic, but they often hide an ugly side.  And it doesn’t take a lot for that ugly side to surface.  No one is safe from that ugly side, no matter who their parents, grandparents or great uncles are and no matter how strong their ties are to the town.

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As stated before, Bag of Bones is a great love story.  Actually, there is more than one love story in Bag of Bones.  The first one is Mike and Jo’s love story.  The amount of detail King puts into their relationship is tremendous.  I liked how I really got to know Mike and Jo as a couple, and all the little things about their marriage:  how they would celebrate with a glass of champagne after Mike finished writing a book, how it was always Jo who suggested that they visit Sara Laughs for a bit, how Mike ate the chocolate bunny Jo had bought before she died, feeling like that was his last connection to her, the code that they would speak (Bunter’s bell, heehee), and how easily one can almost take this for granted, and then have it taken away, for really no good reason.  Ok, excuse me while I go plant one on my awesome husband!

But I also loved the relationship between Mattie and Mike, even though it was brief and never consummated.  No what your views on parenthood are, there is something enduring and even sexy when a man can take care of a kid (or a dog or cat for that matter, they count as kids).  If I were in Mattie’s place, I would have been smitten too:  good with kids, easy on the eyes and smart.  You can’t ask for much more than that!

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Another thing I loved about this book was the tie-in to Herman Melville.  Now this is where King shows that he is much, much more than a writer of horror (although us Constant Readers knew that already).  One of the criticisms that I hear A LOT about King is that he is not literary enough, whatever that means (not sure how many books one has to sell to cross over from being “literary” to being the “literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries” though).  And to those people, I say this:  read Bag of Bones, fucker!

Bartleby the Scrivener is considered to be a literary classic.  And here we have Bag of Bones, written by the man who is considered by many to be the master of modern horror.  The book is a Gothic ghost story, set in a small Maine town, and deals with topics such as racism and rape, along with the trials of single parenthood.  You would not think that we can insert a literary classic into the fold and have it work.  But it does, and it fits in perfectly with the ghosts, the small town and all the serious topics that this book deals with.

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The theme of Bartelby is the premise that our jobs keep us “tethered” to this world, if you will.  And this is very true.  One of the first questions that people ask when they meet someone is usually in regards to employment.  We have “career day” when we are in school.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  is a question that children are asked all the time (for the record, I am still mentally about 12 years old and have not grown up and am somehow trapped in the body of someone who is almost 38. At this rate, I will have an answer to that question in another 38 years or so).  So work is a big part of most of our lives.

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And, as Mike mentions in the book, marriage is a book part of most of our lives too, especially for men.  Take away one or the other, and one starts to become “un-tethered.”  And I think this goes for both men and women:  I have endured both divorce and job loss (thankfully not at the same time), and there were times when I thought I might just drift away, into the wind, metaphorically speaking.

However, our hero, Mike Noonan, actually loses both.  First he loses his wife, Jo.  Then he is unable to write, so he loses his job.  Like his characters, and Bartleby, he essentially becomes “a bag of bones”, and begins to wonder why he exists and what his purpose is.  Like Bartleby, he nearly exits this world, becoming a ghost of sorts.  Ironically, it the ghosts that save Mike and give him sort of substance.  He can write again (although that is more of a trick of the ghosts).   He has a purpose, in helping Mattie and Kyra.  He may find love again with Mattie (although that hope is cruelly dashed).  And even at the end of the book, after enduring unspeakable tragedy, Mike realizes that he is more than “a bag of bones”, even though he is without his work and without a partner in life.  However, Kyra gives Mike’s life a purpose, and he can no longer write off his life because he “prefers not to.”  The responsibility for Kyra provides substance for Mike, and he can no longer exist as a ghost.

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Well, that’s it for Bag of Bones, aka chic lit from the master of modern horror.  Join me next month, as I review and dissect a book that has some personal meaning for me, and is just a great story:  Rose Madder. Oh, and we may take a detour and visit the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger while we are at it!

