Okay, I'm bringing this topic back from the grave because Mrs. Dark and I have just finished another Stephen King novel, this time Bag of bones. I'll be putting together a more formal review in a bit, but I thought I'd throw some thoughts down here and see what everyone else thinks as well, oh and of course spoilers ahoy!
It's actually odd rereading Bag of bones now, since this is a case where my life experience has vastly changed my view on many things in the book.
When I first read it I was nineteen and had no idea what being married was like, now almost nineteen years later, I reread it with my wife, and thus my hole take on Mike's grief about Jo's death is utterly different. I particularly liked how much you got to know Jo even before the ghosts turned up.
That being said, I didn't find mike quite as easy company. maybe it was him describing himself as "moderately successful", and complaining because he only has two houses and a few million dollars, and is winjing about only being at position fifteen on the best seller list, but honestly, at the beginning of the book, and even later when he was commenting snearingly about Matty shopping at K mart, he actually come across as snobbish and less than pleasant some of the time.
I also will freely admit, this was the Stephen King book that reminded me just why people say King's books are too long, since nearly the first third, up until he actually moves back to the Haunted house Sarah Laughs, was very long winded setup, and whilst necessary for character and situation building (as well as a brief appearance from Ralf Roberts from Insomnia), at the same time things were dragging a fair bit, since wierd dreams and loneliness can only take a narrative so far.
All of this changed once Mike moved back to Sarah Laughs, and both the supernatural manifestations and character interest went into overdrive.
I will say, Kyra, the little three year old girl was scating the point of being a bit too overly cute and idealised on occasion, though at least King Avoided the trap writers like Koontz fall into with child characters, and had either the rest of the cast, or even the narrator tell us how lovely they were.
The way King Handled Mike's feeling for a much younger woman and the desire to help leading to friendship leading to romance was genuinely rather sweet, albeit some of his descriptions of Matty did get a bit overly praiseworthy.
One aspect I did feel a bit odd about, was the way that Mike continually referdd either in his ghost induced sexual dreams, or in narration to the phrase "do what you want", a phrase he'd picked up from a feminist essay claiming that was what all men wanted in sex.
Whether Mike's attributing this phrase to himself, and describing "love for men as one part lust one part astonishment", was a genuine idea, a symptom of Mike's believed self disgust being an older man looking at a younger woman, or the psychic influence of Sarah I'm not sure.
Speaking of psychic influence though, these are probaly some of the best written ghosts I've seen, I particularly love the combination of unconscious impulses, rituals and psychic manifestations, and how this all ties in to the community, conspiracy and some genuinely skin crawling child murder.
Indeed, the way the conspiracy and psychic influence was unearthed was something I particularly liked, since what happened to Sarah Tidwell and her son was truly, and unbelievably horrific, indeed some of the nastiest stuff King has ever written, and yet at the same time we see what she's been doing in revenge, how many people she's influenced to kill their own children. it's a wonderfully tangled, horribly uggly situation where two wrongs, and pretty extreme and nasty wrongs at that, dont' make a right, for all that Sarah's rage is both understandable, even if it has transformed her into something quite wrong.
The other side of the coin, I actually thought the romance with matty and the battle over Kyra's custody worked, well, particularly how down right nasty a villain max Devor was, and how this tied into the small town consciousness. Again, that sort of small town, everyone knows everyone else, and one person can be ostracised when they're disapproved of seems a bit odd to me, but then again, I grew up in a city, and whilst I now am living in a small town, I don't really know anyone here to be ostracised from anyway .
Matty's death is shocking, yet at the same time, made perfect sense, since had she survived, things would have been a bit too pat.
The only thing I didn't care for in the ending, was the implication that perhaps Jo's spirit was stuck in Sarah Laughs, unless she was waiting until Mike was okay and had full custody of Kyra, and the last rant about writing and why Mike stopped.
There were several times when Mike felt a little too close to King himself, and in this winj about killing off characters making an author a nasty person, he felt very much like King, who ironically, has not stopped writing.
had Mike's experiences caused him to write better, or care more for his characters, or change genre or direction, that I could understand, but having him utterly stop just felt like King's "what if", to me, apart from the fact I always find it sad when a creative person gives up their art.
So, all in all, bag of bones, despite a slower start, and an occasionally prickly main character, was actually really good.
Very immediate King writing, occasional moments of horror or grotesque scenes, like Max Devor and Rogette Witmore Pelting Mike with stones from the lake, and some rather lovely bits too. Plus, a slightly more morally complex and ambiguous idea in it's mystery.
I was disappointed that Grady Hendrics in the above stephen King reread basically wrote this off as King's attempt at gothic romance, largely to appeal to female readers, since it seemed anything but. Yes, there is a strong romantic element, but you'd find the same in Salem's lott, Rose madder or half a dozen King books, and the ghosts, and weird influences are certainly very classic King.
of course, as I said, reading this with my wife, and understanding Mike's marriage and his possible grief a little more, it might be that I'm a bit more imured to romance elements than some, I don't know.
But whilst I probably wouldn't count this as among King's very best, it's certainly one of his better books, in my not so humble opinion.
With our dreaming and singing, Ceaseless and sorrowless we! The glory about us clinging Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)