My name is Leah and I have a confession to make.
No, not the nerd thing…you knew that!
Here goes nothing…
Gulp, I confess that…
I can’t stay away from Derry, Maine!
Yes, I know that particular town has its issues, and that I probably cannot fix those issues, even though it is my nature to try and fix things.
Yes, the presence of a certain homicidal clown is constantly felt, despite the fact that there were brave folks who tried to put that clown to bed (or is it Hell?)
I know that Derry attracts its share of…well…the unusual (and that’s putting it mildly.)
But still, I can’t stay away. I guess I just fall for bad…um…towns (not sure if fictional towns have a gender, so roll with me.)
Yes, I am talking about a fictional town in a Stephen King book…
I know, a Stephen King! Just humor me and pretend you are at least a little surprised, eh?
And obviously, The Master has a fetish for evil towns…
I mean, he keeps coming back to Derry, right? So that means its only sorta bad, right?
Well, as my aunt used to say: Leopards don’t change their spots!
The homicidal clown may have been sent to whatever Hell (or other ungodly realm) from whence It came, but that doesn’t mean that Derry is on the straight and narrow now.
Nope, not at all!
Luckily, Uncle Stevie realized that there were many more stories to tell about Derry, so he decided to tell them (duh.)
And the novel Dreamcatcher is one of those stories.
Dreamcatcher is an interesting mashup, so to speak.
On the one hand, it is a story about childhood and the friends we make as children (similar to It.)
On the other hand, it is also a science fiction novel, with elements of horror. Shit weasels, anyone?
So, with that being said, let’s take a trip back to Derry…
Hopefully, you see the line…
And, as always:
The book begins with an introduction of four men: Henry, Pete, Jonesy and Beaver. The four men have been friends since childhood, and are still friends in the present day. However, it is clear that the men are not ordinary, as all four seem to possess telepathic powers, which they usually use to accomplish every day tasks, such as finding lost car keys. A fifth friend by the name of Douglas is mentioned, but it seems that the men have fallen out of touch with Douglas. Once a year, all four friends gather at a cabin in the woods they call Hole in the Wall, where they go hunting and reminisce about their childhood.
One spring, Jonesy is hit by a car while crossing the street. The accident is almost fatal, but Jonesy is able to to make enough of a recovery by winter, and is still able to take his annual vacation with his friends.
The trip to Hole in the Wall starts off ordinarily enough, but things quickly become strange. One morning, Pete and Henry head to the grocery store to pick up supplies, while Beaver also heads out on an errand. Jonesy is left alone at the cabin, where he almost shoots what he first thinks to be a deer. However, Jonesy quickly discovers that his target is not a deer, but a man named Rick McCarthy. It turns out that Rick became lost in the woods, and has found his way to Hole in the Wall. Jonesy takes the stranger in, offering him food and shelter.
Jonesy then finds out that Rick is no ordinary lost traveler. Rick appears to have traveled 50 miles in the course of what he believes to be one day, and Jonesy later finds out that Rick thinks that the date is the date three days prior. Rick is also missing several teeth, and does not appear to notice that he is missing these teeth. Additionally, Rick appears to be extremely flatulent, and his burps and farts have an unusual smell.
Beaver returns, and Jonesy offers Rick the spare bedroom so he can get some rest. After Rick retires, Jonesy and Beaver discuss what to do about their guest, and agree that they need to get help for him, and quickly.
In the meantime, Henry and Pete are driving back to the cabin from the grocery store. We learn that Henry has been suffering depression, and is considering suicide. The men also discuss some rumors heard at the grocery store, which include stories about missing hunters and bright lights in the sky. However, the talk is interrupted when Henry swerves to avoid hitting a woman standing in the middle of the road, which causes the vehicle to crash, due to the serious weather conditions.
Pete and Henry survive the accident, although Pete is seriously injured and his leg is likely broken. Pete and Henry try to speak to the woman they narrowly missed hitting, but the woman appears to be almost comatose, although she does inquire about someone named Rick. And like Rick, she also suffers from extreme flatulence accompanied by an unusual odor.
