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

Welcome to the Inscape: My Review of NOS4A2

Lately, confusion seems to be rampant in our world.

As in, we are confused as to what the difference is between between the beast that we call a fact, and the lesser known distant cousin of the fact, otherwise known as an “alternative fact.”

Since I myself am a survivor of the Bowling Green Massacre, let me educate you on the difference between facts and alternative facts.

kellyanne-1

The following information is brought to you by BARF (Bureau of Alternative Real Facts.)

Fact:  Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a classic movie, and should be required viewing for all school age children.

killer klowns 3 - Copy

Alternative fact:  Jupiter Ascending is classified as a film.  And one that people are allowed to watch, to boot.

Fact:  The Colts are the coolest team in the NFL and Andrew Luck and co. are never given the credit that they deserve.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

Alternative fact:  The Patriots have won their fifth Super Bowl under Tom Brady and a now a dynasty.  As a Colts fan all I have to say is #notmySuperBowl, dammit!

And now, for the factiest fact that you ever facting heard, motherfacters!

Joe Hill is a bad ass.  A motherfacting bad ass, in fact.

Joe Hill 2

And if you don’t agree with me, well then fact off, you facter!

In other words, I just finished reading NOS4A2, written by The Master 2.0.

And I assure, I survived my trip to Christmasland, although, between you and me, the inhabitants of that place are kind of hostile.  In fact, they will suck the life right out of you…

So, gear up your Rolls Royce Wraith, strap in and get ready for the recap and review of NOS4A2.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler

 


Synopsis

The story begins by introducing the reader to a nurse named Ellen Thornton.   Ellen works in a prison infirmary, where most of the patients are comatose and unresponsive to any form of human contact.

One of these patients is a man named Charlie Manx.  Manx is extremely elderly, and was also convicted of terrible crimes:  he was convicted of kidnapping and murdering young children.

One night, as Ellen is making her rounds, something unexpected happens:  Manx appears to awake from him comatose state, and speaks to Ellen.  He specifically refers to Ellen’s son by his full name, and makes references to some place he calls “Christmasland” and someone named the “Gas Mask Man.”

Ellen calls for the doctors, as she is badly frightened.  However, Manx exhibits no sign of consciousness once the doctors arrive, and Ellen is not believed, despite the fact that Manx grabbed her hard enough to leave bruises, and the fact that Manx referred to her son by his full name.

The story then switches to the perspective of a young girl named Victoria McQueen, also known as Vic.  Vic’s father Chris also calls Vic The Brat.

At first, Vic seems to be an ordinary young girl.  However, we find out that Vic is anything but ordinary.  Vic possesses the ability to teleport herself between faraway places.  Vic does this by riding her bike, and envisioning a bridge she calls The Shorter Way Bridge, which seems to magically appear when Vic wants to find a lost object.  The bridge takes Vic to the place where the object was lost, and then takes her back to her original location.  However, Vic’s talent also comes at a cost:  she experiences headaches and becomes extremely ill when she uses this ability.

We are then introduced to a troubled man named Bing Partridge.  One day, as Bing is leafing through some old magazines, he comes across an ad promising employment in a place called “Christmasland.”  The ad is not specific in regards to the job details, but Bing is enchanted, as he loves celebrating Christmas, which brings back happy memories for him.  Bing sends away his application for employment in Christmasland, desperately hoping that he gets a response soon.  We also learn that Bing killed both of his parents as a child, and spent time in a mental institution before he was released.  Bing is employed as a janitor, and has access to certain kinds of gases that can turn a person into a zombie, along with his own gas mask.

Almost immediately, Bing begins to have visions of past Christmases with his parents, and begins to dream of Christmasland.  However, days go by, and he does not get a response to his application.

Bing also begins to see a mysterious vehicle circling his work place.  The vehicle is an old Rolls Royce Wraith, and is black.  However, the driver of the vehicle continues to remain a mystery.

One day, Bing finally meets the driver of vehicle, who introduces himself as Charles Talent Manx.  Manx convinces Bing to go for a ride in the vehicle, so he can describe the opportunity that awaits Bing in Christmasland, if Bing chooses to accept.  Once he is in the vehicle, Bing begins to feel sleepy.  Manx tells him that is okay, as Bing will be entering another reality of sorts.

Manx tells Bing that he saves children from a life of pain and abuse by taking them to an alternate reality he calls “Christmasland.”  In Christmasland, the children never have to grow up, and it is always Christmas, every day, all year.  Manx says that the children are his, but that Bing can do what he wishes to any parents or any other parties that may need to be subdued, as most will not want Manx to take their children away.  Bing eagerly accepts the employment opportunity, and he and Manx get to work.

Over the years, several children vanish under mysterious circumstances.  In many of these disappearances, a mysterious Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted.  However, none of the disappearances are ever connected.

Vic is now a teenager.  She has used her bike many times to create the Shorter Way Bridge, so that she can locate lost objects.  Vic is also a budding artist who has received recognition for her work.

One day, Vic uses her talent to locate a missing photograph.  In doing so, she badly startles the school janitor, who relapses back into alcoholism.  Vic feels extremely guilty and begins to question her use of this ability.  The Shorter Way Bridge makes another appearance, and Vic rides her bike through it.

The Shorter Way Bridge deposits Vic in a library somewhere in Iowa.  There, she meets a young woman named Maggie, who seems to have been expecting Vic to make an appearance.  Maggie dresses in a colorful manner.  Maggie is also afflicted with a bad stammer, which makes her speech difficult to understand.

Vic is bewildered, but Maggie attempts to reassure her.  Maggie tells Vic that while her abilities may be a bit unusual, she is not alone in being gifted with these abilities.  According to Maggie, many highly creative people (Vic is an accomplished artist and Maggie is gifted in the use of language and also an accomplished Scrabble player) possess the ability to alter reality.  Maggie compares this to someone who uses a knife to make cuts in various objects, and refers to these altered realities as “inscapes.”

We also learn that Maggie has the ability to create her own “inscapes” and alter reality.  Sometimes, Maggie’s Scrabble tiles will spell out sentences on her own.  This is how Maggie knew to expect Vic:  her Scrabble tiles told her of “The Brat” (but not Vic’s name, as no proper nouns are allowed in Scrabble.)

Maggie also states that her Scrabble tiles have indicated that Vic can find someone or something known as “The Wraith.”  Vic demands to know who or who “The Wraith” is, but Maggie tries to change the subject, telling Vic that The Wraith is bad news and dangerous to Vic.

At Vic’s insistence, Maggie breaks down and gives her what information she has on The Wraith.  According to Maggie, The Wraith is another person who possesses abilities similar to hers and Vic’s.  However, The Wraith uses his abilities for evil, as he kidnaps children to steal their souls so that he may achieve immortality, trapping the children in an “inscape” of his own creation.  Maggie then sends Vic back home, warning her once again to stay away from “The Wraith” as he is dangerous.

When Vic returns home, she becomes extremely ill as a result of her latest journey.  Her parents become extremely worried, and confiscate her bicycle, as they believe she has an unhealthy fixation.  Vic eventually recovers, and resumes her normal, every day life.

In the meantime, more children disappear.  Once again, a Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted when some of these disappearances take place, but the cases are never connected.

Vic grows into a troubled teenager,  When she is fourteen years old, her parents divorce, and her father abandons Vic and her mother.  Vic acts out, turning to alcohol and drugs.  Her grades in school are mediocre, although her art teacher notes that Vic has a talent for art, although Vic does apply herself.

One day, after an argument with both of her parents, Vic sneaks back into her house and falls asleep.  When she awakens, she searches for some of her belongings that were confiscated by her mother, and finds her old bicycle.

Vic begins to ride her bicycle, and remember happier times during her childhood.  However, it is not long before the bicycle leads her to trouble, which happens to be the lair of Charles Manx, or The Wraith.

Almost right away, Vic realizes that something is not right.  She encounters what she thinks is a young child, but the creature only resembles a child in name only, as it has sharp teeth and appears to be breathing some sort of vapor or smoke when it speaks.

Vic also encounters Charles Manx, who attempts to entice her.  When Vic refuses, her Shorter Way Bridge vanishes, leaving her stranded.  Manx also sets fire to the house, intending to trap Vic in the house so that she will perish from the fire.

However, Vic escapes the house.  She is assisted by man named Lou Carmody, who happens to be in the area, riding his motorcycle.  Lou takes Vic to a nearby gas station, so that she can attempt to get help.  Vic realizes that she is actually in Colorado, instead of her home of Massachusetts, and that she has been missing for two days.  Vic indicates that she has been kidnapped, as she knows that no one will believe her story about the Shorter Way Bridge.

As Vic is telling her story, Charles Manx and his vehicle make an appearance at the gas station.  The men at the gas station attempt to apprehend Manx, and a fight ensues.  However, Manx is apprehended in the end, and arrested for his crimes.  The official story is that Vic was kidnapped, and there is no mention of any of the stranger elements to her story.

Some years later, Vic moves back to Colorado, under the pretense of attending art school.  She pursues a relationship with Lou Carmody, and the two have a child together named Bruce Wayne Carmody, who they call Wayne.  Vic loves Lou and Wayne, but is afraid to admit, as she feels that she is not good enough for either of them.  Vic also receives troubling phone calls from children who state that they are residents of Christmasland.  These phone calls frighten her, but she does not tell anyone about them.

Bing Partridge is never apprehended by the authorities for his role in Manx’s crimes. and anxiously awaits the return of Manx, as he believes that he will receive his eternal reward in Christmasland.

Vic notices that when she engages in some kind of creative active, such as painting, that phone calls from Christmasland stop.  She keeps herself busy by painting motorcycles and also by writing and illustrating children’s books.  However, the mysterious calls start again, and Vic’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic.  Lou moves out of their house, taking their son with him, but he is worried about Vic.  Vic then burns down her house in an attempt to silence the calls from Christmasland.

In the meantime, Manx’s vehicle has been purchased at an auction by a man and his daughter.  One day, the vehicle comes to life, killing its new owner, as Bing has found it, so that he may reunite with Manx.

Charles Manx is thought to be deceased, but his body goes missing from the mortuary.

Vic is institutionalized for her erratic behavior, and comes to believe that her experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge and mysterious telephone calls are simply vivid hallucinations caused by her abuse of alcohol and other drugs.  When she is released from the mental hospital, she temporarily moves back to Massachusetts to spend some time with her mother Linda, who is dying of cancer.  Vic also makes plans to spend the summer with her son Wayne, as she feels that she has failed him as a mother.

Tragically, Linda passes away just as Vic is able to secure a cottage for the summer.  However, Vic still makes plans to spend time with her son Wayne, and Lou sends him to his mother for the summer.

In the meantime, we find out that Bing has managed to steal the body of Charles Manx, who is actually still alive, although barely.  Bing sets up camp in the house across the street from Vic’s childhood home, killing the home’s owners, and placing Charles Manx in the bedroom.  Bing waits for Vic, as he intends to murder Vic, and hand Wayne over to Manx.