Tune in next month:  same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


 

Connections

Here we go again.  Just for fun, here are some of the connections that I found to King’s other work in Bag of Bones:

Bag of Bones partially takes place in the city of Derry, Maine.  Derry is the location for several other works of Stephen King, including It, Dreamcatcher and Insomnia.

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-Mikes encounters a man named Ralph Roberts.  Ralph Roberts is the main character in the book Insomnia.

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-Mike also mentions knowing someone by the name of Thad Beaumont.  Thad Beaumont is the main character in the book The Dark Half.  We also find out that Thad commits suicide not long after the events in The Dark Half.

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-Norris Ridgewick makes an appearance at the end of Bag of Bones.  Norris is a character in the book Needful Things.  Mike also inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn, who are also characters in Needful Things, and learns that they have moved to New Hampshire.

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-Kyra and Mike travel back in time to the Fryeburg Fair.  Roland sees a sign for the Fryeburg Fair in the final Dark Tower book.  Kyra and Mike could also be considered to have gone todash, which is a state of altered consciousness that allows one to travel through space and time, as experienced by Roland and his friends in the book The Wolves of the Calla.

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-In the final book of the Dark Tower series, the character of Stephen King owns a house called Cara Laughs.  This house may a Twinner to Sara Laughs, as strange things also happen at Cara Laughs.

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The X Files Renewal: Episode 2 Recap and Review

Sometimes, you just need to get back to basics.

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Well, not that kind of basic.  To each his own, but I think pumpkin spice lattes are basically disgusting!

No, I mean to kick it old school…

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Yes, I am that old that I can remember when those phones were considered to be cutting edge technology.  Nice thing was, you couldn’t crack the screen.  Although they were kind of limited, in that you couldn’t take those cute selfies with them.  Nor could you download endless kitty pics with those…

No, I am talking about getting back to what works.  What’s familiar.  Sure, there may be new twists on it (even most dinosaurs have smart phones in this day and age), but it is still recognizable for what it is:  old skool.

old skool 1

And that is exactly what were treated to with the second episode of The X Files Renewal, titled Founder’s Mutation.  Sure, Scully may have cracked wise about our dependency on Google (guilty as charged, doc!) and Mulder may have updated his cell phone just a bit. And Scully’s wardrobe may have been missing the shoulder pads that screamed 1995 and proud.  But really, those details were the only ones that reminded me that it was not, in fact, 1995 (I did get a few flashbacks, though.  I confess:  my criminal record is not completely clean.  I must admit, I have committed more than a few crimes against fashion.  Ah, well.  the 1990’s happened to the best of us).

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In other words, I got to travel back to the 1990’s.  And I didn’t even have to subject myself to ESPN footage of the Dallas Cowboys to do it!  And it was grand!

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So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Founder’s Mutation, the second episode of The X Files Renewal.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The episode begins with a scientist named Dr. Sanjay, who works for a man named Augustus Goldman, entering his place of employment.  Dr. Sanjay attends a morning meeting and begins to suffer from extreme auditory distress.  He also sees a large flock of birds outside the window.  Sanjay them locks himself in a server room, where he downloads files on to a portable drive.  However, the sounds become so unbearable that Sanja scrawls something on his palm, and commits suicide by stabbing himself with a letter opener, as his horrified colleagues look on.

Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully then arrive at the scene.  Scully debunks the incident as a psychotic break, and questions why the agents have been called to investigate it.  Mulder wants to examine the hard drive, but is told by a man who presumable works for the Department of Defense that the property contains classified information that the agents cannot access.  However, Mulder takes Sanjay’s cell phone, and schedules a meeting with a man named Gupta, in the hopes that he can learn what led Sanjay to commit suicide.

Mulder meets with Gupta.  Gupta mistakenly believes that Mulder wants to pay him for sex.  Mulder learns that Sanjay was homosexual, but lived his life in the closet.  Mulder also learns from Gupta that Sanjay seemed distressed, and stated that his “children” were dying, even though he was a single man with no biological children.

The agents then investigate Sanjay’s apartment.  There, they find pictures of children with terrible genetic mutations.  Mulder also hears the same piercing sound that Sanjay heard before his death.

