SONG OF SUSANNAH Review

Review:

Song of Susannah - Stephen King, Darrel Anderson

Synopsis: Susannah Dean is possessed, her body a living vessel for the demon-mother Mia. Something is growing inside Susannah’s belly, something terrible, and soon she will give birth to Mia’s “chap.” But three unlikely allies are following them from New York City to the border of End World, hoping to prevent the unthinkable. Meanwhile, Eddie and Roland have tumbled into the state of Maine — where the author of a novel called ‘Salem’s Lot is about to meet his destiny….

 

*****

 

This is a hard book for me to review. I just finished it for the fourth time, and I really cannot tell you what it’s about. Unlike every other novel in the Dark Tower saga, Song of Susannah doesn’t stand on its own. It’s a continuation of Wolves of the Calla, and by the story’s end no plot threads are finished — everything is left hanging for the finale. It’s a fast-paced tale, and the writing itself is good, but it simply doesn’t stand on its own merit.

 

The problem is nothing really happens here. There is no major character development. The reader is not introduced to any new concepts or ideas or characters. It just feels incomplete, or like King wrote the book on autopilot. There is a reason it took me over a week to finish what should’ve been the quickest read in the DT cycle — this book is a bit of a chore.

 

That being said, this book is not bad. The Ka-tet is as lovable and fun to read about as ever, but I do not like the fact that they are split up throughout the entirety of this novel and don’t come together until book seven. King expands on the meta concepts introduced in Wolves of the Calla in interesting ways, though the developments can be a bit much to handle. I personally love King’s insertion of himself here — I think it’s the most thrilling part of this particular book — but I know some fans are repelled by it. That’s cool. Different strokes, and all that.

 

I’m keeping this review short because, honestly, I’m struggling with finding things to say about Song of Susannah. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. It’s an easy read, but it does nothing but set the stage for The Dark Tower. It has identity issues, and it’s a little messy. I was going to give it three stars, but I’ll be generous and give it three and a half. I think it works as a penultimate story, but I certainly don’t love it. 

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WOLVES OF THE CALLA Review

Review:

Wolves of the Calla  - Stephen King, Bernie Wrightson

Synopsis: Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, the DARK TOWER series is unlike anything you have ever read.

Here is the fifth installment, “one of the strongest entries yet in what will surely be a master storyteller’s magnum opus” (Locus).

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough….

 

*****

 

The final three books in the Dark Tower saga are among Stephen King’s most divisive works. Written in the years immediately after getting run over on an afternoon walk, the three novels in question— Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower — show King entering and settling into an existentialism period in his writing, which makes perfect sense. The guy was well into his 50s when he came face-to-face with death. That would make anyone think. His ruminations on life and death form a thread that runs through almost all of his 21st century output, making it a bit more nuanced and contemplative than his earlier work. This began with From A Buick 8 and a few stories in Everything’s Eventual, but nowhere is it more apparent than in this story, the fifth entry in the Dark Tower cycle. While Wolves of the Calla is about the Ka-tet — Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and Oy — coming to the rescue of the folken of Calla Bryn Sturgis, on a subtextual level this story is all about saving Stephen King. The Tower is falling, and its creator is in grave danger.

 

Needless to say, this story is very meta. The previous books in this series contain casual references to and appearances of characters from other King stories, but this book plunges the reader right into Stephen King’s — and our — own universe, making King a very important player here and in the two novels to follow. He is the characters’ creator, and seeing them coming to grips with that is uncomfortable and intriguing. It makes perfect sense — after all, this is a series about not just one universe but all the universes — and I love King’s decision to insert himself into the story. It’s bloody genius. Some fans don’t like it . . . some even hate it, claiming the three final novels of this series fall apart because of this artistic choice. I get it; it’s a valid complaint. I love it, though. This book was written by a very different man than the one who wrote Wizard and Glass, which must be kept in mind. The writer of Wizard and Glass would not have put himself in the fiction, methinks . . . But the writer of Wolves certainly did.

 

So . . . The question bears asking: would Wolves of the Calla have existed if King hadn’t been involved in his accident? Maybe. Possibly. It’s almost impossible to know for sure. I lean toward no; I think the Path of the Beam went eschew on June 19th, 1999, and the Dark Tower became something else altogether. King’s accident is in almost every page of the text, and it will bear an even heavier weight on the two books to follow.

 

I am not really sure where I’m going with all of this, and perhaps it’s coming off as the incoherent ramblings of a rabid fanboy. If so, I’m sending my sincerest apologies through my computer screen right now. There is so much I could and would like to say, but I will muzzle myself right now. I’ll try to land this plane with a few more quick thoughts, and then I’ll be out of your hair.

 

I know this book is challenging for many, but it might just be my favorite Dark Tower novel. It’s certainly in close contention with The Waste Lands for that position, and I think Father Callahan’s gorgeous tale of his post-‘Salem’s Lot travels might just give WOTC the edge. This is a long, long story — a story that isn’t exactly inviting, either, but once the reader works his or her way into it the treasures to be mined are endless and breathtaking. King takes his time with the set-up here, and everyone has a story to tell, but I wouldn’t cut a single page. I simply love everything about it — the sublime descriptions of the Calla and the folken who live there, the evolution (and, in some ways, devolution) of the relationship between those in the Ka-tet, friggin’ Donald Callahan (!!!!), the battle against the wolves themselves. It’s all wonderful, and I could not utter a single grievance if I tried. This book is an extraordinary tale all its own, while masterfully setting up the final act of King’s magnum opus.

