Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.
Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass…
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!
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.
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:
By nature, most human beings possess dual natures.
It makes sense if you think about it, actually.
We have our public selves. That’s the self that we present to the world. That self is polite. That self observes “social mores.” That self knows not to cut in line, for example. Or it knows that we use eating utensils to eat, and not our fingers. Our Sunday best self, in other words.
And then there is the private self. That self has no problem eating with its fingers. Or maybe cursing at someone to get out of its way already. Some may call this the “id”, per Sigmund Freud. Or, if we want to be kinder, the casual Friday self.
Often, being creative requires one to get in touch with that darker side. Some of the best art is born from darkness, actually. Art can be a good outlet for that darkness, allowing the artist to express those dark desires. At the very least, people may admire the end result. Or perhaps the artist can even make a viable living by expressing that dark side.
Usually, that dark side is kept under wraps. Artist does his/her thing, perhaps gets praised for it in some way, lets off steam, and it’s done, right?
Well, most of the time…
However, (wait for it) if you are a character in a…you guessed it…Stephen King book, its not that simple. No, nothing in a Stephen King book is ever that simple, is it?
(In case you forgot which blog you were reading.)
One of my favorite novels by The Master is The Dark Half. On the surface, it is a horror novel. After all, someone’s pseudonym comes to life and does horrible things. And don’t get me started on sparrows…
But, as with most of King’s work, The Dark Half is much more that what it seems to be on the surface. This is a novel that has much to say about the creative process, and the effect that process can have on the writer and the writer’s loved ones.
Plus, it takes place in one of my favorite King towns, aka Castle Rock. And it has Alan Pangborn as a character…Pangborn has long been one of my favorite King book boos!
In other words, what’s not to love about The Dark Half? It has a fascinating villain, along with some creepy imagery. It’s perfect, in other words.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Dark Half.
And, as always:
The book begins in 1960, and we are introduced to a young boy named Thad Beaumont. Thad is an aspiring writer, and already receiving recognition for his writing. Thad has also begun to suffer from serious migraines, but his doctor is unable to find a cause. Along with the migraines, Tad hears the sound of birds.
One day, Thad collapses at the bus stop. He is rushed to the hospital, and his doctors believe that he may have a brain tumor. However, the doctors do not find a brain tumor when they operate on Thad. Instead, they find eyes, teeth and other body parts in Thad’s brain. The doctors believe that they have found an unformed twin that was digested by Thad in the womb. The doctors elect not to tell Thad’s parents the full truth in regards to their discovery, and Thad’s parents are led to believe that the doctors have found a brain tumor. The surgery is successful, and Thad is soon released and goes back to living a normal life.
We are again introduced to Thad, twenty five years later. Thad is married to a woman named Liz, and is the father of fraternal twins named Wendy and William. Thad is also a writer, but has only found success using the pseudonym of “George Stark.” Under George Stark, Thad has written crime novels that have achieved commercial success. The novels written under Thad’s own name have not been nearly as successful, commercially or critically.
Eventually, a man named Frederick Clawson discovers that Thad Beaumont and George Stark are the same man. Clawson attempts to blackmail Thad, but Thad discloses the fact that he is also George Stark in a People Magazine interview, and even holds a mock “funeral” for George Stark. Thad then decides that he will attempt to write a “serious” novel under his own name, and is even glad that George Stark is “dead”, as Stark appears to be a violent, insane man.
Shorty after the “death” of George Stark, strange things begin to happen. Homer Ganache, Tad Beamont’s caretaker, is beaten to death with his prosthetic arm. Frederick Clawson is also murdered. Thad’s fingerprints are somehow found at the scene of both crimes.
In the meantime, Thad writes a mysterious sentence in the novel he is working on. The sentence is “The sparrows are flying.” This sentence is also written in blood on the walls of Frederick Clawson’s apartment. Tad also begins to hear the sound of birds again.
The fingerprints are traced back to Thad, and Thad is questioned by Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is certain that Thad is guilty of both murders. However, Pangborn becomes less convinced once he speaks to Thad, and everyone is mystified by the murders.
Thad visits his doctor and undergoes a CAT scan, as he has been hearing the bird sounds again. At his office at the university, he appears to go into a trance, where he writes some seemingly random words on a piece of paper. This incident frightens Thad, and he burns the piece of paper.
In New York City, a woman named Miriam is attacked by a blonde man who calls himself George Stark. The man forces Miriam to place a call to Thad, and Miriam tells Thad that she is being attacked. Miriam turns out to be the ex-wife of Thad’s agent, Rick.
Thad is frantic, and finally reaches Sheriff Pangborn. He has Pangborn check on Miriam in New York, and tells Pangborn that Miriam’s attacker is calling himself George Stark. Thad also gives Pangborn the names of everyone associated with the People magazine article on himself and George Stark. Thad gives Pangborn a description of Stark, and tells him that he will fill him on the rest of the details in person.
In the meantime, in New York, the man calling himself George Stark murders three more people associated with the People magazine article in gruesome fashion, along with two police officers. One of the murdered people is Rick, the ex-husband to Miriam. While the murders occur, Thad dreams of them in his home in Maine.
The next morning, Thad tells Sheriff Pangborn everything, including the headaches he experienced as a child, and of how George Stark came to be. Thad is convinced that George Stark has come to life, and is seeking revenge for his “death.” Pangborn is skeptical, but says that he will speak to Thad’s doctors, including the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, to see if he can get any more leads.
The authorities wire-tap Thad’s phone, in an attempt to track down Stark. Shortly after the phone is tapped, Stark calls back, and says that he has killed more people. Later, it is discovered that Thad’s voice print and Stark’s voice print are nearly identical.
Pangborn also places a call to the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, and leaves a message for the man to call him back.
Thad also speculates that he knows exactly what George Stark wants: for Thad to write another novel under Stark’s name. Thad contemplates doing just that, if it will put an end to Stark’s violent rampage.
One day, Thad makes a trip to the local grocery store and receives a phone call from George Stark while he is shopping. This call confirms Thad’s suspicions: Stark does indeed want Thad to write another novel under the Stark name. Stark threatens to hurt Thad’s family if Thad does not comply.
Over the next few days, Thad and his family are on edge, as they wait for Stark to make another appearance. One afternoon, Thad and Liz’s infant daughter, Wendy, takes a tumble from the stairs and receives a bruise. Later that evening, Wendy’s twin brother, William, also receives a bruise in the same place on his body, even though he was not physically injured. This gives Thad some insight into George Stark and his relationship with Stark, even though he is still not sure what to do about Stark.
Thad attempts to communicate with Stark in his study one afternoon. When he does so, he finds out that Stark needs him to write another book because Stark is dying and will only live if Thad writes another book. Thad also sees a large group of sparrows outside of his house, and is forced to stab himself in the hand with a pencil, courtesy of George Stark.
In the meantime, in New York City, George Stark experiences what Thad is experiencing, and also stabs himself in the hand with a pencil. We also learn that Stark’s body is deteriorating, presumably because Thad has not written any George Stark novels. Stark leaves New York City, and makes his way to Maine and Thad.
One day, Thad goes to his office at the university where he is employed during the school year, under the guise of doing some work. However, Thad is really attempting to get in touch with Stark again. Stark contacts him on the phone of one of Thad’s colleagues, and again demands that Thad begin work on a new novel. Thad also finds out that Stark is calling from Thad’s house, and also sees a large group of sparrows again.
Thad’s colleague Rawlie explains the significance of sparrows in folklore: sparrows are psychopomps, or harbringers between the living and the dead. The job of the sparrows is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living.
After speaking to Stark, Thad agrees to meet him at his and Liz’s summer home in Castle Rock. Stark tells Thad that his wife and children are unharmed, but he has killed the two police officers who were supposed to protect Liz and the twins.
On the way to his summer home, Thad calls his colleague, Rawlie, and requests his help. He meets Rawlie, and takes Rawlie’s car, so that he can drive it to his summer home. While he is talking to Rawlie, Thad sees another large group of sparrows.