Vic returns to her childhood home sometime in July, as Lou has arrived in town to spend Fourth of July with his son.   Vic is greeted by a face from her past:  Maggie, the woman from Iowa whom she met as a child.

While Vic recognizes Maggie, she is not happy to see her, as she still believes Maggie to be a delusion from her past.  Maggie begs Vic to help her stop Charles Manx, who she insists is alive and on the hunt for Vic and Wayne.  Maggie hands Vic a file containing some paperwork on Manx, but Vic chases Maggie away from her house, and threatens to call the police.

Later, Wayne finds the folder on Manx and peeks at it, as he is curious.  Bing spots Wayne from the house he is commandeering, but is unable to do anything, as Lou arrives, and Bing does not want to be seen.  Bing realizes that Vic is in the neighborhood, and makes preparations to capture Vic and Wayne.

That evening, Vic speaks to Lou, and finds out that Wayne has mentioned Manx to his father.  Vic tells Lou about her childhood experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge, and the real story of how she encountered Charles Manx.  Vic recognizes that she may be delusion, and indicates this to Lou.  Vic also tells Lou that she thinks Maggie was a patient at the mental hospital, who is sharing in Vic’s delusions.  Vic makes plans to move back to Colorado that fall, so that she can be closer to Wayne.

Wayne believes that Charles Manx is nearby, and becomes frightened, even though he thinks that he is imagining things.

Vic and Wayne work on a motorcycle that was left at the summer cottage, fixing it up and giving it a new paint job.  Vic decides to take the bike for a spin, and tells Wayne that she will return shortly.

Vic rides the bike, and is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, just as she had been able to do as a child.  However, Vic continues to believe that she is delusional.

Wayne waits at the house for his mother.  He hears a knock on the door, and encounters Bing and Manx, who tell him they need to use the phone, as they have run Wayne’s dog Hooper over with their car.

Bing and Manx then proceed to kidnap Wayne.  Wayne shouts for his mother, who is just now returning from her trip and does not realize what has happened.

However, Vic soon does realize what has happened, and runs to the car in an attempt to rescue Wayne.  She fights Manx, who attacks her with a hammer.  Bing shoots at Vic, but misses Vic and hits Manx in the ear instead.  The men then escape, with Wayne trapped in the car.

Lou is at the airport, awaiting his flight.  Lou receives a panicked call from Wayne.  Wayne tells his father that he has been kidnapped, and then hangs up the phone.  Lou then collapses, due to a sudden heart attack.

Wayne tries to escape, but Bing douses him with gas so that he cannot think and becomes very sleepy.  Manx tells him that he is going to Christmasland, and that he will never see his parents again.

Vic meets with the authorities at her mother’s house.  The FBI has been brought in, as the authorities believe that Wayne’s kidnapper may cross state lines.  Lou also meets with Vic and the authorities.  Vic’s mental illness is brought up by a FBI agent, Tabitha Hutter, who does not agree with Vic in regards to Manx returning and seeking vengeance.  Vic also describes her earlier experience with the Shorter Way Bridge. Lou tells Vic that he believes her, and Vic tells Lou that she will do whatever she can to rescue their son.

Manx drives his vehicle through his inscape, giving Wayne a glimpse into Christmasland.  Wayne falls into a trance, and becomes excited about living in Christmasland.  However, the ghost of Wayne’s grandmother soon appears in the vehicle.  She appears to be speaking in reverse, and gives Wayne a cryptic message before she vanishes:  he must speak in reverse.

Manx then stops at Bing’s house so that he can rest and recover from his wounds.  Wayne then notices that the vehicle has peculiar properties:  objects seem to vanish and then reappear.  Wayne also finds some Christmas ornaments.  He becomes fixated on one that resembles a moon, but has a face.

Wayne is then questioned by Manx, who promises him a phone call to his mother.  Manx tricks Wayne into giving him some information about Maggie, along with Vic’s new motorcycle, and does not allow Wayne a call to his mother.

At her home, Vic is growing more and more worried about her son.  Lou is attempting to fix her motorcycle for her, so that she can conjure the Shorter Way Bridge and rescue Wayne.  Vic receives a phone call.  The caller is Maggie.  Maggie tells Vic that her son is still alive, and that she will help however she can.

After Vic hangs up the phone, she is confronted by Agent Hutter, who has heard the entire conversation.  Hutter attempts to arrest Vic, but Vic escapes from the house, and uses her motorcycle to drive away.  Eventually, she is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, and is able to arrive at the house where Wayne was being kept.

In the meantime, Manx leaves with Wayne in his vehicle, promising that he will take Wayne to Christmasland.   Manx does not allow Bing to come with them, as he says that Bing has failed in his duties. Wayne’s personality is beginning to change, as he is horrified to remember that he pulled the wings off of a butterfly.  Wayne is also fixated on his Christmas ornament, constantly touching it.

Vic realizes that Wayne and Manx have left, and becomes upset.  A man allows her to use his phone.  Vic does not realize that this man is actually Bing, until he attacks her.

Wayne continues to travel with Manx.  He sees visions of Christmasland and is anxious to arrive.  However, he receives a visit from the ghost of his dead grandmother, who again tries to warn him that he must think in reverse.  However, Wayne dismisses the old woman’s ghost, as his personality has begun to change.  Wayne has also begun to loose some of his teeth, and appears to be growing small fangs in their place.

Vic fights Bing.  She manages to escape, but sets the house on fire.  Before she escapes, she receives a call from Manx.  Vic pleads with Manx to release Wayne but Manx refuses.  Manx allows Vic to speak to Wayne.  Vic senses that Wayne’s personality is changing due to his exposure to Manx, and tells Wayne that he must fight Manx, and that she will do whatever it takes to rescue him.

After she speaks to Wayne, Vic then speaks to Lou and Agent Hutter over the telephone.  She tells Lou that she has a plan to stop Manx and rescue Wayne, but that she will need a large amount of explosive material to accomplish this.  After Vic hangs the phone, Lou suffers from a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.

Vic uses the Shorter Wayne Bridge to locate Maggie.  She arrives at Maggie’s library in Iowa, which was destroyed by a flood a few years back.  However, Maggie is there, and Vic recounts the events of the past few days.

Maggie tells Vic that Manx does possess the same abilities that they possess, but that he uses his abilities for evil.  She tells Vic that Manx’s car must be destroyed in order to destroy Manx.  Maggie also tells Vic that the use of their abilities comes at a cost: Maggie’s stammer has worsened, Vic’s brain has been damaged and Manx has lost all of his empathy, and now revels in the suffering of his others.  The children Manx has kidnapped have also been stripped of their humanity, as they exist for pleasure only, and do not comprehend the suffering of others.

While Vic falls asleep asleep due to exhaustion, Maggie consults her Scrabble tiles for information in regards to Manx.  As she does this, a young boy enters the ruins of her library with firecrackers.  At first, Maggie thinks that it is a local child playing a prank, but realizes that the boy is Wayne, who is acting under the influence of Manx.  Wayne utters some incomprehensible words (his human side knows that what he is doing is wrong) and lures Maggie out to Manx and his car.

Manx immediately attacks Maggie with his vehicle.  Maggie puts up a fight and refuses to give any information about Vic, who is still asleep inside.  Maggie is killed by the impact, and Manx exits the scene.

Lou has been hospitalized due to his heart attack.  However, he escapes in search of his son.  Agent Hutter and her partner are aware of the escape, and plan to use Lou to track down Vic, who they still believe to be responsible for her son’s kidnapping.

Vic arrives at her father’s house.  Lou and her father are waiting for her, with the explosives that she has requested.  However, the FBI agents have tracked down Vic, who refuses to surrender.  Agent Hutter realizes that there may be something to Vic’s story, but her colleagues do not, and open fire on Vic and her family.  Vic’s father is shot, but Vic escapes with Lou on her motorcycle.

Once again, Vic conjures the Shorter Way Bridge.  She leaves Lou in handcuffs, as she feels that this a job for her only.  Vic then makes her way into Christmasland, via her motorcycle and the Shorter Way Bridge, to confront Manx and rescue her son.

Manx sends his children after Vic, and they attack.  Vic fights back and is stabbed by one of the children.  The explosives go off, causing mass destruction.  Wayne realizes that his mother has come to rescue him, and escapes from Manx, hopping on the motorcycle with his mother.

Vic escapes Christmasland with Wayne.  Manx follows her, but his vehicle (and there Manx himself) is destroyed by a flock of bats that emerge from the Shorter Way Bridge.

Finally, Vic emerges with Wayne back into their world.  Her job done, Vic perishes from her wounds and the effects of creating the bridge and traveling to Christmasland.

Several months later, Wayne is living with his father.  Lou has lost weight after angioplasty procedure, and is in a relationship with Tabitha Hutter.  However, Wayne knows that something wrong with him, as he is aroused by anything violent and even thinks that he can feel an extra set of teeth in his mouth.

One day, Lou and Tabitha take Wayne for a ride.  They arrive at the house Manx had used to keep his children captive.  Lou realizes that Wayne’s soul is trapped in one of Manx’s Christmas ornaments.  Lou, Tabitha and Wayne begin smashing the ornaments.  Several children that Manx had kidnapped emerge, restored to their human selves.

Eventually, the ornament containing Wayne’s soul is destroyed.  Wayne sobs with relief, happy that his humanity has returned.


My Thoughts

Okay, let’s talk to Captain Obvious for a moment.  So, just bear with me.

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, in case your head has been buried under a rock for…oh…the past 10 years or so.

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

(And hey, no judgement, being buried under a rock can be pretty comfy sometimes!)

And while I like to evaluate Joe Hill on his own merits, let’s be realistic.

Let’s get it out of our system, and talk about how he is the son of Stephen King.

Well, writing-wise that is.

We can leave the family drama for those better equipped to handle it, and not put TMZ out of a job.

Other than the fact that NOS4A2 reads a bit like an older King novel, in that it has build and will scare you into a change of pants, it is the novel that most screams:  I am the son of the master of modern horror, and if you dare to forget it, well, let’s not even go there!

NOS4A2, in other words, has tons of Stephen King Easter eggs.  In fact, this book may have even more King Easter eggs than some King books.

easter eggs 1

First of all, the obvious connection.

I am speaking of the one to Doctor Sleep, the follow up novel to The Shining (both written by The Master himself, but you knew that.)

Rose the Hat

I can tell you that I definitely sleep better knowing that Charles Manx and The True Knot have some silent truce between themselves, that they both can go on (literally) sucking the life out of children and if one gets found out, we know that the other did not rat on them.  Definitely useful information to have.