The next day, Mulder and Scully meet with their boss, Walter Skinner.  Skinner tells them that all files having to do with Dr. Sanjay are classified and off limits.  However, Mulder has made copies so that he can continue to investigate Sanjay’s death anyway.  Scully also performs an autopsy on Sanjay, discovering that the area where the scientist stabbed himself when he committed suicide is actually the area of the brain that processes auditory information.  Scully also notices that Sanjay has written the words “Founder’s Mutation” on his palm before his death.

Scully also reviews the surveillance footage from the day of Sanjay’s death, looking for clues.  Mulder confesses that he has heard sounds that no one else seems to be able to detect, which worries Scully.

Mulder and Scully discover that Dr. Augustus Goldman is a donor to the hospital where Scully is employed, and Scully arranges a meeting with him.  When they visit the hospital, Mulder and Scully also meet a frightened, pregnant young woman who tells them that Dr. Goldman wants to take her baby and perform experiments on it.  The young woman scurries away, however, when she sees the hospital staff members coming her way.

As they leave the hospital, Mulder theorizes that Goldman is involved in The Project and using unborn fetuses on eugenics experiments.  This leads Scully and Mulder to discuss their son, William.  Scully has a daydream where she and William experience a normal childhood, but the normal childhood is interrupted when it is discovered that William is actually a mutant.

Mulder and Scully pay a visit to Dr. Goldman’s clinic.  The clinic houses several, parent-less children who suffer from horrible genetic mutations.  Dr Goldman is defensive, and tells the agents that he is working in the interests of the children.  The agents also notice that the clinic houses a girl named Molly, who does not seem to suffer from any visible mutations. Mulder does some of his own research, and finds out that Mr. Goldman’s wife has been committed to a mental hospital for killing their unborn second child.  Scully and Mulder also find out that the frightened young woman from the hospital has died in a suspicious hit and run accident, and that her unborn fetus is missing.

The agents visit Mrs. Goldman, who tells them of her husband’s experiments on unborn children.  She tells of an incident involving her daughter, Molly, who fell in a pool but did not drown because she appeared to have the ability to breathe underwater.  Mrs. Goldman also tells Mulder and Scully that her second child, a son, is not dead.  She claims to have attempted to escape from her husband and his experiments, and given birth to her son after a nearly fatal car accident.  However, she does not know the whereabouts of her son.

Scully reviews the surveillance footage and deduces that the janitor seen in the footage is actually the son of Mr. and Mrs. and Goldman.  The agents pay a visit to the boy, named Kyle Gilliam, and his adoptive mother.  Kyle’s mother is protective at first and does not want to disclose any information to Mulder and Scully.  Mulder begins to hear the noises again, and notices that birds are gather in large groups on the lawn.  Scully finds Kyle in the barn, and points a gun at him, telling him to desist.  Kyle obeys, and agrees to go with the agents to see Dr. Goldman.  Kyle tells Mulder and Scully that he never meant to use his abilities to hurt anyone and that he is actually looking for his sister.

Mulder and Scully arrive with Kyle at Dr. Goldman’s clinic.  Dr. Goldman takes a sample of Kyle’s blood, and Kyle inquires about his sister.  Dr. Goldman brings out a young girl, but Kyle sees through the ruse and knows that the young girl is not his sister.  Kyle then finds Molly, and it becomes evident that Molly possesses telekinetic abilities.  The two free Molly from her confines, and attack their father, Dr. Goldman, causing him to suffer from a massive hemorrhage.  Kyle and Molly then escape from the clinic, and quickly disappear.

The episode ends with Mulder also daydreaming about his son William, the son who he claimed that he did not think about earlier in the episode.  Mulder also daydreams about a normal childhood for William, but that childhood is again interrupted by the fear that William suffers from some kind of mutation.


My Thoughts

Well, this episode made me shiver…

And not just because I am married to the Penguin who insists on keeping our house at temperatures that have earned it the nickname “Arctic Zone.”

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No, this was a good shiver.  A happy shiver…

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny, guest star Dough Savant and guest star Jonathan Whitesell in the "Founder's Mutation season premiere, part two, episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Jan. 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX

This episode was nostalgic.  I felt like I had come back to Grandma’s house for dinner after being away many years, and that she had remembered exactly what I like and how I like it.  And she was there to greet me with a big hug.

