Brain Candy Sale

Monday, July 23rd, 2001


Bag of Bones: A Novel

by Stephen King

A review by Chris Bolton

I took Bag of Bones with me on a visit to Omaha, Nebraska a couple of summers ago. The heat was sweltering and the humidity impenetrable. And yet it wasn't my discomfort that kept me up half the night; it was my need to know What Happens Next. His prose may not be exquisite, his novels arenít weighted with lofty themes, and his style may lack a certain smugly self-conscious "staggering genius," but thereís no denying that Stephen King can spin a tale like few writers alive.

He starts with unlikely ingredients, as author Mike Noonan retreats to a summer home called Sara Laughs to begin his next novel. He's been creatively blocked and haunted by the memory of his late wife, Johanna. Soon he's visited by a very real presence that uses refrigerator magnets to form ominous messages in the dead of night. Mike, himself, becomes involved in a custody battle between a widowed mother and a millionaire tycoon. Only the man who found genuine horror in a high school prom could unite such seemingly innocuous elements into a cohesive, bone-chilling story.

For roughly three-quarters of its length, Bag of Bones balances precariously between the emotional richness one expects from Barbara Kingsolver or Alice Hoffman and the creepy elements so beloved by that weird kid who grew up reading one too many EC Comics. Sadly, however, the last quarter of the novel unravels in unlikely and melodramatic directions. A climax pitting Mike against a pseudo-Lovecraftian monster suggests King still isnít comfortable with adult themes: the novel ain't over till something goes boom.

While most of Bag of Bones provides an emotional resonance lacking from many of Kingís recent efforts, it attempts a degree of maturity that King ultimately can't (or won't) deliver. Still, there's no denying the strength of King's storytelling, which kept me turning pages in the Omaha heat long past midnight, and his characterizations (with the exception of an unconvincing twenty-year-old single mother) are rich and vivid. Johanna in particular becomes the strongest posthumous character since Daphne Du Maurierís Rebecca; the reader comes to mourn her loss as much as Mike does.

What makes Kingís writing so enjoyable, finally, is his Voice, so distinctive and rich that you can imagine Stephen King rocking gently on the porch beside you, spinning his tale as a hot summer evening slips effortlessly into night. And if the destination fails to live up to its promise, we can at least be thankful for one hell of a ride.

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