And, oohhh, direct reference to Derry, along with Pennywise’s Traveling Circus!  Again, whenever I have trouble sleeping at night, I can rest in comfort knowing that Manx and Mr. Bob Gray were likely on a first name basis at some point!

balloon2

Vic yelling “Hi-yo Silver!” as she jumps on her bike was added bonus.  Not that I am complaining, although a few tears did spring to my eyes as I recalled some fond childhood memories of murderous clowns…

Then there is the similarity between The Sleigh House (geez, these jokes kill me sometimes) and Black House, another house in a King novel of the same name.

black house 1

The way the children start coming out of the house at the end of both books is so similar, not to mention the fact that Charles Manx is pretty similar to Charles Burnside, another villain who gets his rocks off on kidnapping and hurting kids.

I can also take comfort in the fact that Maggie’s “creatives” (more on that later) may be able to travel to the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger.

gunslinger

Is Jake Chambers one of Maggie’s creatives?  An interesting question, but one for another day.

And don’t let me forget the nod to The Stand (and the Dark Tower series) when Bing utters those famous words:  My life for you.

Trashy 1

Oh, and apparently Bill Hodges and company had to hunt down a certain missing vehicle that just happened to be a Rolls Roy Wraith…funny how that works out!

Well, now that it is out of our system (feel better?), let’s talk about Joe Hill and NOS4A2 on their own merits.

So sorry, Uncle Stevie, you have been relegated to another blog entry!

One thing about NOS4A2…it is one scary book!

Well duh, it is written by Prince of Modern Horror, who is the son of the King of Modern Horror.  So we shouldn’t be surprised by scary, right?

Yes and no.  Am I entirely surprised that it’s scary?

Christmasland 1

No, I am not.

What is shocking is the fact that NOS4A2 is essentially a vampire story, but modernized.

After all, who isn’t familiar with Dracula?

Dracula 1

Or Kurt Barlow from ‘Salem’s Lot?

Well, now we can add Charles Manx to that list of fictional vampires.

'Salem's Lot 2

Now, Manx is not like Barlow or Dracula, at least on the surface.

He’s old, but not centuries old.

His victims are usually kids.

Charlie Manx 1

He drives a bad ass vehicle.

nos4a2-3

Somehow, I don’t think a rosary or garlic would phase him very much.

(Did anyone else think of this guy when Manx was introduced, by the way?  Or is it just me?)

phantasm 2

But, back to Manx.

He may not drink blood, like Barlow and Dracula.

But he is still a vampire, nonetheless.

His preferred food is not blood, but the souls of children.  Since he is all modern-like.

As a bonus, like Barlow and Dracula, he has a human familiar in Bing, who may be even more demented than either Straker or Renfield, if that’s possible.  At the very least, he holds his own.

bing-1

And Manx does not need to be able to fly or even move quickly, as he has a vehicle that allows him to travel to back and forth between realities.

Who said that newer necessarily means inferior?

Manx can hold his own!

Speaking of holding one’s own, let’s talk about Vic for a moment.

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Now, there is is someone who can hold her own and then some.

One thing I have noticed about Joe Hill is that he writes female characters extremely well.

Harper (The Fireman) was a great example of this.

Even Georgia and Merrin (Heart Shaped Box and Horns, respectively) were well written characters, despite the fact that that Georgia is the girlfriend of the main character in Heart Shaped Box, and Merrin is the dead girlfriend of Ig in Horns.  Even though we mainly see them from the eyes of a male, both are fascinating and sympathetic.

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But, Mr. Hill decided that having a woman as the interesting girlfriend of a main character just wasn’t good enough.  And then Vic was born.

To put it simply, Vic kicks ass.  There is no way around that statement.

While Vic may not always be easy to like, it is understandable as to why she may be unlikable at times, due to her upbringing (watching your dad wash his hands because they were bloodied due to beating your mom may cause a girl to have some issues.)

Vic’s character has a great arc.

She starts off as a spunky girl, morphs into a rebellious teenager, turns into a still troubled adult and then transforms into a mother who will stop at nothing to save her child from a vicious predator.  And I loved every minute of it.

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One of my favorite parts of the book is when Vic handcuffs Lou, leaving him behind so she can venture forth into Christmasland to save Wayne.

Vic was no damsel in distress.  She knew that she had to be one the one to save (and ultimately sacrifice herself) in order to save her son.

Now, NOS4A2 may be a scary book.

But, like the books of dear old dad, it is so much more than that.

I love what this book has to say on art, artists and the creative process in genera.

I may be a bit biased, as someone who spends so much time creating her own “inscapes” but bear with me.

In fact, I love the idea of an “inscape” itself.

Because that is exactly what happens when someone creates something:  it is actually an escape from the “real” world into an entirely new one, whether that is a painting, a book, a song, etc.

And let’s not kid ourselves.  Those made up worlds become “real,” especially if the creator uses enough love and care in the creation of these worlds.

Middle Earth, Mid-World, Hogwarts.  How are those not “real,” along with the Harry Potters, Roland Deschains, Aragorns, and so forth who live in them?

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And when something happens to the people who populate these worlds, is the effect not felt in ours?  When Harry Potter realizes that Voldemort has been resurrected, for example, did the reader not fear for him, and join him in his grief for a lost friend and classmate?

So it stands to reason that there are “creatives” out there, whose gift is especially powerful (like Joe Hill, his father, JK Rowling, Tolkien and countless others) who can use their knives to cut reality (in Maggie’s words) and create new realities.

And the knife is just the tool, like Maggie so eloquently stated.

Sometimes, the knife is not harmful, and results in children’s books, paintings, etc.

But sometimes, some sick individual (like Charles Manx, who is actually all too plausible) will create a new reality.

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But this new reality is terrible, and only brings hurt to others.

And this is not uncommon, as so many predators who are similar to Charles Manx exist in our world.  They believe that what they are doing is actually a good thing.

It is then up to someone (a Vic McQueen, if you will) to try to put a stop to it.

Sometimes, that is successful.

Sometimes, it is not.  And that knife continues to cut, leaving blood behind.


Well, I am still a bit confused on what is a fact, and what is an alternative fact.

But I do not need an agency such as BARF to tell me that Joe is a fantastic writer, and that he will (hopefully) continue to churn them out, for many years to come.

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So that’s it for NOS4A2.  Join me later this month as we delve back into the world of dear old Dad, as we read and dissect an oldie but goodie, aka Christine!

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Burnin’ For You: My Review of The Fireman

It should be no secret that one of my favorite books of all time is The Stand, written by The Master.

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I have read this particular book more times than I can count (and seen the movie, too.)

The themes resonate with me, and I just love the story line.  I also love the characters, as they are unforgettable.  Stu Redman, Tom Cullen, Nick Andros, Nadine Cross, Harold Lauder…they are forever etched into my brain.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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So imagine my excitement when I heard about a “new” The Stand.  Not better or anything like that (as if, right?) but another re-imagining, if you will.  The same kind of story, just told in a new way.

Sign me up, I said!  I’m there, no questions asked!

Well, after the months of anticipation, I finally got the “new” The Stand, aka The Fireman.  And The Fireman is written by none other than The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill.

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I have read everything that Joe Hill (the son of The Master, aka Stephen King) has ever written.  And he has quickly established himself as one of my favorite writers.  He comes by the moniker The Master 2.0 honestly.  Joe is certainly a chip off the old block, and may (gasp) even do some things better than the old block, although only time will tell on that statement.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Joe Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to a young woman named Harper Grayson.  Harper is a school nurse, and loves her job.  We also learn that there is a massive epidemic that is slowing taking over Harper’s world.  The doctors and scientists refer to this plague as Draco Incendia Trychophyton.  To the general public, it is known as Dragonscale.  Anyone afflicted with Dragonscale first develops black and gold marks across his/her body.  At some point, the person afflicted with Dragonscale bursts into flame, dying an agonizing death.  There is no known cure for Dragonscale.

One day, Harper and several of her students witness a man burst into flames, due to the effects of Dragonscale.  This is a traumatic experience for Harper.  She returns home later that night and speaks to her husband, Jakob, who insists that she not continue working at the school, as Jakob is deathly afraid of becoming infected with Dragonscale.

Some months later, we learn that Harper is volunteering at a local hospital that mainly houses patients with Dragonscale.  The job is hard, as so many have died from the effects of Dragonscale, but Harper sticks with it.

One day, a man in a fireman’s suit brings in a little boy who is very ill.  The man becomes belligerent, stating that the boy’s case is an emergency.  After some arguments with the head nurse, the boy is examined and found to have a ruptured appendix.  It is also discovered that the boy’s name is Nick, and he is deaf.  The doctors operate on the boy, and he stays in the hospital for three days.  On the fourth day, the boy has disappeared.  The staff at the hospital is puzzled over this, as his room was located on an upper floor, and there are no signs of any forced entry.

While volunteering at the hospital, Harper meets a woman named Renee.  Renee is positive and upbeat, doing her best to make sure that those afflicted with Dragonscale get some happiness during their last days.  Renee reads to the children, and is not afraid to comfort the dying.  Harper becomes friends with Renee, and is devastated to learn that Renee is infected with Dragonscale.  One day, while reading to the children, Renee realizes that she will be overcome by the Dragonscale, and makes an exit from the hospital.  It is presumed that Renee passes away from the disease, but her body is never found.

Shortly after Renee’s death, the hospital where Harper is volunteering burns down.  Her husband, Jakob, offers her comfort, and tells her that he is determined to enjoy life, even if there is not much of that remaining for them.  That night, Harper and Jakob make love, and conceive their first child.

Harper soon finds out that she is pregnant.  Shortly afterwards, she she also finds out that she has somehow contracted Dragonscale.  Upon learning this news, Jakob becomes hysterical and leaves their home.  Jakob also begins to pressure Harper to end her life, even though Harper is opposed to this, as she is pregnant.

As the weeks pass by, the hysteria mounts.  Infected people are rounded up and put into concentration camps.  Some people take it upon themselves to rid the world of infected people, and resort to violence to do so.  Harper even receives a visit from some mysterious people in Halloween costumes, who somehow know that she is pregnant and offer prenatal vitamins to her.  Harper sees a man in a fireman costume when she sees these people.

One day, Harper makes the call to her brother Conor to let him know that she is pregnant and also infected with Dragonscale.  Conor and his wife become very upset at the news, but Harper begs them to take care of her baby, as she is convinced that she can still deliver a healthy baby.

Shortly after the conversation with her brother, Harper receives a visit from Jakob.  Jakob is hysterical and is convinced that he has contracted Dragonscale, even though Harper is not convinced of this.  Harper is frightened of Jakob, as he has come armed with a gun.

Jakob attacks Harper, but she retaliates by attacking him with a wine glass and is able to escape.  She then encounters the mysterious fireman she first met at the hospital, along with a woman named Allie who is wearing a Captain America costume.   The fireman fends off Jakob, and Harper realizes that he is also infected with Dragonscale.  However, the fireman appears to be able to control the effects of Dragonscale, and is even able to use the affliction as a sort of weapon.