As Henry attempts to help the woman, he and Pete see strange lights in the sky. The woman becomes hysterical, crying “they’re back.” Finally, Henry is able to call her down, and the three head off to find some sort of shelter from the impending blizzard. However, the woman collapses, and Henry is forced to carry her to shelter. While they are walking to shelter, Pete and Henry begin to discuss a fifth childhood friend, whom they refer to as “Duddits.” Duddits was afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, and the men have been thinking a lot about Duddits recently, for some reason.
Back at the cabin, Jonesy and Beaver play cards and wait for Henry and Pete to return. Their game is interrupted when Beaver steps outside, and notices what appears to be a large group of forest animals in mass exodus from the forest, along with strange lights. Things become stranger when they return to the cabin, and notice that Rick is no longer in bed. They also notice blood on the way to the bathroom, and discover that Rick is in the bathroom and in distress.
Outside, there are helicopters in the sky. Beaver tries to signal for help, but is told that the area is under quarantine, and that the situation will be resolved in 24-48 hours.
Henry attempts to walk back to Hole in the Wall to seek help. He leaves Pete with the woman they found on the side of the road. They believe the woman’s name to be Becky, although they are not entirely sure of that fact. Even though Pete is responsible for watching Becky, he decides to head back to the vehicle to retrieve the beer he purchased earlier. Both men begin to recall they day they met their friend Douglas Cavill, or Duddits, many years ago.
One day, when all four boys were in junior high, they walk home together from school. There is nothing unusual about the day, and the boys talk about the usual things that junior high boys talk about. However, their talk is interrupted when they hear the heartbreaking sounds of someone crying.
The boys find the source of the crying: a young man who is obviously mentally handicapped and being bullied by some of the students who attend the local high school. One of the bullies is Richie Grenedeau, who had played quarterback for the high school football team, but was allegedly removed from the position due to injury. The boys become angered by the bullying, and resolve to stand up for the young man.
Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver take a stand against Richie Grenedeau and his friends, and the bullies back off. The four boys learn the name of the young man they rescued from the bullying: Douglas Cavill, who is nicknamed Duddits. Duddits is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome and attends a nearby special school. The boys return Duddits to his home and parents, and a friendship is begun. Nearly every day, for the remainder of their school years, the boys accompany Duddits on his walk to and from school, to protect him from the bullies. They also spend time with Duddits, and include him in their activities whenever possible. However, Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver grow up, and become distanced from Duddits, who remains a perpetual child.
The story flashes back to the present. Jonesy and Beaver break down the door to the bathroom, and discover that McCarthy has fallen into the bathtub. McCarthy is now dead, with a large hole in his backside. There also appears to be something living in the toilet that has exited McCarthy. Beaver immediately sits down on the toilet to trap the creature, and Jonesy goes to look for tape in an attempt to contain the creature.
Beaver drops his toothpicks that he has the habit of chewing, especially when stressed. He reaches down to grab them, and this proves to be a fatal mistake. The creature escapes from the toilet, and immediately attacks Beaver.
Jonesy returns to the house and finds Beaver battling a creature resembling a parasite. Beaver loses the battle when the creature attacks and kills him. Jonesy tries to flee, but sees a creature that resembles an alien from a science fiction TV show standing in bathroom, along with the creature that killed Beaver. Jonesy is then possessed by the alien-like creature, and is unable to escape.
In the meantime, Beaver’s surviving friends receive a telepathic signal that Beaver is now dead. These friends include Duddits, who is still living with his mother in Derry, Maine, the boys’ childhood home. Duddits is also terminally ill with leukemia, and is distressed to find out that his friend is now dead.
The story switches to the point of view of two military men, Owen Underhill and Abraham Kurtz. Underhill and Kurtz’s unit has been dispatched to Maine to deal with the alien invasion. We learn that “the grays” are telepathic, and transmit a sort of fungus, that when inhaled by humans, also makes humans telepathic, at least temporarily. Underhill, Kurtz and the rest of the unit do battle with the aliens, even though the aliens claim to surrender.