Sheriff Pangborn is finally able to speak to the doctor who operated on young Thad. The doctor tells Pangborn that he did not actually remove a tumor from Thad’s brain. Rather, he removed body parts of an unformed twin which had been consumed by Thad while he was still in the womb. The doctor also tells Pangborn that a large group of sparrows was seen outside of the hospital during the operation.
Pangborn also receives a report of a stolen vehicle. The stolen vehicle is an Oldsmobile Toranado, which happens to be the vehicle that Thad described George Stark as driving. After receiving the report of the officers killed at Thad’s home, Pangborn deduces that Thad may be headed to his summer home, and follows him there.
Stark arrives at the summer home with Liz and the children. He ties Liz up after discovering a pair of sewing scissors that she had hidden on her skirt. Pangborn also arrives at the summer home, but Stark also captures him and ties him up.
Soon, Thad also arrives at the summer home, and sees that Stark is holding Pangborn and his family hostage. Thad also notices the large group of sparrows, which Stark does not appear to see.
Stark demands that he and Thad begin writing a new novel, and Thad complies. Stark holds Thad’s children as hostages, using them as a collateral of sorts. Liz and Pangborn are forced into another part of the house.
For a time, Stark and Thad work on the new novel. Previously, Stark had literally been deteriorating, but his wounds begin to heal. Suddenly, the sparrow descend upon the house.
The sparrows invade the house and head for Stark. Stark attacks Thad and tries to run from the sparrows but is unsuccessful. The large group of sparrows descend upon Stark, and literally carry him away from Thad and his family.
Some time later, Thad meets with Sheriff Pangborn at his summer house, which has nearly been destroyed by the incident with Stark and the sparrows. Pangborn is still having trouble believing what happened, but knows that he has witnessed something unbelievable. With Pangborn’s blessing, Thad sets fire to the house.
For a time, Thad watches the flames, and then leaves with his family. Pangborn wonders what will become of Thad’s marriage, as Liz has witnessed what Thad is capable of creating.
The Dark Half.
In other words, never a more appropriate title. Especially the second word in the title.
Stephen King has been known, obviously, for his dark subject matter (no pun intended.)
Novels like Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Roadwork and quite are few others are books are known to be especially bleak. The Dark Half is another one that it bleak. And I think that The Dark Half may be one of his bleakest, possibly almost as bleak as Pet Sematary.
One of the things I noticed about The Dark Half is the character development. King is known for creating likable characters. I mean, who doesn’t love a Stu Redman, Eddie Dean, Beverly Marsh or even ole long tall and ugly himself?
However, I cannot say the same thing about the characters in The Dark Half. In fact, I would have to say that my favorite character in The Dark Half is the minor character, aka Sheriff Alan Pangborn.
This isn’t to say that I actively disliked Thad Beaumont, who is the protagonist and so-called “good guy.” I just found little to like about him, and thought that he was more of a prop for the bad guy, George Stark.
I would characterize The Dark Half as a book that is more plot driven than character driven. There is nothing wrong with this, either. I actually find the premise of this book fascinating, and yet another underrated Stephen King book.
One of the things I find fascinating about The Dark Half is actually George Stark himself. And there are a few reasons why I find him so interesting.
For one, he is just evil. Pure evil.
With some of King’s bad guys (Jack Torrance comes to mind), sympathy can be summoned. Sure, the person is bad, but they are human underneath it all, and may actually have reasons for being bad, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with those reasons.
Not so with George Stark. There is nothing good about George Stark. Nothing good at all. The man (and I use that word loosely, more on that later) is just evil incarnate.
He’s ruthless. He’s vindictive. And creative. He may not be able to write a story by himself, but he sure comes up with inventive, horrible ways to kill people.
In fact, I did think a bit of this guy when I read about Stark:
It’s true that this guy may be a little more humane than Stark, but still, the comparison stands.
And there is just some about a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil…in other words, I love it!
Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog…
So what the hell is Goofy?
Or, in this case, what the hell is George Stark?
The Master does tease a bit about Stark, but trying to determine his true origin is almost as difficult as trying to determine Goofy’s true species.
We know that Thad had an un-formed twin that he absorbed as an infant. And that parts of that un-formed twin were found in Thad’s brain, of all places.
Somehow, this un-formed twin became an issue right when Thad hit puberty, and developed his writing talent. The doctors removed it. And there was nothing unusual then, other than a large flock of sparrows that invaded the hospital where Thad was staying.
Then, years later, Thad’s wife miscarries. She was pregnant with…twins. Not coincidentally, George Stark comes into being. And Thad starts becoming somewhat successful as writer, using the George Stark pseudonym.
Then, Stark “dies” again, although he refuses to stay dead, and makes life miserable for a lot of people, including the man who is either his creator, or maybe just his brother, aka Thad. And then the sparrows come back, although Stark cannot see them. However, Thad is aware of their presence.
My theory is that Thad has the ability to create twins. After all, he fathered twins twice. He himself was a twin.
So did he create Stark? I think that he did, actually. I think Thad was perhaps blessed (or maybe cursed) with that ability to create and harbor other personalities, much like Susannah Dean of the Dark Tower series. And Thad’s ability to create and harbor these other personalities seems to be directly linked to his creative ability. In fact, maybe Thad’s ability to create other personalities is an extreme manifestation of his writing talent, similar to how Edgar Freemantle (Duma Key) is able to alter reality with his paintings.
Another reason why I love The Dark Half is because this is a book that has a lot to say about the subject of creativity.
Additionally, many of King’s characters happen to be writers, or artists of some kind at, at the very least. Mike Noonan, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears and Jake Epping are all King characters that dabble in writing of some form. Even poor Jack Torrance (The Shining) was an aspiring writer. Writing is something that King is familiar with (for obvious reasons), so it often gets incorporated into his stories.
However, King is not merely content to incorporate writers as characters into his stories. Since he is The Master, he needs to take an extra step or four.
In other words, King often writes about writing, not just the writer. In fact, the art of writing is a major plot point to several of his stories, including Bag of Bones, Misery and even The Dark Tower.
The effect of fiction on both the writer and the reader is another major theme in many of King’s works. Again, Misery, The Dark Tower, Finders Keepers and Bag of Bones, along with several other stories, also address this theme.
And it could be argued that The Dark Half addresses all of these themes in one fell swoop.
We have the main character, Thad Beaumont, who is a writer. Thad struggles to obtain the kind of success he wants, since the “literary” books that he writes do not sell well, and he is forced to rely on the “pulp” books about Alexis Machine to pay the bills. This is a struggle, and causes Thad to question where he fits in as a writer.
Obviously, The Dark Half deals with the effect of fiction on the reader. When he wrote as George Stark, Thad found a rabid fan base. When Thad writes as himself and not George Stark, his fans (although they could really be considered Stark’s fans) are disappointed, and refer to his work as “terrible.” Often, fans of a particular offer become entitled, and grow angry when the author does not “deliver.”
The effect of fiction on the writer is also addressed in The Dark Half. Thad claims to want to write a “serious” novel, but it seems his heart is never in it. He blames the distraction of George Stark on not being able to write his “serious” novel, However, Thad gets enjoyment when he starts writing the novel that Stark demands of him. Again, this causes Thad to question just where he fits in as a writer, and just what success means. Does success include writing something that he himself is satisfied with? Does it include pleasing his fans? Does include “critical” success?
As most Constant Readers know, Stephen King, for a time, wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. In King’s mind, writing under the Bachman name would allow him to step outside his “genre,” or write works that were not “just horror.” King had become typecast as a horror writer, and feared that he would be unable to explore any other type of writing, as people had come to expect him to write horror stories, and nothing else.
