Everything. The story was pure formula -- Good versus Evil on a comic-book-superhero level. The ending was a foregone conclusion. Good triumphs over Evil, what a colossal bore.
Also, at one point one of the two principal "Good" characters goes way out of her way to do something ridiculously stupid, without any motivation, obviously just to serve the plot. I guess at least King plays fair when it comes to jerking his characters around like marionettes to serve the plot, though, because later the principal "Bad" character similarly makes a series of unbelievably stupid, dense and unmotivated decisions, apparently for the sole purpose of letting Good triumph over Evil.
Even with the principal "Bad" character playing into the hands of the "Good" characters at every turn (at least in the last 1/3 of the novel), King *still* feels the need to resort to *two* dei ex machina to allow the "Good Guys" to win. First, he trots out one of the most evil, sadistic, corrupt and venal "ghostie people" (uh, you mean "ghosts"?) from "The Shining," and has him, for no logical or any other reason, turn Nice and help out the Good Guys. Talking about the other deus ex machina would probably constitute a spoiler (for those who might for some strange reason care about the plot), so I won't discuss that one.
None of the characters seemed like real flesh and blood -- they were just "Good Guys" or "Bad Guys." I therefore couldn't have cared less about any of them.
Worst of all? Not scary. Not even a momentary tinge of creepiness.
I can't believe the same guy who wrote "Dolores Claiborne," "N," "1922" "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" and "Pet Sematary" wrote this drivel. (In fact, I wonder if King has an army of "ghostie-people writers" working for him now. Either that, or he's already written everything he has to say and now he's just churning out soulless, meaningless words for some reason, maybe just out of habit.) I was never a fan of "The Shining" (not scary), but it wasn't awful, and this worthless piece of hack writing cheapens "The Shining" by association, diluting the impact of its "brand," to use the current business-speak cliche.
Also, in King's afterward, he says that over the years he often thought about "what happened" to Wendy, Danny and Dick Hallorann after the end of "The Shining," and that this book was his exploration of that. That's fine as far as Dan and Hallorann go, but pretty much nothing at all "happens" to Wendy. Oh, well, she was just a Wife 'n' Mom character, who cares about her.
Written something vital and original, not a color-by-numbers exercise that only pays lip service to the notion of "telling a story." If I hadn't needed something to listen to while stuffing the dishwasher or going to the gym, I would've put the book down after the first chapter.
OMG, please excuse me while I howl in pain a moment. ... Okay. It was overwrought from start to finish. Whenever Patton thought he was getting to an even slightly exciting or scary bit, he would descend into this hyper-dramatic, emotionalistic whisper and overemphasize every important (to him) word. It was as if he were reaching through the mike, grabbing the reader by the throat and screaming, "It's scary and exciting, dammit, don't you get it?!" He also has an unfortunate way of speaking (*not* a Southern accent -- a lisp, slight speech impediment, affectation or something like that) that makes him sound unintelligent.
It wasn't quite as bad as "It," "Bag of Bones" or the utterly contemptible "Lisey's Story."
King desperately needs an editor. One who will not only prevent him from running on and on after the climax has ended (as he does here and in every post-2000 book of his I've read), but to tell him when there's a major problem in the very conception of the book. It seems he's been surrounded by nothing "Yes people" for the past 30 years. Too Big To Be Edited. It's done him no favors.
I don't understand why other commenters have criticized this book as "dry," "boring," and "too academic," or found the narration "droning" or soporific. Stonehenge boring? An up-to-date (well, 2009 anyway) analysis of how it was constructed, as well as its likely purpose and meaning to the Neolithic community that built it, presented by an expert in the field?
How about a re-evaluation of the stunning cave paintings at Lascaux, and elsewhere in France, Spain, Italy, and a narrow band eastward through the Balkans to Siberia as a "localized" event that doesn't mark a new stage in human cultural evolution because it wasn't universal enough (like the development of farming that's generally accepted as marking the shift from Paleolithic to Neolithic, and which took place on a near-global basis)? And the theory that archaeologists have attached more significance to these cave paintings than was warranted simply because they were discovered early and were rendered with artistic sophistication?
