Hard to believe that I've been reading Stephen King for twenty-five years, but there it is. I started with "Pet Sematary" and have read 90% of what he's written since. Does that make me a King "expert"? A dubious distinction . . .
Characterization is King's strong suit. Horror or fantasy or straight fiction -- it doesn't matter. His characters stick with you. King's ability to make us identify with his stock every-day-sort-of-guy main character represents his greatest strength as a writer. You'll like Freemantle and Wireman. You could have a beer with them. (You'll recognize Freemantle from Mike Noonan in "Bag of bones." Twins separated at birth, maybe?)
You'll also recognize King's typical build-up. Normal guy in unusual circumstances finds himself confronted with ambiguous monster out to get him (and his family) for unknown reasons. The foreplay is always more exciting that the actual act. Just like in "Dreamcatcher", King has trouble in this book moving from the heavily foreshadowed bogeyman to the real-life campaign to kill it. (Where do his monsters ever come from anyway? Do they ever have a history?) The exposition is quality, like something out of "The Stand" or "Hearts in Atlantis", but the ending melts into cheesiness, like a chapter from "Salem's Lot."
As an English teacher, I have a running row with my colleagues about whether or not King writes literature or trash. My argument has always been that he writes both. Most people don't realize that he's behind "The Shawshank Redemption" or "Stand by Me", or that his story "The Man in Black" won 1st place a few years back in "The Best American Short Story." (Ok, maybe that was a marketing ploy. But any guy who churns out a book a year, at least, is using the "win sometimes lose sometimes" strategy.) In this book he wins and loses. Great characterization and build up, unsatisfying hackneyed ending.
The details about this book are that the narrator's voice is straight out of a Chandler novel -- perfect for this part. The story is interesting but tested my ability to suspend my disbelief. Look at it as a work of philosophy; in that respect it holds its own. As a novel . . .well, I just couldn't care about any of the characters -- too little development and too little to be sympathetic about, unlike Fight Club where I liked the characters and the message. The dialogue and diction are witty enough, but if you want to read prose of reading prose's sake, get something from Tom Robbins like Half Asleep or Fierce Invalids. Overall, ok, but by the end, I was wishing for a culling song to use on myself.
While this book is definitely meant to be a page turner, it's not a mindless one. The theories that Crichton uses as his premise are fascinating in themselves, and although (as he says in the epilogue) we're still a long way from actually applying them, the plot is close enough to what "might someday be" to make it exciting. The characters are fairly well developed, and the suspense is well-played. I listened to the book in the car on the way to work, and I got so wrapped up in it that I missed my exit on a couple of occasions. This one should definitely be on everyone's list.
I suffered through this book. I think these guys made it up as they went along. Terrible plot and absolutely no character development. Don't waste your time and money on this one.
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