Of course, anyone who pays attention to King should know that he is a great writer, period. He does write scary stories, but there is so much more to King than “horror.” The Dark Tower series is an epic fantasy series, much like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. 11/22/63 is a story about time travel and King’s feelings in regards to the Vietnam War. The collections Hearts in Atlantis and Different Seasons both contain stories that cannot be classified as horror stories. In fact, it can be argued that King’s strength is writing about ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations. This is evident even in his books that are horror stories, in characters such as Danny Torrance, the members of The Losers Club, Jack Sawyer (The Talisman and Black House) and so forth. King’s writing is so effective because people can relate to it, and the situations become that much more believable,
But early on in King’s career, he likely felt compelled to write horror fiction, at least under his own name. People had come to expect that, after all, and wouldn’t read something outside the horror genre, something that dealt with “real life situations.” Even today, there are people who are still prejudiced in regards to King: they either still think he “only writes scary stories” or have no interest in the non-horror works written by King. I have known more than a few people who have complained about that Dr. Sleep is not a direct sequel to The Shining, despite the fact that The Shining was written when King was much younger and in the beginning stages of his problems with drugs and alcohol. Their reactions are similar to a fan’s reaction to Thad’s work not written under the George Stark name: they are unable to read it, because it is not the formula they had grown used to.
In order to write other types of fiction, King developed the pseudonym of Richard Bachman early on in his career. Under the Bachman pseudonym, he was finally free to write other types of fiction, i.e. not horror fiction. And with the exception of Thinner, most of the Bachman books do not contain supernatural themes. Roadwork, The Long Walk, Rage and The Running Man are all disturbing on some level, but they are disturbing because they deal with “real life horrors,” such as the exploitation of our youth, corporate greed and our need to be entertained via television. In other words, Bachman’s work may be a little more mainstream, even though the Bachman books could still be considered to be in the horror category, although not the supernatural or fantastical horror category.
For several years, Bachman, like George Stark did for Thad, provided King an outlet to explore other types of writing. However, all good things must come to end. Like Thad, King was forced to kill off his “twin” when it was discovered that Richard Bachman and Stephen King were in fact the same person. And, like Thad, King went about the “murder” in humorous fashion, even saying that Bachman passed away from “cancer of the pseudonym.”
(Side note: Bachman never died. He just works on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, helping Jax and his friends dispose of dead bodies, demanding to listen to music when he works.)
But, like George Stark, Richard Bachman will not stay dead. Eventually, Bachman emerged in other King works, like the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Misery and Cujo, which are all books that contain themes of real life horror, as opposed to supernatural horror. Dicky Bachman even managed to publish posthumous works, such as The Regulators and Blaze.
In other words, an artist’s “dark side” can never truly be killed. Richard Bachman is still alive and well, manifesting himself through the works of Stephen King. And George Stark may have been carried off to parts unknown by an unimaginably large group of sparrows, but do we really believe that was the end of him?
Darkness lives in all of us. And like it or not, it is a vital part of the creative process. And any attempts to bury that darkness will backfire on us. Eventually, the darkness will be unleashed. And the world is not usually able to accept or handle that darkness.
Well, that’s it for The Dark Half! Join me next month, when I review and dissect Black House.
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like of all of King’s work, The Dark Half is set squarely in the King universe and is connected to several other King books. Here are some of the connections I found:
-Part of The Dark Half is set in the town of Castle Rock. Castle Rock is the setting for several King books and short stories, including The Dead Zone, The Body (Different Seasons), Needful Things and Cujo.
-Thad Beaumont is mentioned by Mike Noonan in the book Bag of Bones. It is revealed that Thad commits suicide several years after the events in The Dark Half.
-Alan Pangborn is a major character in the book Needful Things. Pangborn also alludes to Thad’s suicide and the fact that his wife divorces him shortly after the events in The Dark Half.
-The town of Ludlow is mentioned. Ludlow is the setting for the novel Pet Sematary.
-The town of Harlow is also mentioned. Part of the novel Revival takes place in Harlow.
So, the month of June is upon us.
And we all know what that means…
Yes, it’s my birthday month. Yes, I really will be 38 years old (ugh.) And yes, I accept donations of any kind. I prefer cash, but checks are ok too…haha!
But, that’s not actually why this month is special (even if my birthday is pretty special…duh.)
No, the month of June is special because of Stephen King.
(Don’t forget, it is this blog, after all. The Master trumps everything, even the birthday month of yours truly.)
And it’s not because of the book The Dark Half, which could be construed to be a book written about Thad Beaumont, the ultimate Gemini…but I digress.
June is special, or has been special the past couple of years, because The Master has been releasing his Mercedes trilogy books the first week of June.
The fact that he releases these books right before my birthday (back to that again, yes) is a nice courtesy, don’t you think?
And June of 2016 is extra special, because we have the release of End of Watch, the third and final (maybe) book of this series.
So finally, we find out what will happen to good old Bill Hodges, along with his friends Jerome and Holly.
Finally, Hodges gets to square off one more time against his nemesis, Brady. And quite possibly put this obsession to bed, one way or another.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of End of Watch.
The book begins with a flashback to the Mercedes Massacre, which had occurred in 2009. The flashback is told from the perspective of Rob and Jason, two paramedics who are called to the scene after a then unknown killer uses a stolen Mercedes as a weapon to kill and injure several people at a job fair. One of the victims is Martine Stover, who is unconscious when Rob and Jason arrive at the scene. Rob and Jason manage to save Martine from death, but it appears that Martine’s injuries have made her a quadriplegic. Rob and Jason are saddened by the deaths and injuries, and hope that the perpetrator faces justice.
The book then flashes forward to January 2016. Bill Hodges is awaiting an appointment with his doctor, when he receives a call from his soon to be retired former partner, Pete Huntley. Huntley tells Hodges about his final case, which looks to be a murder-suicide. One of the victims is Martine Stover, who was rendered a quadriplegic after the Mercedes Massacare. Huntley tells Hodges that Martine appears to have been murdered by her mother, and that her mother then committed suicide.
Hodges picks up Holly Gibney, the woman who is his partner in the private investigation firm that he started after his retirement. He then meets with Huntley and his partner, Izzy, at the crime scene. It is confirmed that Martine’s mother used oxycontin and vodka to kill her daughter and herself. Hodges thinks there is nothing special about the case, but Huntley believes otherwise.
Huntley tells of another murder-suicide that occurred the previous year. Keith Frias and Krista Countryman were also victims of the Mercedes Massacre. The two had met in a therapy group, and had planned to get married. However, they committed suicide by overdosing on pills one day, and died in each other’s arms. Holly notices a mysterious letter Z in the bathtub where Martine died. Hodges and Holly are reminded of Brady Hartsfield, the man responsible for the Mercedes Massacre. Hartsfield was stopped by Holly and Hodges, but not before he was able to manipulate several people into committing suicide. One of these victims was Olivia Trelawney, Holly’s cousin and the owner of the Mercedes used in the murders. Hartsfield was able to steal the vehicle and use it to murder several people, and was also able to manipulate Olivia into committing suicide.
On the drive back to the office, Holly voices her suspicions to Hodges. She tells him that she investigated the upstairs room to the house, and discovered a computer. The computer contained no indication that either Martine or her mother had ever researched suicide. Holly also finds a Zappit, which is an electronic device used for playing games. She and Hodges both feel that this is odd, as neither woman was an expert on gadgets. Holly says that she will be tracking down Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper employed by Martine Stover and her mother, in the hopes that the housekeeper can shed some light on the mystery.
Hodges is able to speak to Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper for Martine and her mother. Nancy is extremely surprised by the deaths of Martine and her mother, telling Hodges that Martine had accepted her condition, and that she also got along well with her mother. Nancy also sheds light on the mystery of the Zappit, telling Hodges that the gadget was a gift for filling out a questionnaire. It is also revealed that a mysterious man in a parka had been seen around the house, and that he would look into the windows of the house.
Holly and Hodges have lunch that day. Hodges points out that the Zappit is actually an outdated piece of technology, and that Martine may have fallen victim to a scam. Hodges also checks out the house across the street from Martine Stover, and discovers the casings to a pair of binoculars, indicating that someone may have been watching Martine and her mother. Hodges also finds a letter Z carved into the wall of the garage. Someone driving down the street in a Chevrolet Malibu is also spying on Hodges, but Hodges is distracted by a terrible pain in his knee and his stomach, and is reminded of his doctor’s appointment that he has rescheduled for the next day.