I thought the book was perfectly pitched for a college-educated layperson, and that if it would be "boring" for anyone, it would be for another archaeologist, or even a grad student or upperclassman majoring in archaeology. I appreciated having my memory refreshed on the details of carbon dating, but I'm sure anyone specializing in the field would've skipped over that part as too basic.
My only suggestions are (1) Renfrew should write an update in a new Foreword or Preface incorporating the current debate relating to whether DNA analysis shows (as asserted by Svante Paabo and his team) that all modern-day humans except for sub-Saharan Africans carry small percentages of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in their genomes, (2) Renfrew should reconsider the global breadth of the book, which I think stretches him and the material too thin, and focus instead on Europe, the Middle East and Mesoamerica (which appear to be his areas of greatest expertise), while leaving South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East for others, or a later companion book, and (3) audible should include a pdf booklet containing the tables, charts, maps and/or any other graphic information that audio narration fails to cover. Otherwise, it shouldn't call this an "unabridged" edition.
As for the narration, if was nicely modulated across both pitch and emotion. If you enjoyed listening to someone like Alistair Cooke introducing Masterpiece Theatre, and don't harbor any vague political objections to Brits speaking with Received Pronunciation, then I think you'll enjoy Robert Ian MacKenzie's narration as well. I found it pretty much transparent, which is how I like my narrations (translations, too, and for that matter writing itself). A good narrator lets the text speak for itself, and doesn't gum it up by over-dramaticizing or chewing the scenery, just as the best writers (fiction or nonfiction) communicate ideas as succinctly and simply as possible, without gumming up the works with florid prose, "style" or jargon.
Overall, as a layperson who wanted to research prehistoric Britain for a project I'm working on, I learned a lot of fascinating stuff in an extremely easy and pleasant manner. The book made an excellent traveling companion on long drives, making the time pass quickly -- same with doing everything from running to stuffing the dishwasher. I'll look for other books by Colin Renfrew, and would be pleased to read anything Robert Ian MacKenzie has narrated.
I considered asking for my money back, because the ending turned into formulaic dreck. It was nothing more than "Snidely Whiplash ties Nell to the railroad tracks, & Dudley Doright comes to save her." Plus, King had telegraphed the end of the main plot by the middle of the 2d chapter, & I hate when a book's ending is predictable from such an early point. But then I figured that the book *had* (in its 3d quarter or so), delivered 2-3 good chills, so it wasn't *entirely* worthless.
The beginning (childhood) section was also well-written and pulled you along (in classic King fashion) like a fish caught on a taut fishing line. Even though I wasn't sure if we were going to "go supernatural," I thought it was well written -- really top-notch King. I've found all his recent fiction (since about 2000, with the exception of "1408") to be deeply flawed to downright terrible, & I knew this one had gotten bad reader reviews. The promising opening, however, made me dare to hope that this time I'd be pleasantly surprised.
But then we got to the long "teenage-to-mid-30s" section, the whole thing (particularly the romance with a certain girl, let's call her "The Girl" bc that's all her character amounted to) was conflict-free, not scary, totally non-supernatural and utterly BORING. He could've handled the entire Girl subplot in 2 paragraphs. (*SPOILER ALERT* All he had to do was establish she was Jamie's first love, that they had sex in the cabin on Goat Mountain during a storm and saw lightning strike the nearby lightning rod. I also disliked that the *only* way The Girl functioned in the plot was as a damsel in distress. *END SPOILER ALERT*)
Then, when King finally made it clear that this story *did* include a supernatural element, I suddenly realized, Hey, Steve, couldn't you have given us a little FORESHADOWING? That would've made the whole "teenage-to-mid-30s" section a little less excruciatingly DULL. Just an early hint of the supernatural and creepy stuff to come, like maybe one of those HP Lovecraft, MR James, WW Jacobs, or Arthur Machen allusions you love to drop.
I also disliked the way King seemed to have put a great deal of care, talent (his *considerable* talent) and attention into the "childhood" section of the book, as well as establishing a solid, step-by-step structure for the plot (a structure that would touch on the title in several ways, recall the work of Mary Shelley & the other writers noted above, and ultimately connect up almost all of the details of the opening with details at the end), introducing moral ambiguity, and creating deep, nuanced characterizations, and then he just *trashed* the whole thing by turning it into a comic book of Hero/Villain/Damsel-in-Distress.