The fireman and Allie lead Harper to a refugee camp that has been set up for those afflicted with Dragonscale.  There, Harper encounters Renee, the nurse who she thought had died from the effects of Dragonscale.  She also meets a man named Tom Storey, who is referred to as Father Story.  We also learn that the fireman’s name is John.  Harper is treated for her fractured ankle at the camp, and others also tell her that the Dragonscale can be controlled, and that death is not automatic.  Harper also learns that Nick, the deaf boy who was suffering from appendicitis at the hospital, is also a resident at the camp.  She also meets a woman named Carol, who is the daughter of Father Storey.

Later on, Harper speaks to Renee, who tells her the story of how she survived the Dragonscale and learned to control it, as opposed to letting it control her.  It appears that the Dragonscale responds negatively to distress and positively to happier emotions.

As the months go by, Harper struggles to adjust to life at the camp.  The camp begins to run low on supplies, and begins rationing food.  Harper also learns that the members of the camp were forced to kill another member, Harold Cross, who was going to betray them to the outside world.  This would allow the Cremation Squads, a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to destroy those who are infected with the Dragonscale, to find the camp.  Harper also begins to exhibit signs of infection, such as smoke coming from her skin, but still is not able to control the effects of the Dragonscale.

One morning, Harper awakens.  Her clothes are burning and she begins to feel that she is going to succumb to the Dragonscale.  She heads outside for a walk, and thinks that she hears John, the fireman who secludes himself from the rest of the camp, telling her not to give up.  This encourages Harper, and she returns to the camp, feeling somewhat at peace with herself.

Harper volunteers for kitchen duty the first day the rationing comes into effect.  She feels a joy when she realizes that people are volunteering to skip a meal so that others may eat.  She begins to sing a song from Mary Poppins, and feels a sort of euphoria that is so intense that she even temporarily forgets her own name.  At this point, Harper has learned how to control the effects of the Dragonscale, and begins to feel more optimistic.

It is soon revealed that someone is stealing items from women’s dormitory.  Father Storey makes a plea for that person to come forward, but no one does.  Harper becomes a victim of the thief, who steals the care package that she has made for her unborn child.  However, Harper momentarily forgets about the thief, when the fireman, John, makes his way into the camp and tells Harper that he needs her assistance, as there are two more refugees who have made their way into the camp.

While searching for medical supplies to assist the refugees, Harper finds a notebook that had been kept by Harold, the traitor who was killed a few months earlier.  Harper puts the notebook aside for the moment, and makes her to the rescue mission.

The rescue mission proves to be difficult, as the group is attacked by a Cremation Squad, which is a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to kill anyone who they believe is infected with Dragonscale.  John the fireman is able to distract the squad, and is able to escape with Harper’s help, even though he is injured.  Harper notices her husband Jakob on the squad, but he does not recognize her.

Harper helps John back to his cottage, and does her best to tend to his injuries.  She is summoned back to the main camp, however, because Tom Storey has also been badly injured.  Harper attempts to save Father Storey with her makeshift equipment.  He does not die, but does slip into a coma for two months.

The two convicts are accused of attempting to kill Father Storey, despite the lack of evidence.  Harper and Renee speak out against this, stating that keeping the men as prisoners in inhumane conditions is wrong.

Harper then heads back to her house, as she needs supplies.  She is surprised by the appearance of her husband, Jakob, and two fellow members of his Cremation Squad.  One of these men is the Marlboro Man, who is also a conservative radio talk show host.  Harper is able to hide from the men, and heads back to the camp several hours later.

After she returns to the camp, Harper heads over to John the fireman’s house.  She treats him for his injuries to the best of her ability, and learns the story of how he came to know Carol’s sister Sarah, who was the mother to Allie and Nick.  Harper begs John to teach her how to control the Dragonscale, but he refuses.  John tells Harper that he can use the Dragonscale to provide a distraction, so that she can obtain some desperately needed medical supplies.

When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out the other residents are angry with her, as they feel she could have betrayed their secrets.  Carol has punished Allie for neglecting her duties and letting Harper leave by placing a stone in her mouth so that she cannot speak.  Harper tells Allie that she will not accept the punishment, and Allie doesn’t have to either.  However, Allie ignores Harper and continues to play martyr.

Harper speaks to Renee, and the two worry about the direction that the group is taking, as they feel that Carol has become a dictator.

The next day, Harper is brought to Carol.  She also encounters one of the convicts who was previously rescued, named Gil, in Carol’s quarters.  Gil tells the story of how he and his friend Mazz escaped from prison, as they realized that people who were claiming to help them actually intended on killing them, as they witnessed several infected prisoners being shot.  Carol tells Gil that he still must remain in the camp’s prison, as she believes that Mazz was actually responsible for injuring her father and that Gil was an accomplice.  Harper also outlines John’s plan for obtaining medical supplies.  Carol is reluctant, but still tells Harper to put the plan in motion as soon as possible.

After the confrontation with Carol, Harper is attacked by group of girls, who pelt her with snowballs and force a stone into her mouth as punishment.  Allie is among the group, but does nothing to stop the attack.

The attempt to obtain medical supplies turns violent when the group hijacks an ambulance.  Several people are murdered and injured.  Harper attempts to help the injured, but is rebuffed by other members of the group.  Harper and her group are then attacked by a group led by Jakob and his friend the Marlboro Man.  Several members are killed, but Harper and a few others manage to escape, as what appears to be a phoenix shows up at the right time.

When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out that Father Storey has a close call with death but is still alive.  Carol is distraught, and tells Harper that she is only allowed to stay at the camp to care for her father.  Carol tells Harper that if Father Storey passes away, she will be forced to leave the camp.

Harper then receives a letter from Allie apologizing for her actions.  She speaks with another member of the camp, Michael, and learns that it was Allie who told the John the fireman what was happening when the group hijacked the ambulance, and that John sent over the phoenix to distract the Cremation Squad.  Michael talks of leaving the camp with Harper, Allie and other members who are unhappy with Carol’s rules.

Harper then visits John, and finds out that he has pneumonia.  She talks of leaving the camp, but tells John that he should lead that group, as she feels that she needs to stay to give birth to her baby.  Harper administers what treatment she can to John, and learns the story of how John, Allie, Nick and Tom learned to control the effects of the Dragonscale through singing.  However, John does not give any details as to how Sarah, who was never infected with the Dragonscale, died.

Back at the infirmary, Harper reads the journal of Harold Cross, the man who was thought to be a traitor.  She learns that there is an island for those infected with Dragonscale, known as Martha Quinn Island.  An internet search on a contraband cell phone confirms that this island is real.  Shortly after Harper digests this news, she receives another surprise:  it appears that Tom Storey has awakened from his coma.  However, Harper is not able to get any information from Tom, as he appears to go back to sleep.

John, Harper and several other members meet at John’s cottage one night to discuss plans for a possible escape from the camp.  Harper is chosen to be the leader of the group, due to her calm manner.  Harper stays behind when the others leave.  She shares a kiss with John, and learns the full story behind Sarah’s death.  Apparently, Nick had figured out how to fully control the Dragonscale, and taught John how to do so.  Sarah deliberately infected herself with Dragonscale, as she considered it a blessing, and not a curse.  However, Sarah did not allow for the infection to be in her body for a long enough time (according to Harold Cross’ notes, one needed to be infected for at least six weeks before the Dragonscale spread to the brain) and burned to death before she could control the infection.  However, not all of Sarah burned, as a part of essence remains in John’s cottage.

When Harper awakens the next morning, she finds out that Tom Storey has regained full consciousness.  And Tom has news to share:  he tells Harper that Carol, his daughter, deliberately set up Harold Cross to be murdered by a Cremation Squad, in order to make an example of him.  Father Storey asks that John be brought back to the camp, along with Allie, Nick and Carol, so that he may have his family by his side.

After receiving this information, Harper pays a visit to John’s cottage, and brings him back to the camp, so that he can speak to Tom Storey.  However, they are attacked by Michael, who actually is on the side of Carol and is not interested in fleeing the camp.  Michael also set up Harold Cross to be murdered by the cremation squad.  Michael also attempted to have Harper killed, as he was the one who set the Cremation Squad upon her when she returned to her home for medical supplies.  Michael has killed Tom, and plans on framing Harper for the murder.  He forces Harper to inject herself with insulin, to make it look like a murder and attempted suicide.

When Harper awakens, she faces Carol, along with an angry mob.  Harper, John and their followers are accused of conspiring to kill Tom Storey with intent of turning the camp into a prison camp.  Mazz, one of the rescued prisoners, also comes forward as a double agent.  The mob then begins to pelt John with stones.

Harper begins to fight, and finds that she can use the Dragonscale to do so.  She is able to rescue John, and she, Allie and John attempt to escape.  They realize that Nick, the young deaf boy, is also helping them, as Nick uses the Dragonscale to create a giant hand that is termed the Hand of God.

However, all is not well, as Nelson Heinrich, thought to have been killed in the heist of the ambulance and medical supplies, has led a Cremation Crew to the camp.  Harper, John, Allie and the rest of the members take shelter in the empty church.  There, Carol and her followers commit a sort of mass suicide, going up in flames while singing.

Renee and Gil find a firetruck, and use that to defeat the Cremation Squad, which includes Harper’s ex husband Jakob, and the Marlboro Man.  However, Gil is shot in the process and loses his life.  Nick leads Harper and the rest of the survivors to a sandy pit, and confesses that he was the thief who had been stealing supplies.  John does not come along, but promises Harper and the others that he will meet up with them in a day or two.

At the hideout, Nick tells the story of how Michael tricked him into stealing the items.  Shortly afterwards, John the fireman returns.  John makes another trip to gather food and supplies, and the survivors also hold a funeral for Gil.  John and Harper make plans to leave for Maine for Martha Quinn Island, as there are still Cremation Squads hunting the group.

The next morning, John, Harper and the rest of the survivors head for Maine via a truck, in an attempt to get to Martha Quinn Island.  Renee sees a cat that she thinks to be her cat, Mr. Truffles, and the group votes to bring the cat along, although John is not happy about this, as he feels the cat may be a danger to them.  After a tense inspection, the group passes a checkpoint and arrives in Maine, which has been destroyed by the Dragonscale.

The survivors are then attacked by Harper’s ex-husband, Jakob, who has tracked them down to Maine.  Harper battles her ex-husband, and is saved by a woman of flames, who is the essence of Sarah, Nick and Allie’s mother.  Jakob is literally burned alive. John also survives the attack, but is badly hurt.  The essence of Sarah bids her goodbyes to John, Nick and Allie, and then literally winks out of existence.

Harper and her friends continue on their way to Martha Quinn Island.  However, Harper grows increasingly worried about John, who contracts pneumonia in addition to the rest of his injuries.

As the group makes its way to Martha Quinn Island, they find supplies and provisions along the way.  However, the healthy people greet them with mistrust, and do their best not to make any contact with those infected with Dragonscale.  Someone also leaves antibiotics for John, who then begins to show signs of recovery.