Henry finally makes it back to Hole in the Wall. There, he discovers the body of his friend Beaver, along with the parasite-like creature that killed Beaver. Henry is forced to battle the creature, which is still alive, and sets fire to the cabin to destroy the creature, along with the eggs it has laid. While he is there, Henry somehow deduces that Pete is now dead (due to a battle with a similar creature) and that something has also happened to Jonesy.
After destroying the cabin, Henry heads back to the site of the vehicle accident. There, he discovers the body of the woman who he almost hit earlier. The woman also appears to have been attacked by the creature. Henry notices that she is covered by a reddish gold fungus, but that the fungus appears to be dying.
Henry decides to attempt to walk back to civilization. As he is walking, he again begins to think of his friend Duddits. However, as he attempts to reach civilization, Henry is accosted by the soldiers that have been dispatched to handle the crisis in Maine.
We learn that the body of Jonesy has been possessed by one of the aliens, whom Jonesy thinks of as Mr. Gray. Jonesy experiences a series of long flashbacks, which include the accident he suffered earlier that year, along with the time he spent in the hospital. Jonesy is able to recover some memories: he remembers that he thought that he saw Duddits that day, and that is why he was not paying attention when he crossed the street, along with the fact that he nearly died in the ambulance. Somehow, Jonesy’s accident relates to why the alien creature is able to take over his body. Mr. Gray is able to kidnap Pete, and force Pete to help him in his mission.
Henry arrives at the base that the military has set up. Kurtz is in charge of the operation, but appears to be mentally unstable. Kurtz tells Underhill of the cover story he will spin in regards to the alien invasion, but really intends to kill all the civilians being held captive at the compound, along with Underhill.
Jonesy, whose body has been stolen by Mr. Gray, steals a vehicle from an unsuspecting driver. Mr. Gray forces the driver to stab himself in the eye, even though he has already hijacked the man’s vehicle. Jonesy attempts to hide all of his memories of Derry and Duddits from Mr. Gray, as he suspects that the alien has a dangerous plan involving Derry.
Jonesy also recalls another incident from his childhood. Shortly after meeting Duddits, Jonesy and the rest of his friends make their first trip to Hole in the Wall, where they accompany Beaver’s father on a hunting expedition. One night, all four boys have the same disturbing dream: they dream that Richie Grenedeau has died in a car accident, and that they were responsible for the death. When the boys awaken, they try to convince themselves it was just a dream, but they are not successful. The boys place a telephone call to Duddits, who is also distressed because he experienced the same dream, which has actually come true. Even then, Jonesy and his friends realize that Duddits has somehow gifted them with the powers of telepathy.
Henry is able to pull Underhill aside, and tells Underhill that Kurtz has something sinister in mind, and begs Underhill to help him and the other civilians. Henry explains to Underhill that the aliens have passed on an organism known as “byrus”, and that there are different strains of the byrus. The worst strain is the one that afflicted McCarthy and his friend Becky, which is the case of symbiosis gone wrong. However, most strains of byrus are harmless, although they do result in the carrier experiencing low-grade telepathy. Henry tells Underhill that he is different, due to his childhood experiences, but that Jonesy is the most different of all four of them, and that is what poses a potential threat. Finally, Underhill agrees to help Henry, so that that Jonesy may be rescued from whatever has taken over his body.
Jonesy continues to struggle for control over his body from Mr. Gray. Finally, he comes to a sort of compromise with Mr. Gray and agrees to help him. Jonesy realizes that Mr. Gray has stolen another truck which contains a passenger: a dog infected with the byrus.
Back in Derry, Duddits has also sensed the death of his friend Pete, which upsets him. However, the next morning, Duddits’ mother Roberta finds him dressed, and demanding his old lunchbox, as if he is awaiting the arrival of his friends, as he had in the days of his childhood.
Henry and Underhill use their telepathic powers to awaken the other civilians, who are asleep in a barn that is part of a makeshift military base. They warn the other civilians of what Kurtz intends to do, and the civilians rebel against Kurtz and his soldiers. Some are killed, but some are able to escape. Henry and Underhill also escape, and head to Derry to meet up with Duddits, who can help them rescue Jonesy.
