No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013/38: Desperation -- Stephen King

doing never once in the world stopped dying ... not even kids were exempted from the horrorshow that roared on and on behind the peppermint sitcom fa├žade your parents believed in and wanted you to believe in. [loc. 2168]

A drawback to Kindle reading: if I'd realised Desperation was ~750 (paper) pages long, I probably wouldn't have started reading it when I did. (But once I'd started, I was drawn in.)

An advantage to Kindle reading: at least I didn't strain my wrists :)

Desperation, Nevada, is an isolated mining town with a small population. Collie Entragian, Desperation's surviving police officer, is in the process of reducing that population still further, though he does also round up some random travellers and take them to the Desperation Municipal Building. Or kill them. Not necessarily in that order.

The first viewpoint character in Desperation survives for a single chapter. Some of the others last a lot longer. There's Johnny Marinville, an acclaimed writer who may have run dry, touring the country on a Harley; Steve Ames, Johnny's assistant, who's following Johnny at a distance of no less than seventy-five miles, on the lookout for trouble; Cynthia, a hitch-hiker picked up by Steve; the Carver family, Ralph and Ellen and their son David, 12, who has a special relationship with God; Tom Billingsley, an alcoholic veterinary surgeon; poet Mary Jackson ...

King's characterisation is good, though occasionally heavy-handed (how many times did Johnny need flashbacks to his rock'n'roll lifestyle?) and each individual has a distinct narrative voice. However, the current events they're narrating are rather less diverse. There is clearly something badly wrong with Entragian (when asked about police presence in 'a little place like this', he smiles and says 'there were two others ...but I killed them.' [loc 813]) and it quickly becomes clear that Weird Stuff is going on. Could it be something to do with the old China Mine, where -- local legend has it -- a number of miners were buried alive, back in the boom days?

This would be just another supernatural horror story -- albeit better-plotted and pacier than many -- if it weren't for David Carver, who seems to me to be the hero of this story. (He also has the most lyrical narrative voice.) David's best friend Brian was hit by a drunk driver and not expected to live: David prayed, made a deal with God, told God he'd do anything if ... and lo! Brian woke up.

A deal's a deal: turns out God has a job for David -- and, by extension, for everyone who's come (been brought) to Desperation at the same time. A deal's a deal, even when it might also be a setup.

I was concerned that this was going to be another 'ancient Indian Native American evil', but it's not. ("The Indians may not have even known it was here" [loc 7847]). The Bad Thing is supernatural, and horrific; King also makes it intriguing. In that back story, at least, King has a light touch.

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