That night, Hodges speaks to Holly and schedules a meeting with her and Huntley, before his doctor’s appointment. Hodges’ health also appears to worsen, as he vomits blood later that night. Hodges becomes extremely worried about his future.
Meanwhile, something strange occurs at the hospital where Brady Hartsfield is a patient. Brady is thought to be comatose, but speaks to Nurse Valdez, badly startling her.
Earlier that day, a nurse named Ruth Scapelli had paid a visit to Brady Hartsfield. Nurse Scapelli had expressed her disdain for Brady by twisting his nipples, as she believed that Brady had given her an obscene gesture earlier. Nurse Scapelli is paid a visit that night by Dr. Barbineau, Brady’s doctor. Barbineau tells Nurse Scapelli that he knows of her earlier actions, and that she will face consequences for them. After Dr. Barbineau leaves, Nurse Scapelli receives a visit from what appears to be Brady Hartsfield. Brady appears to flicker in and out of existence, but starts to convince Nurse Scapelli that she is worthless, and that no one will help her now that she caught breaking the rules.
Later that night, Hodges is unable to sleep, so he gets up and turns on his computer. He discovers he has a message on program called Debbie’s Blue Umbrella, which is the program that he had used to talk to Brady Hartsfield. The message is from someone named Z-Boy, and simply states; He’s not done with you yet.
Hodges and Holly meet with Huntley and Izzy the next morning. The meeting does not go well, as Izzy is upset that Holly took the Zappit from the scene, possibly compromising evidence. Huntley and Izzy also feel that the investigation should be closed as a murder suicide. This upsets Holly, but Hodges comforts her, telling her that they are done with the case yet, as he hurries to his doctor appointment.
At his doctor appointment, Hodges receives some terrible news: he has been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer, and learns that he may only live for another year. His doctor urges him to see a specialist right away, but Hodges declines, saying that he needs to think things through first.
The body of Ruth Scapelli is discovered later that day. Nurse Scapelli’s daughter had contacted the police earlier, after receiving a strange email from her mother. The cause appears to be suicide, but there is a letter Z written in blood on the floor.
We also learn that Brady Hartsfield has been given experimental drugs by Dr. Babineau, in the hopes that Brady will regain consciousness at some point. Dr. Babineau does not have much hope for his patient, and eventually stops giving him the medication, as it appears that Brady is still in a vegetative state.
However, Brady has regained some form of consciousness, and is aware of the actions of the doctors and nurses in his hospital room. Brady has also gained some form of telekinesis, as he is able to move objects without touching them.
One day, Brady discovers another PSI ability: he has the ability to switch consciences with other people. In other words, he can momentarily take over the minds of other people, in certain instances. Brady realizes that he needs to practice using his new abilities, and alerts the doctors and nurses that his head hurts, along with asking for his mother.
After Hodges discovers the message on his computer, he returns to work and hides his cancer diagnosis from Holly. Hodges and Holly discuss Brady Hartsfield. Hodges believes that Brady is not actually unconscious, and may have somehow convinced a nurse to commit suicide. Hodges decides that he will pay another visit to Brady, and Holly urges him to be careful, as she believes that Brady may now be gifted with PSI abilities.
While Hodges riding the bus to the hospital where Brady is a patient, he is preoccupied with thoughts of his health, and does not notice the Chevrolet Malibu, or the old man in a parka who appears to be watching him.
Holly suspects that Hodges is not telling the truth about his health, and sneaks a peek at his computer files while he is gone. She finds out that he has terminal cancer, and becomes very upset.
Hodges also receives a call from his former partner Huntley, who informs him that the Zappit may have a virus on it, as it is not functional, and there is no way that Martine Stover or her mother could have used it. Huntley also tells Hodges to stop badgering him and his partner Izzy, as his input is no longer wanted.
While Hodges is on his way to the hospital, his neighbor, 16 year old Barbara Robinson (sister of Jerome) has made her way into a dangerous part of town. Barbara is African American, but feels she has very little understanding of her culture, due to her family’s relative wealth and success. Barbara is also in possession of a Zappit device. The apparition of a young man appears in a store window, and convinces Barbara to commit suicide. Barbara steps in front of a bus, ready to do just that.
Back at the hospital, Dr. Babineau, who is actually under the control of Brady, informs Brady that Hodges has figured out what he is doing. Brady becomes furious, but is still trying to convince Barbara Robinson to commit suicide, as she is associated with Hodges.
Barbara’s attempt at suicide is interrupted by the arrival of a young man who takes her Zappit. Barbara becomes furious and tries to get the gadget back from him. Barbara grabs her device back, and runs right into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Brady orders Dr. Babineau to keep Hodges out of his room, as he is flushed and does not actually appear comatose. Dr. Babineau agrees to do what he can.
In the meantime, Tanya Robinson, Barbara’s mother, receives a call from the police, letting her know that something has happened to her daughter.
When Hodges arrives at the hospital, he is refused visitation of Brady, by Dr. Babineau. Hodges brides an intern to take a message to Nurse Norma Wilmer, who has helped him the past.
Jerome Robinson, who is in Arizona volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, receives a call from Holly, who tearfully informs him of Hodges’ cancer diagnosis. Jerome also receives a call from his mother, who tells him that something has happened to his sister Barbara.
Hodges meets with Nurse Wilmer, and agrees to meet her for a drink. Hodges then receives a call from Tanya Robinson, and rushes back to the hospital.
At the hospital, Hodges finds that Barbara has a broken leg, but is not otherwise severely injured. She also tells Bill that the young man pushed her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, preventing a much worse injury, maybe even saving her life. Hodges makes contact with the police station where the young man is being held, so that he may question him about the incident.
Hodges receives a call from Holly, who is upset and confesses to her snooping regarding his health. Holly picks up Hodges, and together they head to the police station to talk to the young man who may have saved Barbara Robinson’s life.
Holly and Hodges learn the name of the young man who was responsible for saving Barbara’s life: Dereece Neville. Dereece is also a star athlete and a good student, and will likely go to college on a scholarship. The police have told him that he is free to leave, but he has elected to stay at the police station until he finds out that Barbara is all right.
When Hodges speaks to Dereece, he confirms that Barbara was carrying a Zappit device. Dereece though that Barbara was under the influence of some substance, but tells Hodges that Barbara appeared to return to her normal self once the Zappit device was taken away from her.
Later on, Hodges meets Nurse Wilmer for a drink. The nurse agrees to see if she can find Brady’s so-called visitor list for Hodges, and tells Hodges that she thinks that Dr. Babineau may be experimenting on Brady. She also confesses that she and some of the other nurses believe that Brady can move objects with his mind.
Holly visits Barbara at the hospital. Barbara confesses to Holly that she has been feeling depressed, as she has experienced harassment at school and other places due to the fact that she is African American. She also tells Holly that a strange man gave her the Zappit for filling out a questionnaire. Barbara tells Holly that she has heard of the voice of a young, who convinced her to commit suicide. Barbara also tells Holly that one of her friends may also have a Zappit, which could be dangerous.
At the hospital, Brady switches consciousness with one of the orderlies, named Brooks. It appears that Brady is using Brooks’ body to hand out Zappits and spy on Hodges.
We also learn how Brady used the Zappit device to control the body and mind of others. Once Brady discovered his ability to take over the minds of certain other people, he also discovered a game on the Zappit that had an hypnotic effect on certain people. Brady was able to use this device to take over the body of Brooks and Dr. Babineau, along with other people.
Brady takes over the body of Brooks, and shows up on the doorstep of Dr. Babineau. He attacks the doctor’s wife, and takes over Babineau’s body, which is younger and stronger than Brooks’ body.
Hodges visits Dinah Scott, one of Barbara’s friends, who also owns a Zappit device. Hodges learns that Dinah obtained the device as a consolation prize for a missed concert. The concert was cancelled due to Brady Hartsfield attempting to set off a bomb. Brady was stopped by Holly, Jerome and Hodges. Hodges takes the device from Dinah, so that he can possibly use it to track down more clues. Hodges brings up the fishing game (the game that is being used by Brady to hypnotize people) and confirms that it does indeed have a hypnotic effect.