It was as if he'd lost interest in the story & characters, didn't care about his creation (or his readers) and just slapped on "any old thing" for the ending. It struck me as cynical, something that manifested a lack of respect for his creation (and, again, readers).
He messed up the excellent structure at the end by going on and on with another one of his interminable "codas." He left in several plot holes and gaps in the logic. For example, Jamie turns out to have two reasons to help the Rev. Jacobs, so why did Jacobs go to all that trouble giving him the first one? No one mentions obvious things like informed consent or law suits, & at the end Jamie is just as bad as the Rev. when it comes to informed consent.
The goriness of a certain key event turned out to be extraneous. I have nothing against gore, but I do have something against extraneous stuff in fiction.
Last, and most important: Not scary. It was creepy a few times, and in the 3d quarter built some dread, but the ending was extremely disappointing in the scariness department. There was no pay-off on the dread. He made the ending "horror" too tangible, for one thing. Once you make The Unknown perceptible, no matter how Satanic, insectile or blood-dripping it is, you always deprive it of power.
Probably. I loved Pet Sematary, Dolores Claiborne, Desperation, "N," "1922," "The Boogeyman" "The Mangler," "Home Birth" and "1408," liked most of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and "In the Tall Grass," and I'll probably keep hoping (foolishly, and in vain) that he'll write something halfway decent again. I guess I consider King "hit or miss," so I'm willing to roll the dice.
The performance was great. It was pretty much transparent, which is the way I like my narrations. If it gets in the way, it will irritate me. If it's good, I'll hardly notice it.
The Girl! Also Jenny Knowlton and Mary Fay (who seems to be a stand-in for The Girl, bc King was too cowardly to "go there" and pulled a punch that the plot demanded).
(1) King seems really uncomfortable with gay people, both male and female in this book and some of his others. In every piece of King fiction I've read that's included a lesbian, she *always* sleeps with at least one guy. And in this book, there are several gay characters and they're *all* closeted, even though it was way back in the 1980s that the HIV epidemic impelled gay people out on the streets to demonstrate, same-sex marriage dates back to the late '90s, and the story ends up in 2014.
(2) Loose ends. (*SPOILER ALERT* For example, the alcohol rumored to be on one character's breath: was that true? And did Rev. Jacobs in some way cause that key early event? We never find out. *END SPOILER ALERT*) He also introduced Jenny Knowlton and Mary Fay way too late in the game, & in a way that leaves other characters hanging there, useless. Way too many characters, in fact. He messed up the solid spine of the structure by adding character after character as we go along.
Definitely one of my favorites. Stephen King's "Dolores Claiborne" is hard to beat as a literary tour de force, but this one really made me *feel* something, quite apart from the horror and suspense. It caught the idyllic and unique beauty of this time, place, and the people inhabiting it -- this world -- which made you feel the loss like a physical blow when someone destroyed it all.
And, as mentioned in the Afterward, the loss resonates with the loss we all experience when we hit adulthood, and the world of our childhoods starts to be inexorably dismantled, plank by plank.I'm really glad I gave it chance, even though the premise -- oh, not the Evil Twin thing again, ho-hum -- struck me as a cliche, and one not particularly interesting to me. I thought it was going to be "The Bad Seed," Brian De Palma's "Sisters" and King's "Dark Half" all rolled up in a packet with a pretty bow.
And I'm glad I gave it a chance -- and thoroughly enjoyed the story -- even though I did see some aspects of the plot twists coming. But a friend had told me he thought I'd really like it, and I'm glad I took his advice. I look forward now to reading some of Tryon's other novels, at least "Harvest Home" and "Lady."
Also, I grew up in Connecticut, and I can also attest that Tryon captured the place perfectly, unlike, say, Rick Moody's horrid, meretricious "Ice Storm," which gets Connecticut, and specifically Fairfield County, all wrong from top to bottom. (As if it were Marin County, on the wrong coast entirely.) Parts of CT are still the same as they were in the 1934 setting of this book, while of course much of it is gone, all gone, subdivided and turned into big-box stores, McMansions and strip malls.