Finally, the group makes it to Martha Quinn Island.  However, on the boat ride to the island, Harper finds out that they have been tricked:  there is no island for survivors.  Instead, the infected are euthanized, in attempt to rid the world of Dragonscale.  John confronts Jim, the captain of the boat, and is shot in the stomach.  However, John uses the power of the Dragonscale to burn the boat and their attackers, saving Harper and the others.  The group is then rescued by Don Lewiston, another survivor from Carol’s camp who had previously gotten a head start to Martha Quinn Island.  Once they are on Don’s boat, Harper gives birth to a baby girl.  The baby is also infected with Dragonscale.  Harper names her Ashley.

Don speaks of other islands for those infected with Dragonscale, and Harper and her friends agree to set sail for them, in the hopes that they will be able to survive in the new world they now inhabit.


My Thoughts

Well, let me just say this much:

Joe Hill, you are on fire!

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Seriously, this book was smoking, and fanned the flames of my love for Joe Hill and his writing!

Ok, we got that out of the way, aka the obligatory fire puns that I intended to burn you with (see what I did there.)

So, let’s get something else out of the way…

As I have said before, Joe Hill may be the son of The Master, but he is definitely his own man.  And I love that about him.

However, there were so many nods to The Master, and I had so many fan girl moments…

So let’s talk about those…

First of all, the homage to The Stand.  My favorite King book of all time.  So of course, the fan girling was intense.

For instance, a deaf kid who just happened to be named…Nick?!  You bet!  My number one book boo exists on the Joe Hill level of The Tower…who knew???

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The many references to Watership Down!, and the guy who claimed he couldn’t get into into a book about rabbits, but loved the book anyway…sound like our favorite redneck from East Texas, anyone?

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A character named Harold Cross?  Is he the unfortunate lovechild of the couple we loved to hate in The Stand?

And the homage went way beyond even The Stand

Nozza-la, anyone?  Hey, you gotta take what you can get, you can’t be picky about soda in the post apocalyptic world.  Now excuse me while I take a look at my Takuro Spirit, can’t seem to find anyone to service this particular vehicle for some reason…

Oh, and a scary guy with a croquet mallet?  Now I’m craving “red rum”…hope that’s something you can “overlook!”

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The mention of Tom Gordon…a girl can love him, right?

Ok, enough with the bad jokes…time to take a stand against them…haha!

I also loved the references to pop culture in this book, along with the humor.  Someone is definitely a chip off the old block.

I mean, he had Glenn Beck catch fire and burn to death…giggle snort…this brought a much needed smile to me that day!

Although he was bit harsh on JK Rowling.  But somehow, it’s fitting that the masses would turn on her for trying to help those who contracted the ‘scale…

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And the pod people had taste in music…they sang U2’s One…swoon!

Time to talk about Harper Willowes, our main character.

This book may be titled The Fireman, but make no mistake about it:  this is Harper’s book (sorry John, you are still awesome anyway!)

We have Arya Stark.  We have Beverly Marsh.  We have Robin Martine, from Malus Domestica by SA Hunt.

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And now we have Harper Willowes.

In other words, Harper is a bad ass woman. Extremely bad ass.  And she did most of this bad assery while she was pregnant…mind = blown!

Anyone who escapes from an abusive relationship is a bad ass, in my book.  And Harper did that, relatively early in the story, when she got away from Jakob (really, this guy should top a list of book douches.  Beats women and listens to conservate talk radio…real winner right there!)

While John the Fireman may be the camp’s X Factor, Harper Willowes is really the camp’s heart.  Her fellow survivors come to depend on her, and not just for her nursing skills.  Harper is able to remain calm and rational, when most people are not.  She is even able to remain calm and rational in regards to her child, whom she considers turning over to adoptive parents once he/she is born, so she does not pass the ‘scale on to her child.

Harper is someone you want on your side at any time (although I will skip the Mary Poppins, thanks), but especially in a time of crisis.  There is something to be said for someone of that nature, as I can think of few people that I know personally whom I could trust in a time of crisis…makes me actually wish Harper was real.

Joe Hill did a good job with his previous female characters, such as Georgia (Heart Shaped Box), Vic (N0S4A2), Merrin (Horns) and now Harper (The Fireman.)  Finding a good female character in any book can be a problem, but so far, Joe Hill is stepping up to the plate nicely in this regard.

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So, let’s talk about the structure of this book, and the ending.

Especially about the ending, but more on that later.

A prevailing theme in this book was the fact that our greatest enemy is…well…us.  I was constantly reminded of that old Pogo cartoon, where one character tells another that he has met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

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This book did not need an evil wizard (although there is nothing wrong with those) in order to be scary.  Nor did it need need an infectious horrible disease that kills people in horrible ways (nothing wrong with that though, either, natch.)

Instead, humans were the bad guys in this book.  We had the members of The Cremation Squads.  Just the name of that is horrible enough.  They also carried out that first word, burning those believed to be infected with Dragonscale, in the name of keeping everyone else safe.  So definitely pretty horrible.

But we also had fanaticism, aka “Mother” Carol and her band of zealots.  And these guys were supposed to be on the side of the good!  However, their treatment of those who had the nerve to disagree with them was almost as bad as what the Cremation Squad did those infected with the ‘scale.

Fanaticism is something that comes up often in the works of Papa King, and Mr. Hill seems to be a chip off the old block in that regard as well.  I was constantly reminded of Ms. Carmody in The Mist, and how her religious fanaticism was almost as big a threat as the inter-dimensional monsters.  Her fanaticism was also about as useful as Carol’s fanaticism when the big showdown came, and both women ultimately proved themselves useless in the fight against the greater enemy.

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Joe Hill spent a great deal of time discussing how those infected with Dragonscale were treated, and the parallels I drew were disturbing, to say the least.

Throughout time, there has always been some sort of threat.  At least, we are led to believe we need to be afraid of something.  After all, if there is not someone or something to fear and persecute, then what good is being human, right?

We have had Ebola virus.  The internet gets really interesting, when it finally becomes public knowledge that there have been people infected with Ebola who have been traveling in and out of our country (and others) for decades.  Suddenly, everyone becomes an expert in biology and obtains medical license, and knows the best way to handle those infected (hint: it usually involves something much more inhumane than offering the sick chicken noodle soup.)

There is the Islamo-phobia that Glenn Beck, Donald Trump and the rest of the Faux News crowd is intent on perpetuating.  After all, if I am not in constant fear of a terrorist attack by Muslims (since white Christians never commit those, natch), then I am just not a good American!

Way back when, we had the Jewish refugees.  Many requested refugee status when things started to go south in Germany, and were denied.  Or if they did manage to migrate here, they were shunned, almost as if they had a disease that people feared because most did not understand it.

Sounds pretty familiar, huh?  I have said it before and I will say it again:  human fuckery is the worst kind of horror there is.  And Joe Hill drives home that point again and again, in The Fireman.

Ok, let’s talk about the ending to this one.

I admit it, I grew complacent.

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What can I say, it was last week…I was naive back then!

This ending has left me to conclude that Joe Hill is a genius.  Seriously, he needs to win a Pulitzer prize!

Now, I should have had a clue.  They were calling the so-called sanctuary “Martha Quinn Island”, after all.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Martha Quinn, but she is sort of a relic (gah, I just got old.)

Joe Hill was born in 1972, and is only six years older than I am.  In other words, we are of the same generation.

And my generation tends to idealize the 1980’s, in much the same way that my parents continue to idealize the 1960’s.

So naming the so-called sanctuary after an 80’s icon is just somehow fitting.  We want to believe that the 1980’s were a simpler time, in much the same way that we want to believe that there just has to be a sanctuary somewhere that will take care of in our time of need.  How could there not be?

I was struck by how easy it was to lull (most) of the survivors, once they had escaped Carol, along with the defeat of the Cremation Squad.  It reminded of the rabbits in Watership Down! who are actually captives of a farmer who raises them for food, but they don’t know they are captives.  Like Harper and the other survivors, they become complacent.  And of course, they don’t come to a good end.

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Honestly, the ending shocked me a bit, but in the end (see what I did there), I was not entirely surprised by this ending.  And I believe that this ending was the only ending and therefore the right ending.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever so cut and dried in “real life.”  We want to believe that there is still good out there, and that there are people who have our best interests at heart.  Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to be fooled, even though we know that we should be more aware.  We don’t want to believe that we will lose that job that we have had for years.  We get married, and think that we will live happily ever after.  We don’t want to believe that anyone we love can die, much less die before their time.  And we would like to believe that if there was a plague that resulted in us contracting a disease that could potentially result in a painful death, that there would be people out there dedicated to possibly curing the disease, as opposed to simply eradicating those afflicted with the disease.

But again, human fuckery rears its ugly head.  It probably started with human fuckery, and then it ends with human fuckery.  Joe Hill reminds us this yet again.

But with this ending, Joe Hill also gives us something else:  hope.  After all, Harper safely delivers her baby.  And she will keep her baby, as the baby is also infected with Dragonscale.  Harper may have lost John, but Nick, Renee, Allie and the others survive.  And if they survived, along with their rescuer Don, there may well other survivors.  And maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance to rebuild.

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Fire can be used to destroy.  But like almost everything, fire has a dual nature.  Fire can be used to create as well.  And sometimes, everything must be destroyed, if we are ever to have a chance to emerge from the ashes, much like a phoenix, and attempt to rebuild.


Stephen King has said that if he passes away and leaves any unfinished manuscripts, he is not worried because he knows that Joe Hill is more than capable of finishing those manuscripts.  And this is a comforting thought, indeed.

And it’s also a comforting thought that Joe Hill is just getting started, and that we are only at the beginning of a great writing career.  And I can’t wait to find out where that career will lead.

 

 

Sleepless in Derry: My Review of Insomnia

Heroes.

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We all have them.  Every single one of us. And if you don’t, you are either lying, or you don’t have blood in your veins and are fueled by ice water instead.

For me, my favorite kind of hero is someone who is not perfect.  Someone with flaws.  Someone with warts.  Someone who may question his/her actions, and who possibly even regrets some of those actions.

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In other words, someone who is human, and not necessarily endowed with any supernatural or other special abilities.

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The best kind of heroes are ones who we can relate too.  After all, life is hardly ever black and white.  Rather, life is gray, and an infinite number of shades at that.  In other words, sometimes what’s right and what’s wrong is not clear-cut.  Often, decisions are made, and second-guessed for many, many years after the fact, even when the consequences have long passed.

Of course, I had many heroes growing up.  And I have a few now.  Batman was one of the early ones.  And then I met Aragorn.  Currently, Oliver Queen is my “show boo,” as Jax Teller is dead to me and Raylan Givens has ridden off into the sunset.

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All are good men.  And all struggle with decisions they have made, even if they believed the decision was for the greater good.  The very definition of a hero in other words.

However, none of these guys come close to my number one childhood hero.  He was a man who often had a lot at thrown at him, but he always stepped up to the plate.  He tried to do what he believed was right, and make the world a little bit better of a place when he could.  He was a human with no special abilities, other than the ability to make me feel loved and protected at all times.

