Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: Bag of Bones

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Bag of Bones

Author: Stephen King

Date: 1998

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 0-684-85350-7

Length: 529 pages

Quote: “I had an awful dream...death had driven her insane.”

If you are plagued by Pollyanna Vampires, the kind who think we should just “think positively” about problems instead of doing things to solve them, and you need a great big chunk of “negativity” to fend them off, Bag of Bones is one. This book contains bits of all the unpleasantness of the world.

The plot begins with the senseless death of the happily pregnant wife whose husband later dreams that death has driven her insane. Then the grieving husband gets involved in a neighbor’s depressing custody case; he feels that her child is in some way the child that would have been his, but when he tries to show fatherly love he worries that people will think he’s a pedophile. A lot of children in his small town have died recently, under mysterious circumstances. He’s not precisely depressed, but he suffers from writer’s block and recurring nightmares, most of which are narrated in detail. The waking reality of this novel is not “horror” before about page 400. It’s grim in a realistic way.

Then he realizes that he’s being haunted by two ghosts, and everything else starts to make sense. Death hasn’t driven his wife’s ghost insane; she had been trying to lay to rest another ghost who’s gone over to the dark side, driven by rage at the way she and her son were murdered. In their small town, almost everyone is a descendant of someone who was involved in the murder. In the Stephen King universe, when two ghosts direct their psychic energies toward the same purposes, they can accomplish much more. That’s why the nasty ghost hasn’t caused nearly as many mysterious deaths as she wants to, but the two ghosts together have virtually unlimited power to harass the nice ghost’s grieving husband. Until he solves the murder, they’ll give him no peace.

Then the whole town slips into the Stephen King universe, where you never know who’s going to survive to the end, but you know a majority of the characters won’t, and what happens to them will be gruesome.

I’m not sure that Stephen King really had to do this. He has more talent than most writers who limit themselves to the horror genre; he was doing quite well with a straight story about the grieving husband trying to rescue the neighbor’s child. He could have made that story spine-chilling and suspenseful without bringing in ghosts and murders. The neighbor’s child’s grandfather is gruesome enough as a believable real-world bigot.

Probably some of King’s regular readers would have complained if he’d crossed over and finished Bag of Bones as a mainstream story of love, loss, and litigation. I wouldn’t have. I've read most of his novels, and I think this is his best.

To buy it here as a Fair Trade Book, send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address at the bottom of the screen. You may find a better deal elsewhere online, but from this total of $10 we send $1 to Stephen King or a charity of his choice, which is more than other secondhand booksellers do.