Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Signet Book; (April 6, 2004)
My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
This is the last Castle Rock novel. Although it’s told with an expertly breezy omniscient narrative and holds a hooky premise, this long, long book, is packed with POV characters that you barely get to know.
The most fascinating character is the strange, new store owner, Leland Gaunt, who offers customers exactly what they need for just what they can afford…and a little bit extra. Readers are clued in right away that’s this peculiar dude is supernatural. His demonic charms toy and tease and offer false hope and fragile delight. We read on to learn more about him, thirsty to see secrets uncovered, but not much else is delivered in the end. He’s just as stock as the others. No motivation. No further revelations. He’s just a demon hellbent on causing chaos.
At first, to the townsfolk in Castle Rock, he seems like a dream come true, like a savior really. He has the perfect somethings for everyone. Everyone has gripes and Mr. Gaunt’s requests of pranks as part of the payment for the needful things turn the entire town upside down. Neighbors fight against neighbors, churches against churches, lovers against lovers.
The protagonists in this book are the Sheriff—can’t recall his name and I have photographic memory, so that’s how sketchy the characters are—and his love interest, Polly, who has arthritic hands and the death of her child haunting her. These two have a fully developed story arc in making peace with their own demons, but it drowns in a brew of other insignificant characters. Their scenes combined would amount to a novella.
As things go more and more haywire, and people off each other by the dozens, there seems no way out of the mess. It seems Mr. King couldn’t find one either. He actually uses Deux ex machina to end this long-winded, 700-and-something-page tale.
At the three-quarter mark more of the same occurs again and again and the heinousness of the pranks and their repercussions lose their sting. He could have trimmed out some of the cross stories and made a much more profound, shorter book. He’s such a skilled writer, so it’s shocking that he’d use an unfair hat trick, tacking on impossibilities that were never built in earlier.
I never truly cared about the characters and just wanted to see how the story ended, how Gaunt would reach an end, so I labored through it for three and a half weeks. I read the unabridged version of The Stand, which I loved, in two days, so, I don’t mind a huge cast.
I did like the heavy theme, that sometimes the things people want and grudges they hold can become more important than maintaining and restoring relationships.
If you like his other Castle Rock books, then you’ll have to read this as his final book in the quaint town. There’s lots of mutilation and blood if you’re into hardcore horror.