I discovered Stephen King the summer I was 13 years old. I remember reading "The Shining" (1976), "'Salem's Lot" (1975), "Carrie" (1974), and "Night Shift" (1977) over a hot and humid week. When the weather broke one night with a spectacular summer thunderstorm, I woke up screaming, convinced that a long-dead priest was in my room.
Carrietta White and Danny Torrance psychic abilities - their shines - fascinated me. Wouldn't it be fun to make the tight Jordache jeans the tall blonde who was "going with" the boy I had a crush, on split the bottom of her jeans wide open, just as she tossed her perfectly feathered Farrah Fawcett hair? But Margaret White, Carrie's mother was a religious zealot; and Jack Torrance, Danny's father, was a raging alcoholic. Carrie and Danny didn't use their shine for fun, they used it because the people who loved them were murderous. Only Danny survived his childhood.
In 2001, about the time Danny is learning to become sober, Abra Stone is born into a family with two (mostly) normal parents and an adoring great grandmother. Abra shines, and shines brightly. Her parents realize it, and take an approach to the situation Andrew Solomon (Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, 2012) would approve of: they have a pediatrician observe her, confirm what they know - and love and support her.
Danny has a great evil to fight - alcoholism. He started drinking at 13. It dulls his shine, and considering what he does for a living - he's an orderly at hospices, and he helps people pass on, who could blame him? But, as any alcoholic knows, Danny drinks because he is a drunk. King has been sober for 26 years, and writes about Alcoholics Anonymous - 'the program' - with the passion, clear head, and understanding of someone who knows the program far deeper than being able to recite the Serenity Prayer from memory. King's description of Danny's longing for a drink at a dive bar with neon lights advertising $2 pitchers was so vivid, in one of the most narratively tense parts of Doctor Sleep, I found myself thinking, "Don't do it Danny, don't do it!"
Danny and Abra have another, prescient and cannabalistic evil to fight - Rose the Hat and "The True Knot," a band of seemingly ordinary people criss-crossing the United States in those spectacularly expensive RVs you sometimes see on long drives on the 10 West, heading into Arizona; or parked in a Walmart lot, easily taking up a dozen parking places. The people in them look normal - even dull - but . . . and Rose and the True Knot are very, very old - because they take something from children with the shine.
Would I have enjoyed Doctor Sleep as much as I did if I hadn't read "The Shining," or for that matter, "Carrie"? I think I might have liked it even more, because I would have been truly surprised by the Overlook Hotel/Lodge - and frightened by the ghosts, maybe as I was that long ago summer.
I'm giving the audio a 4, not because Will Patton isn't a fantastic narrator - he is. He's got the characters to a t. When he was Dick Hallorann, I actually saw Scatman Crothers from the 1980 movie "The Shining" in my mind. However, there's a small portion of the narrative that is difficult to follow as an audio book. It sorts itself out eventually, but that's why I knocked a point off.
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There was something unique about the publication of Stephen King's 2014 "Mr. Mercedes". There wasn't a whole lot of publicity when it came out. Teasers didn't show up on my Facebook and Twitter feed, as they had for King's 2013 charmer, "Joyland." There was an unfortunately coincidence that warranted the silence.
I purchased the Audible "Mr. Mercedes" without reading the Publisher's Summary, so I could enjoy the surprise of knowing I would almost certainly like it, since it was King - but not knowing the genre or story before I listened. Was it Sci-Fi, like "The Tommyknockers" (1987)? A coming-of-age story, like the 1982 novella, "The Body: Fall from Innocence", which was adapted into Rob Reiner's 1986 "Stand by Me"? Of was it horror/supernatural, like - well, most of his books?
"Mr. Mercedes" turned out to be fan fiction - a modern tribute to Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade ("The Maltese Falcon" (1929) etc.) mixed in with the brilliant, quirky women who intrigue Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe ("The Big Sleep" (1939), etc.). There's also a hint of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch ("Blood Work", 1998").
King's making a nod to nearly a century of hard-boiled detective fiction, and it's a fedora wearing trip to ethically challenged but morally pure shamuses.
King introduces retired detective Bill Hodges, who is eating himself to death in his La-Z-Boy, but if that doesn't work, has a .38 at the ready. Hodges is pulled out of retirement by an unsolved mass murder. Hodges' Watson is a deep voiced 17 year old Jerome Robinson, a brilliant, fearless young man from the most all-American family ever who has an uncanny knack for filling in Hodges' thoughts and seeing danger.
Unfortunately. there were some plot holes big enough to drive a Mercedes - or maybe even a Hummer - through. I enjoyed the book - especially the dialogue - but King's usually a tighter writer. That's why the 3 on the story.
Now for the reason this book was probably rolled out with such little fanfare: Brady Hartsfield, King's imagined serial/mass killer. Hartsfield's sad lack of friends - he has just one, a co-worker who probably has no idea she is his only friend; his social awkwardness; his twisted sexuality; and his hatred of almost everyone, especially minorities, is eerily close to real life mass murderer Elliott Rodgers. Rodgers killed 6 people and injured 13 in Isla Vista, CA, on May 23, 2014, and then killed himself. Rodgers' "My Twisted Life" (2014) is essentially a 141-page suicide note, explaining why Rodgers was going to slaughter as many women as he could - and it isn't so far from what the fictional Hartsfield intended to do. "Mr. Mercedes" was released just 10 days later. It had to have been finished long before Rodgers' rampage - but the timing was truly unfortunate.
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In 2000, I had a Palm III, a handheld computer a little larger and heavier than today's iPhone 5. It had a stylus a special way to synchronize and write, and (available for separate purchase) a camera and a keyboard. It also had the world's first mass-market ebook, Stephen King's "Riding the Bullet". The eerily floating gray-green words on a black screen; sentences and paragraphs scrolling automatically at my exact reading speed; and a late evening with the lights off and a glass of good red wine made that novella mean more to me than it ever did on actual paper.
"A Good Marriage" was originally published in Stephen King's 2010 novella collection, "Full Dark, No Stars". The book sold well - all of King's books do - but I thought the stories were lackluster, or tried too hard to shock, or both. When I finished the read, I put the hardback on my bookshelf, and so thoroughly forgot it I didn't remember reading about the 27 year marriage of Darcy and Bob Anderson when I clicked "purchase" on Audible.
The turned out to be a fortunate mistake. "A Good Marriage" (2014 Audible copyright) works very well as an audio narration because of the excellent performance by Jessica Hecht. Hecht becomes the credulous, complacent and self-satisfied Darcy who literally stumbles across her husband Bob's secret. Hecht's about the same age as the fictional homemaker, and plays the sweet, even tempered woman unwittingly married to a man who bears a physical and avocational resemblance to Dennis Rader, the BTK killer. King imagines an answer to a question we've all asked, "Did Paula Rader know? Did Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway's wives Marcia or Judith know? Did they?"
Hecht's performance makes a so-so story chilling and memorable, just as delivering "Riding the Bullet" electronically made that story frightening and unforgettable.
The Audible release must be timed to coincide with the October 3, 2014 release of the film adaptation of "A Good Marriage" starring Anthony LaPaglia and Joan Allen. I haven't seen it, so I don't know how the movie compares to the book compares to the Audible.
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