Underhill and Henry continue on their journey to Derry, stealing a vehicle from some young men. Henry recalls another incidence from his childhood, when he and his friends were able to find a missing girl, with the help of Duddits. Henry realizes that Duddits’ is a dreamcatcher of sorts, due to his telepathic abilities.
Henry then receives a telepathic communication from Jonesy. Jonesy is frightened, and warns Henry that Mr. Gray has something dangerous planned. Henry further realizes that Jonesy’s brain is different due to his accident and near death experience, which has allowed Mr. Gray to take over his body. Mr. Gray continues to behave erratically, murdering a state trooper.
Kurtz has discovered that Underhill is AWOL, and begins to look for him. Kurtz contacts Underhill on the radio to attempt to persuade him to abandon his mission with Henry, but Underhill refuses.
With the help of Duddits, Jonesy is able to trick Mr. Gray into consuming raw bacon, which makes him ill, buying more time for Henry, Underhill and Duddits. Mr. Gray continues his journey to Boston, where he plans on unleashing the byrus into the water supply, by using the infected dog as a vessel.
Eventually, Mr. Gray abandons the vehicle he is driving, and attempts to use the dog to contaminate the water supply in Boston. However, with the help of Duddits and Henry, Mr. Gray is defeated, and Jonesy is in possession of his body again. Duddits pays dearly for his efforts, dying shortly afterwards. Before he dies, Duddits tells Henry that he loves him.
In the meantime, Underhill shoots the weasel-like creature that emerges from the dog, killing it. Underhill is then shot by Kurtz, who has caught up to Henry and his friends. Henry then defeats the Kurtz and the remaining soldiers, rescuing Jonesy from certain death.
Several months later, Henry is visiting Jonesy at Jonesy’s summer cottage. Both men have recovered from their ordeal, physically at least. Duddits’ mother grieves the loss of her son but has moved on with her life. The men muse about their experience, even though they feel lucky to have survived it, along with wondering when the planet will again be visited by extraterrestrial beings.
Ok, let me get one thing out of my system…
Actually, I probably don’t want to get this one one thing out of my system, since that means certain death, along with the WORST FLATULENCE EVER!
In case you haven’t figured it out, I am referring to the shit weasels.
(In case you can’t tell, I had to work the “shit weasels” into the title of this review. It just wouldn’t be right other wise. You’re welcome!)
Shit weasels. How much more eloquent can you get? Where on Earth (or is it in Hell?) does The Master come with up with this stuff?
King has said that he is not too proud to go for the gross out. And we are reminded this in Dreamcatcher. Again and again, we are reminded.
While I am not that much of a fan of the gross-out in the horror story, it does have its place. Mostly, the gross out is funny. And Dreamcatcher is also a book with a lot of funny.
And the shit weasels are just one of the funny things in Dreamcatcher. I know that King was on LOTS of drugs when he wrote this one (more on that later), so often I wonder if one of the side effects of those drugs were “Caution: taking this and writing a novel about aliens will likely make the user write about farts, burps and other bodily functions not discussed in polite society?”
Speaking of funny, let’s talk about the Beave for a moment…
Beaver isn’t described as being particularly attractive, at least in the physical sense. But when I evaluate my book boyfriends, I try not to be so superficial, you know? Otherwise, I might miss out on a really great romance!
Yes, Beaver is the man in this book. He is killed off pretty quickly, but still manages to make quite the impression.
First off, Beaver is funny. Any book boyfriend of mine must have a sense of humor. That is a prerequisite for all of my literary relationships, no exceptions.
And Beaver does have quite the sense of humor. And he’s not afraid to sprinkle
a copious a fair amount of profanity to get his point across. “Kiss my bender.” “Fuck me Freddy.” “Fuck-a-row.” “Fuck-a-ree.” All Beaver-isms. And I unabashedly use them as part of my vocabulary. After all, there is nothing like a good swear fest, Beaver style, after a frustrating day at work. Or sitting in traffic. Or standing in line at a crowded restaurant. Or sitting. Or standing…well, you get the point!