We also learn that Brady has bribed a woman named Freddi, one of his former coworkers, to accept questionable packages at a condo that has been set up for this purpose. Freddi begins to suspect that Dr. Babineau is actually her former coworker. Brady has Freddi execute a computer program that he needs for his future plans. When he determines that the computer program works, Brady attacks Freddi so that she will remain quiet.
That night, Hodges receives a call from Holly. Sunrise Solutions, the company that was giving away the Zappit, was not actually a sponsor of the cancelled concert. Holly also advises to see Barbara, as Barbara is still suffering the effects of Brady’s invasion of her mind. Hodges also receives a call from Huntley, telling him that Nurse Scapelli, Brady’s nurse who committed suicide the day before, also owned a Zappit. Huntley also tells Hodges that Martine Stover’s mother had purchased a computer for her daughter, which is not the act of someone planning to commit a murder-suicide.
In the meantime, Brady has completely abandoned his own body and taken oven Dr. Babineau’s mind. He heads back to Dr. Babineau’s house and speaks to Brooks, telling Brooks that he murdered Babineau’s wife. Brooks is upset, but Brady tells him that he was hypnotized and unable to help himself.
Freddi regains consciousness. It turns out that she is not dead, as her pack of cigarettes protected her from Brady’s bullet. Freddi is hesitant to call 911, she is involved in some illegal activities. She wants to leave town, but is afraid that Brady will track her down.
Early the next morning, Hodges receives a call from Huntley informing him that Brady has died. The cause appears to be a suicide, via an overdose of prescription medication. However, both Hodges and Holly are skeptical that this is the last of Brady Hartsfield.
Hodges places a call to the bankruptcy trustee who had represented Sunrise Solutions. The attorney tells Bill that he received a call from someone calling himself Myron Zakim, who had bought several Zappit units when the companies assets were liquidated. Hodges also speaks to Nurse Wilmer, who is skeptical that Brady committed suicide, and tells Hodges that besides himself, the only other person to ever visit Brady was an unrelated woman.
Holly returns to the office with Jerome, and she and Hodges bring Jerome up to speed on what has been going on. Holly conducts some research, and finds out that there has been some concern over the fishing game on the Zappit, which seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people.
Hodges then receives a call from Huntley, informing him of the murder of Dr. Babineau’s wife. Huntley also tells Hodges that Brooks has confessed to the murder, and appears to be under the influence of someone or something. Huntley confirms that the pills found in Brady’s mouth were not ones that he was prescribed, and that there are questions as to how he was able to obtain them.
While inspecting the Zappit, Jerome falls under a trance, and tells Holly and Hodges that he is viewing his own funeral, which is beautiful.
We learn that Brady is using his newfound abilities, along with the program created by Freddi, in order to induce mass suicide. He tries to invade the mind of a young woman named Ellen, but she is unsuccessful in her suicide attempt, which frustrates Brady.
Holly is able to bring Jerome out of his trance state. Hodges deduces that Brady is behind it somehow, and that he distributed the devices to the young girls who attended the concert as a form of revenge. Holly also discovers that there is a new program on the devices that has just become active, and it appears to be a program that encourages people to commit suicide. Hodges then attempts to trace the source of the program, so that it can be destroyed.
Brady reminisces about how he came to control Dr. Babineau, by blackmailing him (after he had taken over Brooks’ consciousness) in regards to the experimental drugs that were being given to Brady. Brady uses Dr. Babineau’s body, along with his money, to carry out his plan to induce mass suicide.
Freddi attempts to crash Brady’s mass suicide program but is unsuccessful. Brady figures out that she is still alive, and becomes furious.
Hodges, Holly and Jerome connect Freddi to Brady, as they spoke to her when they were previously investigating the Mercedes Massacre. They track Freddi to her apartment, where she is packing her bags, in an attempt to leave town. Jerome discovers the device that is sending the signals to the Zappit devices that Brady purchased, and destroys the device. Freddi also tells Hodges and his friends that Brady is not dead, and they learn the story of how Freddi came to be involved with Brady and his plan.
In the meantime, a young gay man commits suicide in front of his father, while he is under the influence of Brady Hartsfield.
Holly begs Hodges to shut down the suicide website that has now infected several Zappit devices. Hodges places some phone calls to the police department, and finds out that Huntley has officially retired from his duties as a police officer. Hodges is only able to speak to Izzy, who reluctantly agrees to help. Hodges deduces that Dr. Babineau/Brady may have headed to Dr. Babineau’s vacation home, and makes plans to head there too.
An overweight young woman commits suicide by overdosing on pills, while she is under the influence of Brady.
Hodges and Holly head to Babineau’s cabin, leaving Jerome behind, as they do not want him to be involved in what could potentially be a messy situation. Hodges and Holly learn of three more suicides that Brady likely had a hand in.
Holly and Hodges arrive on the property and are almost immediately accosted by Brady. Brady forces Hodges to play the fishing game on the Zappit, telling him that if he scores a certain number of points, he will allow Holly to live. As Hodges plays the game, he feels Brady invading his mind.
Hodges fights Brady, hitting his face with a ceramic pen holder. Brady then fires his gun, and shoots Hodges in the shoulder. Holly regains consciousness, and begins shooting at Brady with her gun. However, she is unable to get a clear shot, and Brady gets away from her.
However, Brady is not able to run far, as Jerome comes to the resuce in a Sno-Cat. He tells Holly and Hodges that Barbara told him to come help them, as she thought Brady would kill them. Jerome runs over Brady with the vehicle, but that does not kill him. Brady begs for mercy, and Jerome shoots him. Hodges receives a text message from his daughter wishing him a happy birthday, and passes out.
A few days later, Hodges, Holly, Huntley, Barbara and Jerome celebrate Hodges birthday at the hospital. Huntley tells of several more suicides and suicide attempts that have occurred due to Brady’s program, but thinks that the situation will be under control soon. Hodges has begun his cancer treatments, although the prognosis is not good. However, his friends still have hope for him.
Eight months later, Hodges loses his battle with cancer. A funeral is held. Hodges’ company was left to Holly, who hires Huntley so that the detective work can continue. Jerome and Holly decide to attend a movie, and leave an empty seat between them, so that they may remember their friend.
Oh, so much to say, and so few words to say it in, unless I want the word count to be sky high in this post…the struggle is real, yo!
In the past, I have thought of the books in the Mercedes trilogy as Bachman books.
As we all know, Bachman faked his death from cancer of the pseudonym, and really works as a guy who drives a funny looking motorcycle and helps out Jax and his friends on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower. Oh, and he likes to take macabre souvenirs…
And I still think of these books as Bachman books, make no mistake about it.
However, End of Watch had much more of a Stephen King flavor, if you will.
For one thing, there was the supernatural element.
Typically, most of Bachman’s work does not contain anything supernatural. Books like Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk and so forth are about human fuckery, as opposed to haunted hotels, sewer dwelling clowns, evil shop owners and the long list of other supernatural pests that haunt the King universe. Human fuckery does play a part in most if not all of King’s work, but there is usually a supernatural backdrop. Not so in the Bachman universe, as most of his stories can be considered “real world” stories.
End of Watch still had a “Bachman flavor.” In other words, we had the real world: a murderer at large, who posed a threat to a lot of people.
However, enter the supernatural. The murderer (Brady) now possesses supernatural powers, which make him even harder to stop. And no, this is not King taking the easy way out, and writing what he knows. The fact that Brady acquired PSI abilities made the story that much more interesting, and provided that much more suspense, as Hodges and everyone else needed to figure out what was going on in order to put a stop to Brady.
In other words, we have King doing what he does best: writing a damn good story that we don’t want to put down, until we finish it.