In other words, I am talking about my grandfather.  I was lucky enough to have one set of living grandparents throughout most of my childhood.  My grandparents lived two hours away from us, so I spent a lot of time there as a child.  Most of my best childhood memories involve my grandparents in some fashion.  My grandfather taught me how to fish.  He supported my love of astronomy by getting me a telescope when I was thirteen.  In fact, he supported every one of my obsessions, even though he did not necessarily understand all of them.  One of the few people who loved me unconditionally was my grandfather, and I will never forget that.

Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away nearly 14 years ago.  So all I am left with is memories, and a few faded photographs.  And being able to talk to my grandfather one last time is something that I would seriously consider sacrificing at least one limb for.

But, at least I have my memories.  And my photographs.

And Stephen King.

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

Yes, don’t forget which blog you are reading!

So, along with writing books I can’t put down, making great characters (who tend to get killed off more times than I care to count) and just generally being awesome, Stephen King is also able to bring my grandfather to life?  Makes perfect sense, right?

Well, yes.  It actually does make sense, and sense goes by the name of Ralph Roberts.

In case you are completely confused at this point, I am talking about King’s book Insomnia, and the primary character in that book, Ralph Roberts.

Ralph Roberts is a bad ass.  He fights supernatural beings and hardly breaks a sweat.  He also stands up to men who beat their wives, choosing to fight for what is right, rather than ignore the serious issue of domestic abuse, which seems to be the socially acceptable thing to do.  Ralph is also a loving, caring man, willing to (literally) risk his life to save the lives of other.

In other words, in Ralph Roberts I have found my grandfather’s literary Twinner, if you will.

The fact that Ralph Roberts is a man nearing 70 who ought to be one step away from the old folks’ home (well, according to our society, at any rate) is merely a minor technicality.

King often writes about the disenfranchised.  And the elderly are just that:  they are forgotten.  Or ignored.  Or even abused and taken advantage of.  To paraphrase a quote from of the characters in Insomnia, growing old is not a job for sissies.

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Insomnia has long been a favorite King work of mine.  Since I am one of the disenfranchised (nerds usually are), I enjoy reading about my own kind, and seeing them kick some major ass.  And Insomnia gives me that in spades:  the disenfranchised kicking some major ass.

And it is the next best thing to spending time with my grandfather.  If I can’t hang out with my grandfather, at least I can visit with his literary Twinner.

So, without any further ado, here is my recap and review of Insomnia.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins by introducing us to an elderly man named Ralph Roberts, who lives in Derry, Maine, with his wife Carolyn.  Ralph has just found out that Carolyn has an inoperable brain tumor and has only months to live.  Ralph is saddened by this, and takes to taking long walks around Derry in order to take his mind off of Carolyn’s health issues.

On one of these walks, Ralph encounters his neighbor, Ed Deepneau, who is involved in a minor car accident.  However, Ed is not acting like himself, and becomes extremely aggressive towards the other driver.  To compound things, a friend of Ralph’s, Dorrance Marstellar, also arrives at the scene and begins making cryptic statements.  Ed becomes convinced that the other driver is hiding the bodies of dead babies beneath the tarp in his truck.

Despite the chaos, Ralph is able to calm his neighbor down, and the other driver tells him that he is transporting fertilizer, not dead infants.  Ed and the other driver decide to work it out among themselves, and Ralph returns home.  When Ralph returns home, he nearly forgets about the incident, as Carolyn has suffered a seizure and is rushed to the hospital.  Once again, Ralph is reminded that Carolyn does not have much time left, and wishes that things were different.

Several months later, Carolyn passes away.  Shortly after the death of his wife, Ralph begins to suffer from insomnia.  However, the kind of insomnia that Ralph suffers from is a bit unusual, in that he suffers from “premature waking”, rather than being a slow sleeper,  In other words, Ralph awakens a bit earlier each day.  At first he dismisses this as a consequence of growing older, but soon his problem becomes so severe that he grows more and more worried.

Ralph tries several home remedies for his insomnia, but none seem to work.  He makes an appointment with his doctor, Dr. Litchfield, but cancels the appointment, as he does not trust Litchfield, as Litchfield misdiagnosed Carolyn’s brain tumors as migraine headaches.  Ralph also notices that Derry has become polarized over a woman named Susan Day, a well-known writer and women’s right activist.  Susan Day is someone who believes that women should have the right to be able have an abortion if necessary, among other things.  Many in Derry are opposed to her politics, but several people are also petitioning her to come speak in Derry.

One afternoon, after yet another sleepless night, Ralph makes a trip to the grocery store.  While he is there, he is greeted by the sight of Helen Deepneau, the wife of his neighbor Ed Deepneau.  Helen Deepneau has been badly beaten by Ed, and has staggered into the grocery store with her infant daughter, Natalie.  Ralph’s tenant Bill McGovern is also at the store, and helps Ralph with Helen.  Ralph quickly decides to call the police, even though Helen begs him not to do so.  Helen tells Bill and Ralph that Ed beat her because she signed a petition requesting that Susan Day speak in Derry.  Ralph becomes angry over Ed’s treatment of Helen, and decides to confront Ed.

When Ralph confronts Ed, he realizes that his friend is now mad.  Ed makes biblical references, and speaks of a being he calls the Crimson King.  Ralph’s confrontation with Ed, however, is interrupted by the arrival of the police, who arrest Ed on charges of domestic abuse.  Ralph speaks to John Leydecker, one of the arresting officers, and learns that Ed will probably be out on bail that night, but in order to be granted bail, Ed will have to agree not to contact Helen.

That night, Ralph tries to relax but is unable to do so.  He attempts to contact Helen at the hospital, but learns that she has banned herself from receiving any visitors.  However, Ralph receives a call from Helen later that night, who thanks him for his intervention.  Helen also tells Ralph that she and Natalie will be staying in a halfway house for victims of domestic abuse, and tells Ralph that she will be in touch.

The months go by, and Ralph continues to experience the insomnia.  He continues to awaken earlier each day, and becomes frustrated.  Ralph tries several home remedies, to no avail.  Ralph also receives a letter from Helen.  Helen tells Ralph in her letter that she is OK, but will be out of touch for a little while as she adjusts to her new life.  Helen also tells Ralph that she plans on divorcing Ed, as he is not the man she though she knew.

One day, Ralph receives news from his tenant Bill McGovern and Lois Chasse (a friend who lives on the same street), that Ed has been arrested.  Ralph promises to watch the afternoon news with them, but makes a detour to the neighborhood pharmacy.  There, he meets a pharmacist named Joe Wyzer. who also suffers from insomnia.  Ralph agrees to meet Joe for a cup of coffee to discuss the insomnia and possible solutions for it.

Ralph and Joe meet for coffee, and discuss Ralph’s problems.  Joe tells Ralph not to worry too much, as he is still basically healthy.  However, while speaking with Joe, Ralph notices that he can see “auras” emanating from the people around him, including Joe.  This worries Ralph, but he tries to dismiss as a trick of his mind, possibly due to the insomnia.  Before Ralph leaves. Joe gives him a card with a name and number for an acupuncturist and makes Ralph an appointment for the near feature.  Joe also gives Ralph his own phone number and tells Ralph to call him if he feels that he needs help.

Later on, Ralph meets Bill and Lois at Lois’ house to watch the afternoon news.  They confirm that Ed has been arrested, and Ralph becomes worried.  Ed has been the frontman for a pro-life group that is protesting the possible future presence of activist Susan Day in Derry.  He tells Lois and Bill about the incident with Ed the previous summer, and they encourage him to relay this information to Officer Leydecker.  Ralph does just that, but is still worried, as he thinks Ed has gone insane.

That night, Ralph receives a threatening phone call from Ed.  Ralph is frightened, but holds his own, and tells Ed that he will not be threatened by him. Ed terminates the call, as Ralph’s reaction was not expected.

The weeks continue to pass by.  Ralph still suffers from insomnia, but looks forward to the appointment with the acupuncturist.  He also receives a letter from Helen, telling him that she has found employment and will be in touch with him again soon.

After he receives the letter from Helen, Ralph wanders to a nearby park and chats with Bill.  As he is talking to Bill, Ralph notices that he can pick up the thoughts of nearby people.  In particular, he notices a little boy named Patrick, who is accompanied by his mother.  Ralph is able to pick up, from the mother’s thoughts, that she and Patrick are trying to avoid Patrick’s father, who has been drinking and can be abusive when drunk.  At that point, Ralph almost tells  Bill about the auras he sees, but thinks the better of it, as he decides he cannot trust Bill with that information.

One morning, Ralph receives a surprise visit from Helen and baby Natalie.  Helen’s friend Gretchen is also in attendance.  While he is speaking to Gretchen and Helen, Ralph realizes that he still see the auras, and that Natalie can also see them.  The three discuss how dangerous Ed has become, especially with his growing involvement in a pro-life group that continues to protest the presence of Susan Day in Derry.  Before she leaves, Helen gives Ralph a can of mace, telling him to use it to protect himself if necessary.

A few days later, Ralph returns home from an errand to find Dorrance Marstellar waiting for him at his doorstep.  Dorrance again speaks cryptically to Ralph, telling him to cancel his appointment with the acupuncturist, and also gives Ralph a book of poetry.  Ralph becomes irritated, wondering why he should cancel an appointment that was so difficult to schedule in the first place.  Ralph also notices that the front door is open, and thinks that Bill has been careless about locking the door again.

The next day, Ralph visits the library to further research insomnia.  However, his research is interrupted when a man named Charlie Pickering attacks him with a knife.  Ralph recognizes Pickering as an associate of Ed Deepneau’s and a pro-life activist.  Ralph is able to counter the attack with the can of mace which somehow happens to have been in his coat pocket.

After he is attacked, Ralph speaks to Officer Leydecker.  Ralph is shaken, but recounts the events to Leydecker.  Leydecker drives Ralph home, and tells him that Ed Deepneau probably will not be implicated in the attack, even though he likely orchestrated it.

When Ralph returns home, he realizes that Dorrance was the one who walked into his apartment, and placed the can of mace in his coat pocket.  Ralph wonders what is going on that is so important, and cancels his appointment with the acupuncturist.

That night, Ralph has strange dreams involving his wife Carolyn, who issues him cryptic warnings.  When Ralph awakens, he happens to glance out the window and sees a very strange sight:  two men, who look like small, bald doctors, are headed into the house of May Locher, another one of Ralph’s neighbors.  Ralph also notices that the men have unusual auras, and that they also have scissors.  Thinking that his neighbor is being robbed, Ralph calls the police but does not identify himself.  When the authorities arrive, it becomes clear that Ms. Locher has actually passed away, and her remains are removed from the house.

The next morning, Ralph gives his formal statement to Officer Leydecker over the incident involving Charlie Pickering.  Ralph also confirms that May Locher did indeed pass away, and begins to question his sanity.