The atmosphere. The haunted feeling it left me with.
Actually, it rather irritated me in the beginning, although part of that was also due to the narrative style, which especially in the prologue and first few chapters was far too mannered for my taste, riddled as it was with asides, exclamations, direct address and a kind of breathless syntax. I also thought it was going to be very dated. But by the fourth or fifth chapter, both the narration and Dufris's performance settled down into a more transparent form of storytelling, and seemed to gain a more natural rhythm. What had seemed dated turned instead into a period piece. Then I found Dufris's performance to be just right, expressive without emoting.
I don't want to create spoilers, so I'll be vague. The scenes with the mother after an incident on the stairs were so heartbreaking they almost made me squirm with discomfort. And then there were the truly horrific parts. The bit with the wine cask. The bit with the coffin. The bit with the "changeling" doll lamp.
Stick with it! It definitely rewards the effort. One of those books that you'll keep thinking about, reinterpreting events that occurred in the beginning, and discovering multiple ways to interpret the story. It's also structurally brilliant, and shows a great deal of artistic control. A total mastery of the story. I might even read it again, just to see how he manages his sleight of hand at each step.
Also, to the reader who couldn't deal with the cruelty to animals -- come on, it's fiction! It's not even a movie; it's words on a page! It's not as if any animals were actually "hurt in the making of this book," etc. I'm about as tenderhearted as they come when it comes to animals. I "rescue" daddy long legs, lady bugs, flies and spiders that get stuck in our house; I adore my tuffy fish/red rosy minnows, which are considered (ouch!) "bait" by many. And forget about it when it comes to dogs, cats, guinea pigs, wild birds (especially hummingbirds! bluebirds! owls!) and all the wildlife in our yard and woods (beaver, skunks, foxes, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, possums, coyotes, even a bobcat). But the whole *point* of the animal cruelty was that the person inflicting it was a psychopath and a monster. The incident with the animal rather effectively, dramatically and immediately got that point across. It nailed the characterization right there. In any event, the cruelties inflicted on the humans in the story end up being far worse, or at least the suffering far more long-lasting.
That it was continually surprising. It starts out almost like a Hardy Boys novel, with four young people and a college professor equipping themselves with flashlights, hardhats, etc., to go exploring inside an abandoned and dilapidated once-grand hotel in Asbury Park. But it turns into anything but -- and then it turns again, and again. Very inventive plot, with no dei ex machina and only a few elements that stretch credulity. I also really appreciated how -- unlike most thrillers -- it avoided being formulaic.
SPOILER ALERT: I liked the three guys from "Joisey." They weren't exactly nice or anything, but they were well-drawn, and acted with perfect logic in accord with their own agendas and characters. Also liked Amanda because of the way she kicked butt.
Not sure he made it that different from reading it would be, but to me that's a good thing. I like an unobtrusive narrator, who doesn't use an overly dramatic voice for the scary bits or thrills, and who doesn't overdo the differences in the characters's various speaking styles. Someone who allows you to approximate the experience of reading the book in print. (I prefer to read in print, but if I limited myself to print books, I'd only have time to do a small fraction of the reading I do via audiobook.) I like how he performed the Professor's voice -- it was well-distinguished from the others' and fit the character perfectly.
I dunno ... tag lines ain't my specialty. Off the top of my head: "Creeping through abandoned buildings at night ... Don't do it alone!"
I really wish there had been a lot more about the history of Asbury Park, and less emphasis on the fictional story and the thrill-a-minute/cliffhanging stuff. I had previously read Morrell's "Murder as a Fine Art," in which Thomas de Quincy becomes both a suspect and a sleuth with regard to a series of gruesome murders, and I think Morrell got the balance right in that book between the "history lessons" (about 19th C London, a series of 1811 murders known as the Ratcliff Highway murders, and 19th C police procedure as well as De Quincey) and the suspense/mystery/thrills. I had expected that "Creepers" would similarly get into all the gritty details of Asbury Park's history, but it was more of a quick survey course in the beginning.
But otherwise, a great story, nice narration -- highly recommended.
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