But perhaps, most importantly, Beaver has a good heart. There was truly a beautiful soul behind the glasses and the potty mouth that would make a drunk sailor blush. He stood up for someone who was helpless and being bullied. And he comforted that someone by singing him a lullaby…swoon!
I think that’s when Beaver had my heart: after he rescued Duddits (with the help of his friends) and sung to him. And “fit neek” (fixed Duddie’s sneaker, in case your Duddits-to-English dictionary is not working.)
My only complaint about Beaver is that he left so fast…damn you, errant toothpicks and shit weasels that can’t stay in the toilet like a good shit weasel!
I also loved the not so subtle jab at Dubbya, aka Okefenokee. The description of Okefenokee and his actions after the alien invasion of Maine was eerily similar to what happened right after 9/11. I know that this book was written before the 9/11 tragedy, but The Master’s description of The Leader (well, the leader at time, anyway) was so close to what happened after 9/11, it made me wonder if all those painkillers had perhaps given him some kind of clairvoyance…hey, anything is possible, right?
As stated before, Dreamcatcher was the first book that King wrote after his vehicle accident.
And it shows…
Not that this a bad thing. Dreamcatcher is still an enjoyable book. But, it gets a bit un-wieldly in spots. It’s almost as if the painkillers took over in those spots. And the painkillers do not have an eighth of the talent possessed by The Master!
I did think that this book dragged at parts, especially in the “present day” setting. And the ending was a bit anti-climactic. Really, the best the alien could come up with was to use a dog to contaminate the water supply? And that alien seems like he kind of sucked at being an alien, since Jonesy and Henry were able to defeat it so quickly, practically with their eyes closed…
However, this book was saved by the good parts. One of these parts was the flashbacks to the boys’ childhood.
I loved the description of the friendship between the four (later to be five boys). The way King described, I felt like I was right there, in the thick of it. Even the mundane details, like how the boys get out of school one fateful afternoon, and are eager to catch a glimpse of *a kitty cat*, aka female nether regions. That made me laugh, and it brought me back to my own childhood, when things seemed to be so much simpler.
Speaking of nostalgia, part of Dreamcatcher is set in Derry.
Yes, that would be the same Derry that boasts a homicidal clown as a tourist attraction. The same Derry where a bad ass man named Ralph Roberts saved the universe single handed-ly, but did not even receive a lousy t-shirt. That Derry!
I loved how King was able to work in elements of his books set in Derry (It, mainly) but was still able to tell an entirely new story.
Dreamcatcher and It are similar tales, at least on the surface: both deal with friendship, small towns and bullying. However, that is about all the two books have in common. In one, the friendship is formed because an outside force uses the children (and later the adults) to defeat an evil monster. In the other, the friends are drawn together first, because they have common interests and so forth, and then later used to defeat evil (Richie Grenedeau as children, alien invaders as adults.) In Dreamcatcher, the friendship really is lifelong, unlike in It, where the friendship is so brief and only serves the purpose of defeating Pennywise the Clown.
In Dreamcatcher, the threat of Pennywise the Clown never really seems to be far away. Henry and his friends may not have had the misfortune of being children during one of the “cycles”, but Pennywise and the town of Derry were a constant presence in this book. I loved the references to the missing children in Derry, and how it was a bigger problem in Derry than most other places. I also loved Jonesy’s recollection of the big storm in 1985. As any King fan knows, that was the year that the Losers Club laid waste to Pennywise (maybe.) It was such a funny feeling to get the perspective of someone who was not involved in that battle, but was still a part of Derry.
Oh, and “Pennywise Lives.” Did anyone else shudder when Jonesy found that graffiti, or was that just me? Someone in Derry has a sick sense of humor! Or there is the alternative: Pennywise really does live! Both of these are pretty scary, actually.
And before I wrap this review up, let’s give someone his due…
Yes, that someone would be Duddits. And I cannot give enough accolades to poor Duddits.
There was so much to love about Duddits in this book.
