Go Stuff Your Stocking, We Want Stephen King

Other than leaving the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story running all day Christmas Eve, flipping to a midnight showing of Gremlins while I wrap the presents, and watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with my brothers at least once, I am not a huge consumer of Christmas specials and made-for-TV movies. In fact, I find it pretty annoying that they are all but dominating the TV landscape as early as three weeks out (I have a brother with an early December birthday and we never even decorate until after it).

This morning with great glee I read an io9 article  promising a brand-new Stephen King miniseries, airing at 9 pm Sunday on A&E.  The miniseries is based on King’s 2008 novel Bag of Bones. In light of the upcoming “A&E move event” I have decided to review it.

Bag of Bones, Stephen King, Published 2008

At 560 pages, Bag of Bones clocks in on the shorter side for a King novel. It is all the better for its relative brevity. The pacing is tight and the plot gripping, without missing out on any of the horror or spookiness one would expect from a King novel. The book centers around a widowed writer, Mike Noonan, who is suffering from grief-induced writer’s block four years after his wife’s death. Noonan had a habit of stockpiling extra manuscripts in the good times, but his store is running dry so he retreats to the vacation home he shared with his wife in hopes of finding inspiration.

 His Maine vacation home, Sarah Laughs, brings more than inspiration. It brings several new women into his life (one big, one small, one spectral) and interlinking mysteries that are more personal than he realizes. King weaves several plotlines together throughout the narrative, spitting the reader out fully-informed and thoroughly frightened on the shores of one of his most thrilling endings. There is something for everyone here: mystery, gore, revenge, mythos, love, and even adorable children (though sometimes, as in any King novel) bad things happen to them). King is in fine form combining the horror of the supernatural with the inescapable intimacy of small towns and the smallness of people.

King has been known to struggle with endings and with female characters, but no such struggle is evident here. The conclusion is a barn-burner that grabs you a full hundred pages before the last, and keeps you turning them no matter the horror they contain. Mattie and Kyla Devore are engaging and fully realized female characters, as is the spectral female. Max Devore makes a sublime villain, engaged in both plots as he tries to take Kyla from Mattie but can’t escape his past.     

The true horror of this book is that it is so deeply sad. There is gore, there are terrifying moments and heart-pounding fights for survival, but the book is suffused with love denied. Love used as a weapon, even. This is one that will stay with you long after you finish.

Incidentally, Bag of Bones also includes my favortie description of a writer ever. Mike Noonan often refers to himself as “V.C. Andrews with a prick”.

Sound off: Have you read the book? Will you read it, or watch the miniseries?

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