Friday, February 25, 2011

The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub



This book marks my first foray into Stephen King's fiction . . . and I was not disappointed. It's rather long--perhaps longer than it needs to be--and certainly darker and more graphic than most books featuring such a young protagonist. (In other words, don't assume that just because this book is about kids, that it was written for kids.) But the story is well developed and well told. King wisely avoids portraying Jack as an "everyman"--he is not merely an ordinary boy in extraordinary circumstances, as so many child characters are. This is not a task any boy could complete; it is a heroic task requiring a heroic lead. And King tosses in some stylistic fillips that take the story out of the realm of the purely narrative and highlight the otherworldliness of the book, its characters, and even the way they communicate with each other.

Still, as is often the case with such a promising set up (boy travels cross country on a mission to save his dying mother while flipping between parallel universes containing fantastical--and often dangerous--creatures), the ending gets a bit untidy and leaves a host of unanswered questions in its wake.*

While I think the book is well-written, I don't know that I could say that reading it was an enjoyable experience. It is a tense book, with few if any lulls, and hard to break up into manageable chunks. I like to read books in sections, as I have time, until I reach a sort of mini-resolution of the arc of conflict. This usually means reading for a half hour to forty minutes at a stretch, so I do better with books that are easily read thirty to sixty pages at a time, with plot points that resolve themselves accordingly.

At times, King's plot arcs would barrel onward for nearly two hundred pages before giving the characters (and the reader) a chance to catch their breath. Since I don't usually have the time to read two hundred pages in one sitting, I found myself forced to set down the book in the midst of unresolved--and climactic--scenes. As I tend to be strongly affected by what I read (and indeed, this is part of why I love fiction--I really do enter into the world of the characters), I found myself feeling ill at ease even when I wasn't reading the book--the emotions lingered and bled into real life in a way that was not necessarily pleasant. Which is, I suppose, a sign of good writing, but it makes me wonder if I should be more careful with King books in the future, and either read them all in one sitting or only when I don't have anything going on that could be affected by the increased tension his stories can elicit.

The book itself is quite good, however. Definitely worth a read.

*Such as: What is the Talisman? Why is it important? Just because it has the ability to save Jack's mom? Why was it so important that it not break, if a few days later it would "dissolve" anyway? Why were other worlds involved, if the whole purpose of the Talisman was to save the lives of two women in two worlds? Were there parallel Lilys and Lauras in all worlds, and the Talisman healed them all? Why is it the door to all worlds if all it provides is healing? Why was Richard Sloat so important? Why did he have to go into the hotel? Was it just so he could be healed? Or so he could surprise his father? Or so he could catch the Talisman when it fell?

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