First of all, there was Duddits himself. I have a friend who refer’s to those with Down’s Syndrome as beautiful souls, and she could not be more right in that statement. Like Henry, Jonesy, Pete and Beaver, I felt that all was right in the world when Duddits showed up on the page. How could anyone not be happy when he/she was in the presence of Duddits? Just reading about Duddits made my day much better.
It is no secret that King writes about man’s inhumanity to man. Books such as It, Under the Dome, Hearts in Atlantis and even the Dark Tower series are filled with examples of this.
So, the uninitiated may be surprised to learn that King is equally adept at writing about the opposite: his characters can also treat each other wonderfully, and go above and beyond in the name love and friendship.
Duddits and his friendship with Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete is a prime example of King’s ability to write about the good that some are capable of.
Very early on in the book, we get a glimpse of a good deed: four adolescent boys do an extremely brave thing and stand up to the neighborhood bully on behalf of someone who appears to be much weaker. This is not something we would think of most adolescents as capable of, not even Henry and his friends. After all, before the encounter with Richie Grenedeau, Henry and his friends are focused on viewing certain parts of the female anatomy, not confronting a bully who turns out to be a coward. But just like that, the tone of the story changes, and I knew that these guys were something special.
And I was right: all five were something special. The boys continue their friendship with Duddits. In junior high and high school, all that matters to most is fitting in and peer acceptance. However, the friendship with Duddits transcends those barriers, and enriches the life of Duddits, who experiences something he was previously lacking in his life: acceptance. Henry, Beaver, Pete and Jonesy all have their lives enriched by the friendship with Duddits as well, referring to Duddits as their “finest hour.” Their friendship with Duddits is the glue that holds them together even into adulthood, when most childhood friendships slowly fade away.
Even in adulthood, Duddits is still…well, Duddits. The others grew up and moved on, but Duddits remained a child. However, Henry is able to pick up right where he left off, so to speak, and the old bond is renewed. In fact, Duddits is overjoyed to reunite with Henry and have one last adventure with him, while Henry is overcome with guilt for not staying in touch. But that doesn’t matter to Duddits, as Duddits does not think in those terms and seems to be incapable of anger or resentment.
Duddits is truly the hero of the book. He makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to help his friends one last time. He saves the lives of his friends Jonesy and Henry, along with (potentially) the lives of thousands of others. And there is no resentment or anger. Only love. After all, that is what drives a hero: love.
So that’s it for Dreamcatcher. Join me next month as we take a trip next door…well, maybe not literally next door, but to a world nearby on The Tower when I review and dissect The Eyes of the Dragon!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like all of King’s books, Dreamcatcher is set squarely in the King universe. Here are some of the connections I noticed:
-The most obvious connection is the fact that Dreamcatcher is set in the town of Derry. Derry is central to several King novels, including It, Bag of Bones, 11/22/63 and Insomnia.
-Jonesy finds graffiti on a statue stating “Pennywise lives.” Pennywise the Clown was the monster faced by the Losers Club in the novel It, and was supposedly defeated in 1985.
-The storm of 1985 is mentioned. This storm took place when the Losers Club faced the monster It in final battle.
-Jonesey’s mind trick to escape Mr. Gray after Mr. Gray takes over his body is somewhat similar to Susannah’s method of dealing with the entity Mia in The Song of Susannah.
-Duddits possesses PSI abilities. Several novels and short stories deal with this topic and contain characters who possess these abilities, including Carrie, Low Men in Yellow Coats (of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Everything’s Eventual (part of a collection of the same name), Firestarter and the Dark Tower series.
-A sign is seen for the town of Jerusalem’s Lot. This is the location for the novel ‘Salem’s Lot.
–Shawshank State Prison is mentioned. This is the main setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which is part of the collection Different Seasons.
-Duddits is somewhat similar to the characters Tom Cullen (The Stand) and Sheemie (Wizard and Glass), in that he suffers from a mental “handicap” but also possesses extraordinary abilities.
–Dreamcatcher is not the only novel featuring extraterrestrial visitors. Tommyknockers and Under the Dome also deal with this topic.