A bunch of middle-aged adults each get a phone-call asking them to come back to Derry, the town where they grew up and had an adventure which they've since forgotten. The phone-call acts as a trigger not just for them to return, but also for their memories of the time, 27 years ago, that they faced a terror that appears to have returned.
After reading Under the Dome and being disappointed, I thought I'd go back to this book, which I'd remembered making a big impression on me at the time. I think I'd not re-read it because I'd had the impression that the ending was really poor.
But this is a complete contrast to Under the Dome - it is a fantastic piece of work. Unlike that book, there are multiple, distinct, believable characters here, and I realised that I still remembered several of them from the first time I'd read the book. "Beep beep, Richie", "I worry about you Bev", "He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts". I remembered also the chemist and the fake asthma treatment, and that felt creepy again. One episode in particular, when Bev revisited her childhood home, had goosebumps rising.
In some ways this is a bit like "The Body" - much of the narrative concerns teenage kids and friendships, and you feel "yes, growing up was like that". In fact I'm not sure if it was, but it feels like it ought to have been. The way that things can feel so important but that adults have no idea about what's really going on.
This really feels like King is at the top of his game. One of the techniques he uses, which I've never forgotten, is when he moves from "present" to "past". As an example, there's a section where Richie, in the present, is remembering his childhood. It ends:
When, Richie wonders, did it become too late to turn back? When he and Stan showed up and pitched in, helping to build the dam? When Bill told them how the school picture of his brother turned its head and winked? Maybe... but to Rich Tozier it seems that the dominoes really began to fall when Ben Hanscom stepped forward and said "I showed them
how to do it. It's my fault."
Mr. Nell simply stood there looking at him, lips pressed together, hands on his creaking black leather belt.
The fact that the "present" section is written in italics, and the "past" in regular type makes you feel that the past is more real, and the mid-sentence change feels like everything's suddenly started to be in colour - more vivid, and there. It's really effective.
I remember when I was young being given an air rifle by my grandad, and we went into the garden to shoot targets. At one stage, I asked him to put his cigarette on top of the target - the first shot I took hit the cigarette but I wasn't surprised, because I was feeling "in the zone". For a lot of the book, it seemed to me that King must have been in a similar position. One example especially struck me: many of the chapters have titles like "Dennis Gets A Phone Call" or "Ben Beats the Devil". One was called "Mike Hanlon Makes a Connection". And the chapter started "But first he made supper". It just confirmed to me that King is just so in control and in the flow of things that he can easily "break the rules" in this way.
And the ending was a bit weak, but the ending was only about 50 pages from over 1000 so I'm not complaining. It was an absolutely fantastic read - a totally different league from Under the Dome.
Maybe I ought to try Insomnia again (I've got a feeling that that book had a dreadful ending, but maybe it's worth reading for the other stuff).
Completed : 19-Nov-2011