For the record, I should stop being surprised by Sai King. He may write about the supernatural or the fantastic, but he constantly weaves “real world” issues into his stories, even if they are horror stories. In The Drawing of the Three, we get a discussion on mental illness, along with racism. In Insomnia, we discuss aging and how our society treats it (not kindly, for the most part.) In Misery, we glimpse how fiction can have a huge impact on the reader, and the writer as well. A novel like The Gunslinger could be considered a good metaphor for addiction. I could go on. And on…
End of Watch is no different. I was pleasantly surprised at the glimpse I got into Barbara Robinson’s life. Barbara may have looked like she had everything under control, and had everything a person (or a teenage girl, at any rate.) But appearances are deceiving, and Barbara is no different. I understand the pain of not having a peer group quite well, as I don’t find too many other nerds I can relate to (although the internet is wonderful.) Now, this is not the same a Barbara’s pain, as she is the only African American in her school. But my heart broke for her when she described how she was treated when she went out on a date with a white boy, and I understood the feeling of disconnect quite well. Often, we don’t really know what a person may be going through at any one moment, and that someone can appear outwardly happy, but that person is really experiencing a great deal of pain inside. And this is probably the case more often than not.
King’s description of Barbara Robinson and her inner battles was probably not “necessary” to the story, but it sure did add a great deal of depth to the story. And that is why King is The Master.
And we have the character of Holly, who has turned out to be one of King’s most fascinating characters, in this little old blogger’s humble opinion.
With Holly, King has created a strong female character. And one who we can relate too, as Holly is not perfect. I would guess that Holly is somewhere on the autism spectrum, given her quirks. Holly has also suffered her share mental health issues, as she candidly talks about her suicide attempts.
I love how Holly, over the three books, has broken free from her prison. In Mr. Mercedes, she is almost a minor character, at least at first. However, she becomes a major player in the chase for Brady, and saves the day at the end, by hitting him on the end. This allows Holly to stand up to her non-supportive family, and start living life on her terms.
In Finders Keepers, Holly continues to be an integral part of Hodge’s team and life. She uses her smarts and computer skills to help track down the bad guys, and also keeps Hodges at least somewhat grounded, as she looks after him, in almost the same way that spouse would.
And in End of Watch, Holly continues to shine. She talks to Barbara after her suicide attempt, and is the only able to get Barbara to open up (this really was one of the most beautiful moments in the book.) She fights Brady again. And she will be responsible for the continuation of Hodges’ legacy, as she the business has been left in her (more than) capable hands after his death.
Will Holly continue to be a presence in the Stephen King universe? Hopefully, us Constant Readers will be so lucky as to catch another glimpse of her. But only time will tell.
Then, there is the ending, along with the build-up to said ending.
So let’s talk about that.
Now, when I first heard the title of the final novel in the Mercedes trilogy (which I had to look up the meaning of…gotta love Google!), I cautioned myself not to take anything too literally.
“End of watch” is police-speak for the death of an officer, but this is Stephen King. He is always full of surprises, right? The title could mean anything, so don’t read too much into it, right?
Well, sometimes we need to take things literally. The title to the final book in this trilogy is meant to be taken literally: it is the end of watch for our beloved Bill Hodges.
And the show teased a funeral of a major character, from the first episode of the season.
But I told myself not to take things too literally. After all, anything could happen, right?
Well, it turned out that Darhk’s threat could in fact be taken at face value. Laurel Lance, aka the Black Canary, was killed, and Damian Darhk was in fact responsible for her death. In other words, he carried through on his threat.
And Stephen King also carried through on his threat, with the death of Hodges. Seriously, the man likes to kill off main characters. Maybe the tears of his readers provide seasoning for his food? Well, I guess that’s one way of making sure that chicken turns out right…kill off a major character, and use the tears from your readers as seasoning. Works every time!
The second I found out that Hodges had pancreatic cancer (and you know you had to read up until that point to find out what was the matter with him, because, like Holly, you didn’t buy the whole ulcer theory), it felt like I found out that a friend or family member had terminal cancer.
Because that is what Stephen King characters do: they become friends, or maybe even family. And finding out that your friend or family member has terminal cancer is hard. In fact, my heart felt heavy the day I finished reading that part of the book. And I thought to myself that maybe the title can be taken literally, even though I still held on to a thin thread of hope that somehow Hodges would conquer his cancer.
Finding out that Hodges had cancer also made the story that much more tense and suspenseful. I knew that Hodges was ill, but I still wanted him to have the satisfaction of defeating Brady. Ka is a wheel, as some other King character stated. It started out with Brady, and it ended with Brady. And if anyone deserved some closure, it would be Hodges.
I also feared that Hodges would die in his attempt to take down Brady. And that ending would not have worked for, as that would have meant that Brady would have still won, even if Brady himself died.
But my man did not let me down. Even while in the grip of terminal cancer, Hodges (and his friends) still managed to kick some major ass. So Hodges won, and Brady lost.
The last chapter in the book made my eyes just a little bit leaky (seriously, what is wrong with my plumbing these days?)
I had hope that Hodges could beat cancer as well, but deep down, I knew that hope was futile. But still, there was that tiny glimmer.
So I was saddened at the end, although not too surprised. Hodges passed on to the clearing at the end of the path.
Holly and Jerome did something beautiful to remember their friend, by placing a popcorn box in an empty seat at the movie theater.
In other words, they saved him a seat. And that’s what you always do for your friends, as they will always be there, right by your side. In life and death.
So this concludes The Mercedes trilogy. To paraphrase a certain famous King character, ka is a wheel that comes back to where it started. And that was the case for William Kermit Hodges. He came back to where he started. And he ended it in grand fashion. A true gunslinger, right to the end.
RIP, Hodges. You will live in my memory forever.
That’s the great thing about Stephen King characters. Somewhere out there, there is a Constant Reader discovering his characters for the first time. And since they are always being discovered, they can never die.
Join me next week as I review and dissect the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dark Half.
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!
Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in End of Watch:
-Brady’s hospital room is room 217. Room 217 is a room that has significance in the novel The Shining.
-Brady awakens from his coma with PSI abilities. This is similar to what happens to Johnny Smith in the book The Dead Zone.
-Brady’s abilities are similar to the abilities of several other characters, including Carrie White, from the novel Carrie.
-A pink Zappit device is mentioned. In the short story UR (part of the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams), there is a pink Kindle device that is able to access stories and books from alternate realities, along with newspaper articles from the future.
As anyone who knows me will tell you: I am not much of a “girly girl.”
In fact, I could almost be mistaken for “one of the guys” (although hopefully this does not happen too often, due to certain “assets” that I possess).
I am rude and crude at times. I love to watch football and
scream copious of amounts of profanity and cheer for my team. I laugh at bodily functions. I make dirty jokes. After all, I can’t help that both penises and vaginas are still hilarious even after my nearly 38 years on Earth!
Of course, the non-girly tendency extends to my taste in books, movies and television. As a rule, I don’t “do” chic lit. I prefer fantasy and horror, although I like to think my repertoire is vast.
As for movies and TV, I generally consider them a waste unless at least one person is getting blown up. Bonus for fiery car crash scenes. And they have to be quotable, too. More bonuses for clever usage of the word “fuck”, which happens to be among my favorite words, actually.
But, there are always exceptions to the rule. Every once in a while, I feel “girly” and decide that a good, ugly cry may be cathartic, after all.
And my soul is not completely black, I like to think that there is a little bit of color hidden in all that darkness. In other words, I do enjoy romance, at least a little bit.
So who do I turn to when I need a dose of chic lit?
You guessed it…The Master himself! Again, this blog, you being surprised…I won’t even get into it any more!
Yep, it turns out that old Uncle Stevie can write romance really well…is there anything The Master can’t do? Well, maybe interpretive dance, but don’t feel bad, Sai King, I kind of suck at that myself, actually!
Many of King’s books actually contain some great romances. These include Wizard and Glass, It, 11/22/63 and quite a few others. As I have stated many times before, King is much more than just “America’s Boogeyman.” He includes that element of reality in his stories that take them from good to unforgettable. And romance is a part of everyone’s life. After all, even cold-blooded killers can fall in love and get their hearts broken, just like the rest of us.
