Monday, May 16, 2011

Bag of Bones, by Stephen King


Long. And intense. And meandering. And excellent. Definitely not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart. King has a knack for modeling his storytelling after the very events he depicts. In The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, the reader felt lost and confused. Here, the mood is trippy and dreamlike. Like the protagonist, the reader doesn't know what the dreams and messages and encounters mean, who they're from, whether they matter. In that sense, King brings the reader along in an experience that runs parallel to Mike Noonan's (the protagonist).

In ghost stories, authors can be hard pressed to manufacture catalyzing events gruesome enough to cause the requisite level of otherworldly angst. So much has been done, and so often, by so many, that it's tough to create an occurrence that will truly shock the reader. But with hundreds and hundreds of pages of build-up--angry spirits and dead bodies and all sorts of real-world effects--it is absolutely vital that the ultimate backstory be truly horrifying. King does not disappoint. It's not an easy backstory to read (or in my case, listen to), but I will admit that it was not without reason--he needed something horrendous.

And of course, there's more going on here than just ghost stories. King asks some tough questions about nature versus nurture, and whether we have the ability to overcome our personal and genetic past. Then, too, there is some exploration of the justice of revenge and whether culpability (and even evil) can be passed on genetically. In the interview following the audiobook, King claims to be mimicking the Gothic genre, and indeed, the book itself alludes quite frequently to du Maurier's Rebecca. King is particularly interested in the phenomenon of secrets--how we keep them and how we protect them--and from his perspective, this is the central theme of Gothic literature across the board. I don't know that he's wrong, at that.

Oddly enough, although this is a book fraught with supernatural influences, the root motives are surprisingly normal. Villains are driven by revenge, pain, suffering, jealousy, insecurity, stubbornness, pride, fear, and guilt. It is to King's credit that he builds such a fantastic story on such mundane and commonplace foundations. And it heightens the emotional impact of the story--there but for the grace of God go you or I. Or our neighbors. Or our friends. And the normally safe and unthreatening setting of a rural Yankee lakeside community makes the story even eerier.

Once again, I suspect King attributes more mental development to the central child character than is usually found in the real world, but my knowledge of three-year-olds is admittedly limited. And I'm not completely convinced that the book needed to be quite as long as it was, though the length and meandering tone of the book contributed to the dreamlike feel . . . Noonan himself didn't know what or whether anything was happening for quite some time. Even with the slow pacing, the reader's journey was far from boring. And the pace certainly picks up at the end.

King himself reads the audiobook, and well. If you have a strong stomach and 24 (yes, 24) hours to spare, then you could do a lot worse than this book.

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