Ralph decides that he will try to tell his friend Bill McGovern about his experiences, and decides to take a walk in his neighborhood before doing so.  When he takes his walk, he sees the auras again, and is dazzled by the beauty of it all.  However, Ralph also sees an unpleasant sight:  another bald doctor.  This one appears more sinister than the other two and frightens Ralph.  Ralph also realizes that the creature has Bill’s missing Panama hat.  Before Ralph can act, the auras and the mysterious creature vanish.  After his walk, Ralph tells Bill about his experiences.  Bill  is dismissive and tells Ralph to see his doctor.  This angers Ralph, and he argues with Bill.  Ralph leaves after arguing with Bill, and walks to the park in the neighborhood where the senior citizens gather.

At the park, Ralph speaks to some of his friends.  People are arguing over the upcoming appearance of Susan Day.  Ralph also finds out that another friend of his is in the hospital, and may succumb to cancer.  Ralph deduces that Ed Deepneau may be taking lessons on flying an airplane, and decides to head to the police station to relay this news to Officer Leydecker.

On his way to the police station, Ralph notices that the neighborhood stray dog, known as Rosalie, is behaving strangely.  Immediately, Ralph connects this with his recent bizarre experiences, and decides to see if he can make the auras appear at will.  Ralph is successful, and is able to see the auras, along with the third, sinister bald doctor.  The creature is calling to Rosalie, but Ralph calls the dog to him instead.  Ralph then confronts the creature and fights it, and it becomes angered, but runs off, threatening Ralph before it disappears.

However, before Ralph can make his way to the police station, he is distracted by the site of Lois Chasse, who is sitting on a park bench and is visibly upset.  In fact, Lois is crying.  Ralph speaks to Lois, in order to comfort her and find out why she is upset.

When he speaks to Lois, Ralph finds out that she has also been suffering from insomnia, and has spoken to her doctor, Dr. Litchfield about it.  However, Dr. Litchfield violated his doctor-patient privilege and told Lois’ son and daughter-in-law about her problems.  That morning, Lois received a visit from her son and daughter-in-law, who tried to convince her to give up her autonomy and move into a nursing home.  The pair of diamond earrings that Lois’ son gave her has also gone missing, lending more credence to the theory that Lois has developed dementia.

Ralph is able to determine a few things after he speaks to Lois.  The first is that he has fallen in love with Lois.  The second is that Lois is also able to see the auras, just like he can.  The third is that Lois’ daughter-in-law has stolen her earrings, in an effort to make Lois look like senile old woman who needs to be in a nursing home.

The conversation is interrupted by the appearance of the creature that Ralph saw earlier, along with Rosalie, the neighborhood stray dog.  This time, Ralph is  also able to make Lois see it, along with the auras.  Ralph and Lois try to fight the creature, but it attacks Rosalie.  However, it does not hurt Rosalie, at least physically.  Instead, the creature snips Rosalie’s “balloon string”, or the lifeline that leads to her aura.  The color of Rosalie’s aura changes to black, and Ralph is able to intuit that Rosalie will probably die soon.

Lois invites Ralph to her house for lunch, so that they can talk about what has been happening to them.  Before he leaves with Lois, Ralph realizes that the creature they saw earlier also has Lois’ diamond earrings, along with Bill’s hat, and becomes frightened.  However, Ralph chooses to keep this information to himself for the time being.

Ralph then tells Lois everything that has happened to him, starting with his encounter with Ed two summers ago.  Lois believes every word, but is not sure what any of it means.  Ralph is also not sure what any of it means, and again becomes frightened, as it seems forces that he does not comprehend are at work.  Ralph and Lois then agree to meet up later that night, and Lois leaves town for a few hours for her weekly card game with her friends.

When Ralph returns home, he finds a note from Bill apologizing for his earlier actions.  He also receives a call from Officer Leydecker.  Leydecker tells Ralph that Charlie Pickering has somehow bonded out of jail, and that Ed Deepneau was the one who bonded him out.

That afternoon, Ralph awaits Lois.  He see the auras, and realizes that he has been “stealing” energy from other’s people’s auras, which explains why people think that he looks younger.  Ralph worries that he has been hurting people by doing this.

When Lois returns from her card game, she tells Ralph that she was able to use her friends’ auras to win the card game.  Lois is also “stealing” from other peoples’ auras, as she also appears younger.

Ralph and Lois’ conversation is interrupted by a car crash.  When Ralph looks outside, he sees that the neighborhood stray dog, Rosalie, has been fatally hit by a car driven by his pharmacist, Joe Wyzer.  The creature that cut Rosalie’s life force appears to torment Lois and Ralph, and also steals Joe’s comb.  Ralph realizes that he must get that comb back, along with Lois’ earrings.

Ralph also realizes that he needs to pay a visit to his friend Jimmy at Derry Home Hospital, and heads to the hospital with Lois.  A woman at the front desk tries to Ralph a hard time about visiting his friend, but he is able to use his new-found telepathic powers to convince her to allow him to visit his friend.

After they enter the intensive care ward where Ralph’s friend is residing, Ralph and Lois are then able to travel to a different level of reality.  They are able to see those around them, but those people cannot see them.  One of the people they see happens to be Bill, whose aura is now completely black.  Lois becomes distressed, but Ralph realizes that nothing can be done for Bill, who will likely die soon.

Ralph and Lois enter Ralph’s friend’s Jimmy’s hospital room, and meet the two “bald doctors” that Ralph had previously see outside May Locher’s house.  The entities state that they have no name, but tell Ralph and Lois to refer to them as “Clotho” and “Lachesis”, after the Fates in Greek mythology.  The two entities also tell him that the third entity that Ralph had previously encountered can be referred to as “Atropos.”

As he speaks to these entities, Ralph becomes more and more angered, due to the chaos that their interference has caused in his life.  However, Cloth and Lachesis tell him that his anger is not justified.  Ralph and Lois watch as the two entities sever the “balloon string”, or life force of Jimmy, who passes on to the afterlife.  After Jimmy passes away, his room begins to fill up with people, and Clotho and Lachesis bid Ralph and Lois to come with them, as there is much to be discussed.

Clotho and Lachesis explain to Ralph and Lois that they are agents of the Purpose, while Atropos is an agent of the Random.  Clotho and Lachesis sever the life forces of people who have been selected to die at a specific time, while Atropos is responsible for those whose time of death is not specific (such as victims of car crashes, fires, etc).  The two entities also inform Ralph and Lois that Bill has now passed away.  This angers Ralph, as he sees the entities’ interference as being responsible for Bill’s death.  He believes that by angering Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis have caused Atropos to target Bill.  Ralph then threatens to walk out on the two entities, as he feels that he has been manipulated.

However, Lois convinces Ralph to hear Clotho and Lachesis out.  Ralph and Lois learn that Atropos has severed the life force of Ed Deepneau.  Ed Deepneau was unmarked:  in other words, Ed served neither the Random or the Purpose, and the fact that Ed has lived so long after his life force was severed means that he is important in some way.  Ed Deepneau is planning to kill the 2000+ people, and only Ralph and Lois have the power to stop them.  Ralph also learns that his and Lois’ auras were altered, which resulted in the insomnia and new found powers, and that his preordained destiny has been changed.

After they return to their own reality, Ralph and Lois set about the task of attempting to prevent Ed Deepneau from committing mass murder.  First, they find out the location of the women’s shelter, using their new found telepathic powers, so that they may speak to Helen Deepneau and her friend Gretchen Tillbury.  Ralph also realizes that the scarf worn by Ed Deepneau contains the Japanese symbol for “kamikaze” or “suicide pilot,” and becomes frightened again.

Ralph and Lois make a brief stop to eat, and then head to the women’s shelter.  When they arrive, they see a large black cloud, or “death bag” surrounding the shelter, and realize that the people there are in danger.  The suspicion is confirmed when they hear Officer Leydecker shouting at Charlie Pickering to surrender, as Pickering has set fire to the shelter and killed several people.  Ralph and Lois use their powers to enter the shelter and lead the women who are trapped there to safety.  Helen Deepneau and her daughter Natalie are among the women trapped in the shelter.  The little boy, Patrick, who Ralph saw at the park a few months prior, is also among the people trapped in the shelter, along with his mother.  Ralph also uses his powers to render Charlie Pickering into a human vegetable, as Lois begs Ralph not to kill Pickering.  Ralph tries to convince Helen to stop the rally at the civic center that night, but she will hear none of it.

As Ralph and Lois leave the shelter, they encounter Doris Marstellar.  Doris leads them to a vehicle, which happens to be driven by Joe Wyzer, who Dorrance has apparently recruited to help him.  Joe drives Ralph and Lois to the civic center, where he drops them off.  Dorrance tells Ralph and Lois that they are involved in something a lot bigger than themselves, and that higher forces are watching them, marking their progress.

At the civic center, a large crowd of women, along with members of the media, is beginning to gather.  However, the “death bag” still surrounds the area, reminding Ralph and Lois what will happen if their mission fails.  Ralph uses his powers to find the trail of Atropos while Lois distracts the people around them.  After he finds the trail of Atropos, Ralph and Lois head to his lair.

Finally, Ralph and Lois find Atropos’ lair, which happens to be the trunk of a dead oak tree.  They descend into the creature’s lair, and immediately notice the large collection of odds and ends that Atropos has accumulated over the years.  One of them is Joe Wyzer’s comb, which Ralph immediately pockets.    However, he still cannot find Lois’ earrings.  As Ralph and Lois make their way through the lair of Atropos, they notice that he has accumulated a large pile of cash, which provides the explanation as to how Ed Deepneau has obtained his money.  They also notice a large “death bag”, or pulsating black cloud.  This cloud contains more items, but these items belong to people who are still living.  One of the items is Helen Deepneau’s sneaker, which Lois ties to her wrist before moving on.

Ralph is also able to slice open the “death bag.”  When he does so, he also finds Ed Deepneau’s wedding ring, and notices that when he removes it, another “copy” of the ring appears in its place.  However, there is only one “real” ring, and Ralph and Lois take that as well.

On the way out of the lair, Ralph and Lois have a confrontation with Atropos, who is not pleased that they have taken Ed’s ring.  Both Ralph and Lois also notice that the creature is wearing Lois’ earrings.  Ralph battles the creature, and is able to take Ed’s ring, along with extracting a promise from Atropos that he will leave Ralph and Lois alone and not interfere in their quest to stop Ed Deepneau from committing mass murder.  However, Atropos shows Ralph a vision of something happening to someone he cares about in the future, which causes great concern for Ralph.

After Ralph and Lois return to their own level of reality, Ralph summons Clotho and Lachesis.  Ralph confronts these two entities, as he feels that they have not been truthful with them.  This assumption turns out to be correct, and Ralph extracts the true nature of his and Lois’ quest from Clotho and Lachesis:  they actually must save a little boy, who will grow up to do something very important.  The little boy is Patrick Danville, and is actually the same little boy Ralph saw at the park and in the basement of the burning women’s shelter.  However, Ralph refuses to help Clotho and Lachesis, unless they will spare the life of someone else who is also important to Ralph.  After some arguing, Clotho and Lachesis finally agree to the deal, and a cut is made on Ralph’s arm.