And this episode was chock-full of what I liked.  Grandma Chris Carter certainly has a good memory!

We had one of my favorite dishes, aka Mulder.  Mulder with his sense of humor that is so dry that it makes the Sahara Desert seem like Lake Michigan.  Mulder and his wild theories that refuse to be tamed by the rational mind known as Scully.  Mulder minus the scruff of the opening episode, even (don’t worry Mulder, I would still love you even if that beard grew out to ZZ Top length).

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi. The next mind-bending chapter of THE X-FILES debuts with a special two-night event beginning Sunday, Jan. 24 (10:00-11:00 PM ET/7:00-8:00 PM PT), following the NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, and continuing with its time period premiere on Monday, Jan. 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT). ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX

And Scully performing an autopsy on her subject, and speaking her medical terms….talk about some shiver material right there!  Pure nostalgia at its finest!

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We were even treated to a dose of Skinner, telling Mulder and Scully that there was no way they would have access to any relevant info they would need to move forward an inch in this case, and oh by the way you did have the presence of mind to make copies of those top secret files, right, Mulder?  In other words, Skinner’s way of saying, “Oh, you kids!  Here’s the keys to my car, and try not to wake me up when you get back in, ok?”

The X-Files (Fox) season 9 Shown: Mitch Pileggi (as Assistant Director Walter Skinner)

The story line to Founder’s Mutation was pure 1995.  Classic.  It contained everything that made the series work in 1990’s, but still somehow stayed relevant to 2016.

One of the things that this episode contained was gore.  True, this is a network television show, but the ick factor in this episode was surprisingly high for prime time.  The episode even opened up with the ick factor…how do you get ickier than a close-up of a bloodshot eyeball?  Well, have your guy commit suicide in a gruesome manner about 30 seconds after showing the close-up of the bloodshot eyeball.   After all, you gotta set the tone, right?  And set it early on, too.

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the "Founder's Mutation season premiere, part two, episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Jan. 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX

This episode not only contained ick and gore.  It also contained just overall freakish-ness.  For example, the kids. The X Files is no stranger to freaky kids.  Even Mulder and Scully conceived one (more on this in a minute).  But these kids…wow!  I felt a mixture of horror and sadness when I saw them, and I even felt some pity.  They reminded me a bit of Frankenstein’s monster:  they did not ask to be put on this Earth, but have to cope with their afflictions, and learn to survive in a world that is not ready for them, and likely never will be.

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I also loved the nod that this episode gave to old school horror.

For example, the birds that appeared when those super-sonic noises were made…

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Well, they were also positively Hitchockian…I am sure the man would have been proud!

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And kids with paranormal powers.  Nope, definitely something I have not seen before…

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But, as always, The X Files managed to throw us a curve ball, with this episode.

And that curve ball happens to go by the name of William.

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Well, I don’t want to think that he looks like that, actually.  After all, someone related to Mulder is still going to be ultra-cute, right?  Even if he does have that pesky alien DNA…

The discussion of William was a curve ball indeed, and a touching curve ball at that.  If you didn’t tear up at least a little at those daydreams (before alien William interrupted, at least), that  you have ice instead of blood running in your veins.  And you probably kick puppies, too!

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And how could you not melt, when Mulder, aka Mr. I Don’t Give a Crap Oh Wait I Really Do You Can Totally See Through My Hardened Exterior, had his little daydream sequence, where he snuggled on the couch with William (who adorably mispronounced the word “monolith,” aww) and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  And built a model rocket with his son.  It was enough to melt even those of us living in the Arctic Zone, I tell you!

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Of course, I am sure this will make a nice arc into William’s story, and what exactly has happened to him over the years (I hope, at any rate), along with adding another layer of complexity to Mulder and Scully’s characters and their relationship.  So bravo, Mr. Carter!  You grossed me out a bit, but you also made me tear up!  But then again, you are the genius!

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So that’s it for Founder’s Mutation!  Join me next week for the recap and dissection of the third episode of The X Files Renewal, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

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