The novel Bag of Bones is on the list of books written by King that do justice to romance. On the one hand, it is “classic” chic lit. We have a widower. We have a single mom. There is a cute kid. And a mean old guy trying to ruin the lives of said single mom and cute kid, until the widower steps in and offers his help, falling in love with the single mom and cute kid in the process. But on the other hand, it is classic King. There are ghosts. Lots and lots of ghosts. Senseless deaths. A mystery that needs to be unraveled soon, or someone (well, make that several someones) will be in grave danger. The best of both worlds, in other words.
So a spooky ghost story that also has some “feelsies”? Well, it’s been awhile since I had any catharsis, so sign me up! Time to take another journey into one of my favorite King novels, so buckle up for the ride!
The story is told from the perspective of Mike Noonan, who is a moderately successful novelist living in the town of Derry, Maine. The book begins in tragedy: Mike’s wife Jo dies in a drugstore parking lot of a brain aneurysm. Even more tragically, Mike finds out that Jo was about seven weeks pregnant with the couple’s first child when she died. Mike spends the next four years in a haze of grief, unable to write. Any time Mike tries to write again, he becomes physically ill. Mike also begins to dream of the couple’s summer home, Sara Laughs. Even though he has not spent very much time in the home since the death of his wife, Mike decides that he will spend a few months in the home, with the hopes that the change in scenery will help him overcome the writer’s block that he is suffering.
Almost as soon as Mike arrives at his summer home, he senses a ghostly presence. The ghostly presence indicates that it may or may not be his late wife, Jo. Mike also makes the acquaintance of Mattie Devore, one of the residents of small town. Mattie is a fan Mike’s work. Mike rescues Mattie’s daughter Kyra, who has wandered onto the highway while Mike is driving. This spells trouble for Mattie, as she is a widow engaged in a custody battle with her rich father-in-law, Max Devore. Almost immediately, Mike receives a harassing phone call from Max Devore, and is summoned to appear in a court deposition in regards to custody of Kyra Devore. Mike also meets Rogette Whitmore, Max Devore’s personal assistant, and George Footman, a local sheriff’s deputy who also works for Devore on the side. It is clear that Mike has made an enemy of the old man, and he becomes angered at the old man’s harassment of Mattie and Kyra Devore.
Mike also begins to realize that he is not alone in Sara Laughs. He continues to sense a ghostly presence, and also realizes that his wife Jo had made a few visits to Sara Laughs before her death without Mike’s knowledge. Jo was also seen in the company of an unknown male, and Mike begins to wonder if Jo had been having an affair. Mike also begins to receive messages from someone or something in regards to Mattie and Kyra, begging him to help Maddie with her custody battle. Mike then hires a lawyer named John Storrow to represent Mattie in her custody battle. Mattie is grateful, and promises that she will do anything she can to repay Mike. Mike also begins to fall in love with Mattie, and has a strange dream that includes Mattie, his late wife Jo, and Sarah Tidwell, a blues singer who inhabited the land now occupied by Mike back in the 1900’s. Mike grows curious in regards to the history of his house, and begins to conduct his own research.
Shortly after arriving at his summer home, Mike is able to write again, and begins work on a new novel, hoping that the writer’s block is permanently gone.
Mike also receives a visit at his home from Max Devore and his assistant Rogette, and the visit is not a friendly one. Mike is attacked by Rogette, and nearly drowns in Darkscore Lake. However, he receives some help from the ghost of his wife Jo, and manages to survive the encounter. Mike also receives a visit from Richard Osgood, another hired gun employed by Maxwell Devore. Osgood serves Mike with a letter asking him to drop the custody case for Kyra Devore, and Devore will do the same. The letter also taunts Mike in regards to his previous encounter with Devore and Rogette. Mike speaks to Rogette on the phone, and tells her that he will fight back if either her or Max Devore tries to attack him again. Mike also receives a distressed phone call from Mattie, who has lost her job at the library due to the actions of Max Devore.
The next day, Mike receives a call from his caretaker, Bill Dean. Bill tells him that Max Devore passed away the previous night, supposedly committing suicide by drowning himself in the bathtub. Mike meets with Mattie and Kyra, and shares a kiss with Mattie. Mattie plans a party to celebrate the fact that she no longer has to worry about the custody case, and invites Mike and the lawyers he hired. Mattie also tells Mike that there have been some strange things going on in her house, namely magnetic letters that spell out messages and the names of people, including Mike’s deceased wife. Mattie gives Mike one of the messages, but he is not sure what it means, other than the fact that it may pertain to one of his crossword puzzles.
That evening, Mike speaks to Jo’s brother, Frank. Mike learns that Jo had been doing research on Sara Laughs, and had perhaps stumbled onto something in regards to the house and Mike’s family history. Frank confesses that he met Jo at Dark Score Lake, and that Jo was not having an affair. Frank also tells Mike that Jo stated that she would never return to Sara Laughs, and that she would tell Mike her secret when she was ready.
That night, Mike has what he believes to be a dream where he visits the Fryeburg Fair in the 1920’s. Kyra Devore also joins him the dream, and the dream is extremely vivid, causing Mike to believe that he has actually traveled back in time. Mike and Kyra see Sara Tidwell perform with her band, The Red Tops. Sara is wearing a dress that belongs to Mattie, and clearly has evil designs directed towards Kyra. Mike and Kyra also encounter people who appear to be the ancestors of some of the people in town, including one man named Jared Devore, who is likely related to Max Devore. Mike is able to escape the past through a fun house, with the help of Kyra. After Mike arrives safely at his house, he hears someone screaming, and thinks it to be the ghost of Jo.
Mike speaks to Mattie, and tells her that she may still be in danger, although Mattie is extremely happy because she got her job at the library back. Mike talks to several of the people in town, and learns that several children who has names that sound similar (Carla, Kerry and even Kia, his unborn daughter), have died mysteriously over the years, and that this likely has something to do with Sarah Tidwell, her brother Reg and his son Kito. In the process, Mike loses the services of his caretaker and housekeeper, who become upset when he begins asking questions. Mattie’s lawyer, John Storrow, also speaks to Mike and informs that Mattie has inherited 80 million dollars from Max Devore. The only catch is that she must remain in town for at least one year after his death. Mike continues to sense a presence in his house. He hears a child crying, and figures that must be Kito. He also encounters the ghost of Sara Tidwell in his bed. Mattie and Kyra also sense a supernatural presence in their home, and Kyra’s magnetic alphabet letters mysteriously vanish.
A crossword puzzle book finally provides Mike some more clues in regards to Sarah Tidwell and the history of the town. When he looks in the phone book, Mike sees many names that are similar, especially in the families that have lived in town for some time. Mike begins to fear that Kyra is in danger, as her name is is one of the similar ones.
Mike meets John Storrow at the airport, and he, John and the rest of the team that assisted on Mattie’s case meet at her house for a celebration. However, the celebration comes to a tragic end, as it is interrupted by gunfire from George Kennedy, one of Max Devore’s hired hands. John Storrow is wounded in the firefight, and Mattie is killed almost instantly.
Mike calls the authorities, and flees to Sara Laughs with Kyra, comforting her the best that he can. However, Mike is nearly overcome by another force that almost compels him to drown Kyra in the bathtub. Mike is then distracted by the ghost of his wife Jo. He realizes that he has been inadvertently writing clues in the novel he was writing. One of those clues indicates that Mike needs to looks under Jo’s old studio for two plaster owls. Mike heads to the studio, unsure of what he will find.
When Mike arrives in the studio, he struggles with the ghost of Sara Tidwell. With the help of Jo’s ghost, he finds the plaster owls. Mike finds several newspaper clippings in regards to Sara Tidwell and her band, the Red Tops. Mike also finds several newspaper articles showing the deaths of children, all of whom have similar names to Kyra’s, and has a vision of the father of his caretaker Bill drowning Bill’s twin sister Carla. Mike realizes that the ancestors of the townspeople had done something horrible to Sarah Tidwell, and that he is also descended from one of those men. Mike also vows to keep Kyra safe, and put the ghosts to rest once and for all.