While Ralph is making the deal with Clotho and Lachesis, Lois is visited by an entity that she describes as “the green man.”  The entity returns Lois’ earrings to her, and Lois gives those to Ralph.  Ralph then prepares to continue on his mission to stop Ed Deepeneau.

Ralph is able to teleport himself to the plane that Ed Deepneau is flying.  However, as he is trying to stop Ed Deepneau, Ralph sees someone that he thinks to be his deceased mother.  But this is not his mother and is actually the entity known as the Crimson King, and the entity forces Ralph to come to his “court,” where he warns Ralph about his “meddling.”  Ralph surprises the Crimson King by stabbing him with Lois’ earrings, and is able to defeat the entity.

Ralph then drops back down to his own level of reality, and distracts Ed Deepneau.  Ralph is able to divert the plane away from the civic center.  Susan Day is decapitated, and several others are killed, but not as many are killed due to Ralph’s actions.  The life of Patrick Danville is also saved, and the Universe breathes a sigh of relief.  Lois reels Ralph into the same level of reality as Clotho and Lachesis, and his life is also saved.

Clotho and Lachesis bid Ralph and Lois goodbye.  Ralph again reminds them of their promise, and the two entities reluctantly agree.

The insomnia is no longer an issue for Ralph and Lois after their adventure, and their lives return to normal.  They get married, and move into Lois’ house, and their lives are more or less happy.  The memories of the incident also begin to fade, and Ralph and Lois no longer remember just what it was that they did, even though they know it was important.

Helen and Natalie Deepneau also lead happy lives after the incident at the civic center.  Helen receives a windfall from Ed’s life insurance policy, and buys a house in Ralph and Lois’ neighborhood.  Ralph and Lois spend much time with Natalie and Helen, and Natalie becomes a grandchild of sorts to them.  Ralph and Lois also adopt a dog, who they name Rosalie.

For the next several years, Ralph and Lois are relatively happy.  However, the insomnia returns to Ralph, and he begins to see the auras again.  Ralph also remembers the promise that he made, and understands that his days are now numbered.

One day, Ralph decides he wants to go for a walk.  However, he knows that something is about to happen to Natalie Deepneau, and that he will die saving her.  Ralph finally confesses what is happening to Lois, and she becomes upset and tries to stop him.  However, Ralph will have none of that, and Lois gives in, and accompanies Ralph on his final journey.

Ralph and Lois then encounter Natalie in front of Ed and Helen’s old house, along with their dog Rosalie.  Ralph’s abilities have returned and he also sees Atropos, who is trying to distract Rosalie to get Natalie’s attention.  This works, and Rosalie runs out into the street.  Natalie runs after the dog and is caught in the path of an oncoming vehicle.  Ralph then throws himself between Natalie and the vehicle, taking the hit that was intended for Natalie, saving her life.

The accident proves fatal for Ralph, and he passes away, with Lois at his side.  Before he makes his final journey, he sees Clotho and Lachesis and his memories of them are awakened.  Clotho and Lachesis also provide some comfort to Lois, as she watches her husband pass on.


 

My Thoughts

Move over, Chuck Norris

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There is another bad ass in town, and his name is Ralph Roberts.

Chuck Norris may not need to turn on the shower because he makes the shower head cry, but Ralph Roberts battled the Crimson King.  And won.

So Ralph wins, as I have yet to hear of Chuck Norris kicking the ass of the Crimson King.  Although I am sure that battle would be epic…swoon…

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However, as epic as Ralph’s confrontation with the King of Big Bads in all of literature (or at least in the Stephen King universe) was, I think my personal favorite Ralph Roberts moment was when he confronted…wait for it…Ed Deepneau!

Yes, the confrontations with Atropos and the Crimson King were awesome.  Ass kickingly awesome, as a matter of fact.  But I will always remember my man Ralph Roberts for his confrontation with the milquetoast man down the street.

Although Ed Deepneau was not really a milquetoast, as we Constant Readers know.  Far from it, in fact.

But let’s get right down to it:  Ed may have had his life force cut “prematurely” and been under the influence of Atropos and The Crimson King.  And yes, Ed could not have controlled a lot of what happened.  But “a lot of” does not mean “all of.”  As Clotho and Lachesis reminded us, Ralph and Lois had choices.  And so did Ed.

And one of those choices that Ed made was to beat his wife, probably even while she was pregnant.  Somehow, I don’t think that the Crimson King or Atropos had much to do with those choices.

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Ralph also made a choice:  he made the choice to confront Ed, and call him out for beating Helen an inch within her life.  Everyone else had the “deer in headlights” look, but the 70 year man who was only getting a couple of hours of sleep at night became the decisive one.  In fact, the 70 year man who was only getting a couple of hours of sleep at night became the knight in shining armor that day.

And I love Ralph for that.  As a survivor of domestic abuse, I often felt invisible, along with ashamed and broken.  I looked for my knight for a long time, but he never came.  That is proof that we need more of Ralph Roberts in the world:  people who are not afraid to do what is right, despite what the rest of society may think.  People who care about what happens to the little people.  The fall of the sparrow, in other words.

There are so many things about Ralph that are swoon-worthy.  In fact, Ralph Roberts is now one of my “book boos.”

A seventy year old man makes me swoon.  There, I said it.  And I am not ashamed.

In fact, I am proud to call Ralph one of my “book boos.”  Not only did the man save the world (or all of the worlds in all of the universes), he sacrificed his own life, so that Natalie could live, and so that Natalie’s mother would not have to deal with what would have been the extremely painful loss of her only child.  And any man who has those kind of thoughts is a man worthy of being called my “book boo.”

There is the ending to Insomnia.  It gets me.  Every.  Single.  Time.

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With most other writers and most books, it would have ended when Ralph and Lois saved the lives of all those people at the civic center.  The easy thing to do would have been to would be to let Ralph and Lois walk into the sunset, have their “happily ever after.”  And that still would have made for an all-right book.

But we are not reading something by most other writers.  We are reading something written by The Master.  And this ending proves why he has earned the right to be called “The Master.”

In reality, there are hardly any “happily ever afters.”  Instead, tragedy can strike, and sometimes out of nowhere.  Good people are taken from us much too soon, and sometimes, trade-offs have to be made.

One of King’s strengths as a writer is that he is able to juxtapose the realistic with the fantastic.  He does this by creating characters, places and situations that we can all identify with.  Even in a novel like Insomnia, which is actually a dark fantasy.

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And this book is taken to the next level by the description of the last few years of Ralph’s life.  We get to experience the joy and love that Ralph experiences, and we are lulled into a sense of security, and expect a happy ending.

But life is hardly ever fair, and tragedy is always just around the corner.  Many of King’s works, such as Bag of Bones, The Shining and Duma Key, remind of us this.  Insomnia is no different, driving home the point that everything, even an innocent child’s life, comes at a price.  And that price must always be paid, no matter how much that payment hurts.

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Another thing I love about Insomnia is the fact that King gave us another Dark Tower novel.  Now, it may not have Dark Tower anywhere in the title, but that is just a minor technicality, right?

In other words, I consider Insomnia to be the ninth Dark Tower novel that King always wanted to write, even before he was finished with the Dark Tower series.

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Funny how a series can be that awesome, where it inspires its ninth book, when only four of the eight books of the actual series were published at the time.  But such is the scope of the series like this one.  King has said that the Dark Tower series is all encompassing, and Insomnia is a perfect example of that.

I have read this book many times, but every time I read the part about Patrick Danville drawing a picture Roland and telling his mother that Roland is a king too, I shiver.  Literal goose flesh breaks out on my arms.  Roland turning in his blankets under the “alien constellations”.  There is just something about that is mind-blowing to me.  Two old people who should have been ready for the old folks home (at least according to our society) are busy kicking ass, and that ass kicking had a direct effect on Roland Deschain, another ass kicker who Chuck Norris bows down to (or should, anyway.)  Actually, mind blowing does not do that feeling I get justice, so universe blowing, perhaps?

The Crimson King is the ultimate Big Bad in the Stephen King universe, and is ultimately responsible for all of the bad things that occur there (after all, even Randall Flagg has to answer to someone.)  He is mentioned in several works, such as Black House and The Dark Tower series, and ultimately shows up in the last book to do battle with Roland the gunslinger.

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I did enjoy the Crimson King’s appearance in the Dark Tower series, but I think that my favorite representation of the Crimson King is the representation in Insomnia.

The Crimson King is an evil being.  We saw a bit of this in the Dark Tower series, but he also seemed to be a stupid being, which diminished the evil part.  However, in Insomnia, the Crimson King was vicious and evil.  The way he tried to trick Ralph, by pretending to be Ralph’s dead mother…shudder.  And speaking of shudder:  that memory of the catfish that attacked Ralph when he was child and the egg sac that thing contained…eek!  Insomnia is not what I consider to be a scary story by any means (I categorize it as fantasy or maybe even dark fantasy) but that memory reminded me that I was in fact reading something written by the modern day Boogeyman.  And King comes by that title honestly.  Who else could horrify me in a story that is a modern day Lord of the Rings?  The Master, that’s who!


Well, that’s it for Insomnia.  Join me next month as I review the case of life imitating art?  Or is it art imitating life?  In other words, I will be reviewing and dissecting The Dead Zone!

And speaking of the apple not falling far from the tree…

That’s right, Joe Hill, aka The Master 2.0, will also have a book coming out next month…woohoo!  So next month will be busy, as I will be reviewing The Fireman as well!

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

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Connections

As always, all of King’s works are inter-connected.  And much of the fun (at least for me) in reading a King book lies in finding those connections.  Insomnia does not disappoint in that regard.  Here are some of the connections I found:

Insomnia takes place in the town of Derry, Maine.  Derry is the setting for several other King works, including It, Dreamcatcher and Bag of Bones.

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-Mike Hanlon is a minor character in Insomnia.  Mike is one of the members of The Losers Club, a group who banded together as children and later reunited as adults to defeat Pennywise the Clown, in the novel It.

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-Ralph makes reference to the flood that occurred in 1986.  Of course, this was when the Losers Club faced Pennywise the Clown in the novel It for the second time, defeating the monster for the final time.

-Ralph Roberts also makes an appearance in the book Bag of Bones, where he briefly speaks to Mike Noonan.

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-Patrick Danville is a major player in the final Dark Tower book, where he helps Roland defeat the Crimson King.

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-Dorrance Marstellar is referenced by Jamie Morton in the novel Revival.

-Susan Day is mentioned in the book Rose Madder.

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-“Ka” (loosely defined to mean destiny) is mentioned several times in Insomnia.  Ka is also a phrase commonly used in the Dark Tower series.

-Patrick Danville is a talented artist, much like Edgar Freemantle in the book Duma Key.

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-Atropos was in possession of a sneaker owned by Gage Creed.  Gage Creed was the son of Louis Creed, both characters from the novel Pet Sematary.

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