 

This book helped bring me out of one of my too-frequent reader’s blocks. I’m giving it five Oritza plates. 

 

 

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Reading progress update: I’ve read 1 out of 736 pages.

Wolves of the Calla  - Stephen King, Bernie Wrightson

I’ve had a serious case of reader’s block lately. I don’t, typically, read books by the same author back-to-back, but King is comfort reading for me. I started my reread of the Dark Tower series over a year ago, and I think it’s now time to finish following the path of the beam…. 

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PET SEMATARY Review

Review:

Pet Sematary (Signet) - Stephen King

SynopsisWhen the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son—and now an idyllic home. As a family, they’ve got it all…right down to the friendly car.

But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth—more terrifying than death itself—and hideously more powerful.

The Creeds are going to learn that sometimes dead is better.

 

*****

 

Quite frankly, I’ve been dreading reaching this book in the Stephen King reread for quite some time, if only because it’s so difficult for me to assess. In almost no other case are my feelings on a book so conflicted, so difficult to verbalize. While it is one of King’s finest from a writing standpoint, it’s almost too dark for me to enjoy or even discuss. I enjoy a good dash of bleak in what I read, but other ingredients are vital — Cujo has some damn fine commentary on wealth and adultery; Roadwork is a fascinating character study of the ruination of one man due to outside forces beyond his control. In a way, Pet Sematary is very much like that — the ruination of a family due to uncontrollable forces — but my problem with this story is the reader never sees the characters outside the prism of grief and darkness. It is as sour as the Micmac burial ground.  The story takes place in a span of a little less than a year, but it never feels like the characters change or evolve — they are largely static, merely chess pieces King moves around however will best suit his story.

 

 

I suppose that’s my major gripe with this story — the lack of fluidity and growth that is so present in almost every other King novel. He rubs the reader’s nose in death and despair and never lets up. In addition, the characters that populate this story, likable though they may be, never truly pop for me. They never sparkle or shine, like the best of King’s creations — especially in the era in which this book was published. I love reading about them (especially sweet Ellie and Gage), but Louis and Rachel’s strong, stable marriage isn’t as fascinating as, say, the doomed love of Johnny and Sarah in The Dead Zone. In fact, this was King’s first book to prominently feature a happy marriage at the fore. Sure, he’d written about marriage a couple of times before, but those relationships had big problems . . . the Creed family is possibly King’s first fully functional unit. And while that is very interesting in context of King’s career as a whole, Rachel and Louise have never seemed truly believable, to me. They lack a certain chemistry. It is all-too apparent in some cases that this is King’s first attempt at a real, honest-to-God loving family, and he hadn’t quite found his way in yet. 

 

 

So . . . If I have all these problems, why am I giving the novel 4.5 stars? Simply put, this is one of King’s ballsiest tales — something I really dig. He goes for the reader’s jugular in a way he wouldn’t attempt again until later works like The Dark Half and Revival. He’s not afraid to ‘go there.’ As well, this is probably King’s most Maine-y story. The setting is friggin’ beautiful. The descriptions of the woods behind the Creeds’ home, the rolling fields nearby, and the Creeds’ and Crandalls’ homes themselves are King’s most arresting this side of Duma Key. As well, I absolutely love the friendship between Louis and Jud. The nights spent on Jud’s porch, drinking beer and discussing life . . . ah, so good! Those scenes are some of my very favorites in the story.

 

Yeah, I still feel conflicted about this story and I’ve read it three times at this point. It features some of King’s best writing, but the characters’ lack of development (aside from Louis’s spiral into insanity . . . I guess I’d consider that development?) frustrates me. It feels entirely too plotted, featuring characters moving from point A to point B only to better serve the story. Ultimately, the Great Hand of God (i.e. Stephen King) is visible and pretty intrusive. This is a fascinating rumination on death and the grieving process, but it risks devolving into campy horror in the third part. And yet, the third part (and epilogue) is one of King’s finest payoffs — it kicks tail and takes names. So I’m marking off half a star for my grievances, because in the end my annoyances are minor and almost never truly impact the story, and when finished I’m always left feeling like I’ve swallowed razor blades and in desperate need of a shower — the result I am sure King was going for. Therefore, 4.5 stars. This will never be in my top ten, but only because the subject matter is almost too much for me to take. Pet Sematary is pretty great reading, but it also might be the worst book one could experience. If you finish this story unsure of how you feel, joint the club. I’m right there with ya.

 

 

King connections

 

  • When telling Louis about the town and state, Jud Crandall mentions a dog that went rabid downstate three years prior, killing four people. That dog being, of course, Cujo! 

 

  • The towns of Haven (The Tommyknockers), Jerusalem’s Lot (‘Jerusalem’s Lot,’ ‘Salem’s Lot), and Derry (IT, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher, ‘Fair Extension’) are mentioned, as well as the Penobscot river, which plays an important role in IT

 

  • Louis thinks of Church having the ‘swagger of a gunslinger’ . . . a tenuous connection to the Dark Tower, but a connection all the same. 

 

  • The process of fetal resorption is mentioned twice, telling me the ground for The Dark Half was already being tilled in King’s mind, albeit perhaps not on a conscious level. 

 

Favorite quote

 

“It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls-as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything. And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity. That such events have their own Rube Goldberg absurdity goes almost without saying. At some point, it all starts to become rather funny. That may be the point at which sanity begins either to save itself or to buckle and break down; that point at which one’s sense of humor begins to reassert itself.”

 

Up next:

 

Get your silver ready, because we’re taking a trip to Tarker’s Mills. It’s Cycle of the Werewolf

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