The ghosts of Sara Laughs then tell the story of what happened to Sara Tidwell. Sara and her band the Red Tops had settled in Dark Score Lake and called it home. Most of the townspeople had no objection to their presence, even though they were black and this was turn of the century Maine. However, Jared Devore, an ancestor of Max Devore and a small group of his friends did object to the presence of black people in their town, especially a black woman with Sara’s personality. One afternoon, Jared and his friends confront Sara as she is walking along the lake. Sara laughs at Jared, and is gang raped for her actions and then murdered to keep her from talking to the authorities. Sara’s son Kito also witnesses the rape and murder of his mother, and the men drown him to keep him from talking to the authorities. Mike then destroys the remains of Sara Tidwell, putting her spirit to rest.
However, all is not well. Mike finds out that Rogette Whitmore has tried to kidnap Kyra, and he must rescue Kyra. With the help of the ghost of Mattie, Mike is able to do that, although Rogette is killed in the process. Mike realizes that Rogette was not just Devore’s assistant but also his daughter and Kyra’s aunt.
The book ends with Mike telling the story to Jo’s brother Frank, when he and Kyra spend Christmas with Frank. Mike has retired from writing, and it attempting to get custody of Kyra. The process is slow, but the now recovered John Storrow tells Mike that the odds are likely in his favor.
One of Stephen King’s strengths is that he can write “real-life horror” extremely well. He has demonstrated this in books like The Shining, It and Pet Sematary. Sure, ghosts, vampires, zombies, etc are terrifying, but anything having to reality can be even more terrifying (i.e. domestic abuse, alcoholism, the death of a child and so forth).
And King also does this really well with Bag of Bones. Don’t get me wrong, there are some scary ghosts in this book, and I give them their due. But the scariest parts to me had almost absolutely nothing to do with anything supernatural.
For instance, the part where Mike is chased into the lake by Rogette and Maxwell Devore…shudder! If I had to pick a way to die, drowning would NOT get my vote, the idea just scares me to death (no pun intended). King’s description of the torture that Mike goes through is just brutal, and definitely can make someone re-think the idea of swimming by his or herself.
Another brutal scene in the book is the one that details the rape and murder of Sara Tidwell. When I first read the book, I always saw Sara Tidwell’s ghost as somewhat sympathetic, even before I read this scene. But she got my full sympathy when I read this scene, no questions asked. This is another brutal scene. She is gang raped, in front of her son. And then murdered, along with her son, so that they will both stay quiet. The fact that the rape and murders are racially motivated makes them that much sadder. The fact that no one was brought to justice because the victims were African American also makes it sad. I do not excuse Sara Tidwell for killing generations of kids, and coming thisclose to killing another one, but who could blame her? The kind of pain that she endured is just not something can be erased. Covered up, perhaps, but again, that kind of pain does not stay buried, and is something that will be felt for a long, long time.
Another thing I loved about Bag of Bones was…you guessed it…the portrayal of the small town!
Yes, Sai King writes the small town extremely well, and Bag of Bones is just one example of that. It was a fascinating look at how the town in question created the ghost, and just how far the locals will go to protect their own and attempt to keep that secret. Small towns may appear to be idyllic, but they often hide an ugly side. And it doesn’t take a lot for that ugly side to surface. No one is safe from that ugly side, no matter who their parents, grandparents or great uncles are and no matter how strong their ties are to the town.
As stated before, Bag of Bones is a great love story. Actually, there is more than one love story in Bag of Bones. The first one is Mike and Jo’s love story. The amount of detail King puts into their relationship is tremendous. I liked how I really got to know Mike and Jo as a couple, and all the little things about their marriage: how they would celebrate with a glass of champagne after Mike finished writing a book, how it was always Jo who suggested that they visit Sara Laughs for a bit, how Mike ate the chocolate bunny Jo had bought before she died, feeling like that was his last connection to her, the code that they would speak (Bunter’s bell, heehee), and how easily one can almost take this for granted, and then have it taken away, for really no good reason. Ok, excuse me while I go plant one on my awesome husband!
But I also loved the relationship between Mattie and Mike, even though it was brief and never consummated. No what your views on parenthood are, there is something enduring and even sexy when a man can take care of a kid (or a dog or cat for that matter, they count as kids). If I were in Mattie’s place, I would have been smitten too: good with kids, easy on the eyes and smart. You can’t ask for much more than that!
Another thing I loved about this book was the tie-in to Herman Melville. Now this is where King shows that he is much, much more than a writer of horror (although us Constant Readers knew that already). One of the criticisms that I hear A LOT about King is that he is not literary enough, whatever that means (not sure how many books one has to sell to cross over from being “literary” to being the “literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries” though). And to those people, I say this: read Bag of Bones, fucker!
Bartleby the Scrivener is considered to be a literary classic. And here we have Bag of Bones, written by the man who is considered by many to be the master of modern horror. The book is a Gothic ghost story, set in a small Maine town, and deals with topics such as racism and rape, along with the trials of single parenthood. You would not think that we can insert a literary classic into the fold and have it work. But it does, and it fits in perfectly with the ghosts, the small town and all the serious topics that this book deals with.
The theme of Bartelby is the premise that our jobs keep us “tethered” to this world, if you will. And this is very true. One of the first questions that people ask when they meet someone is usually in regards to employment. We have “career day” when we are in school. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that children are asked all the time (for the record, I am still mentally about 12 years old and have not grown up and am somehow trapped in the body of someone who is almost 38. At this rate, I will have an answer to that question in another 38 years or so). So work is a big part of most of our lives.
And, as Mike mentions in the book, marriage is a book part of most of our lives too, especially for men. Take away one or the other, and one starts to become “un-tethered.” And I think this goes for both men and women: I have endured both divorce and job loss (thankfully not at the same time), and there were times when I thought I might just drift away, into the wind, metaphorically speaking.
However, our hero, Mike Noonan, actually loses both. First he loses his wife, Jo. Then he is unable to write, so he loses his job. Like his characters, and Bartleby, he essentially becomes “a bag of bones”, and begins to wonder why he exists and what his purpose is. Like Bartleby, he nearly exits this world, becoming a ghost of sorts. Ironically, it the ghosts that save Mike and give him sort of substance. He can write again (although that is more of a trick of the ghosts). He has a purpose, in helping Mattie and Kyra. He may find love again with Mattie (although that hope is cruelly dashed). And even at the end of the book, after enduring unspeakable tragedy, Mike realizes that he is more than “a bag of bones”, even though he is without his work and without a partner in life. However, Kyra gives Mike’s life a purpose, and he can no longer write off his life because he “prefers not to.” The responsibility for Kyra provides substance for Mike, and he can no longer exist as a ghost.
Well, that’s it for Bag of Bones, aka chic lit from the master of modern horror. Join me next month, as I review and dissect a book that has some personal meaning for me, and is just a great story: Rose Madder. Oh, and we may take a detour and visit the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger while we are at it!
Tune in next month: same bat time, same bat channel!
Here we go again. Just for fun, here are some of the connections that I found to King’s other work in Bag of Bones:
-Mikes encounters a man named Ralph Roberts. Ralph Roberts is the main character in the book Insomnia.
-Mike also mentions knowing someone by the name of Thad Beaumont. Thad Beaumont is the main character in the book The Dark Half. We also find out that Thad commits suicide not long after the events in The Dark Half.
-Norris Ridgewick makes an appearance at the end of Bag of Bones. Norris is a character in the book Needful Things. Mike also inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn, who are also characters in Needful Things, and learns that they have moved to New Hampshire.
-Kyra and Mike travel back in time to the Fryeburg Fair. Roland sees a sign for the Fryeburg Fair in the final Dark Tower book. Kyra and Mike could also be considered to have gone todash, which is a state of altered consciousness that allows one to travel through space and time, as experienced by Roland and his friends in the book The Wolves of the Calla.