BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen & Owen King

The sleepy (pardon my pun) town of Dooling is hit, like the rest of the world, by a strange phenomenon where women and girls who fall asleep succumb to being shrouded in a mysterious webbing. Wrapped up in body bags like cocoons, these women and girls are lost to their husbands, brothers, fathers and friends, with no apparent cause and no conclusive cures. If the cocoons are probed and the webbing torn in any way, the women respond violently and often cause fatalities.

This phenomenon is named “Aurora” and accelerates its spread like a global bush-fire. No woman is immune: aside from loading up on stimulants to temporarily resist the lull of sleep, the outcome is inevitable.

When Dooling’s Sheriff Lila is called to the scene of a gnarly crime on the first morning of Aurora’s appearance, she notes the coincidental arrival of a very enigmatic Evie to the town. Scantily clad, chillingly knowledgeable and capable of major destruction, the otherworldly Evie may have the answers to the world’s questions about Aurora.

However, in order to serve any use in reversing the weird global phenomenon, Evie will have to first survive the threats that face her from some of Dooling’s very awake, and angry, male citizens…

Aspects of the novel I wasn’t so keen on:

  • The tired repetition of themes and character arcs from other Stephen King titles. As to be expected, there are some recurring ideas within Sleeping Beauties that, to me, drew instant comparisons to the likes of The Stand, Under the Dome and Desperation. You have your classic good guys, the morally questionable guys who go on to discover great untapped potential and turn their lives around, and finally the completely unsaveable evil guys who exploit others at any available opportunity. Characters that instantly raised red flags include Eric Blass, Garth Flickinger, Frank Geary and Clint Norcross. The aforementioned cast aren’t exact replicas of other characters in the King universe, but definitely share very distinct personality traits with other characters, enough so that I’d noticed and had to take a few moments to get through the odd deja vu. That being said, I’m not sure if some repetition is entirely avoidable when a writer like Stephen King has such a vast bibliography under their belt.

Things I like about the novel:

  • The merging of two Kings in one book (trust me, no relation whatsoever to 2 girls, 1 cup). I swear I could feel from the outset that this wasn’t solely a Stephen King book. I have absolutely no idea why or whether it was entirely a placebo phenomenon because I’d seen Owen’s name on the front cover, but I did feel like the tone and writing style was ever so slightly different in a very rewarding way. I feel like, without this, I’d have maybe stalled in reading at certain points where blatant comparisons to other King novels were particularly striking.
  • The social commentary on what the world as we know it could really look like without women. I think we’re all fundamentally aware that we take aspects of our lives for granted. There are things we overlook without a second glance, and I feel like the patriarchy has done a pretty magnificent job of systematically unseeing women and their value in society for thousands of years. So yeah, reading this book was a nice imagination-booster and made me think about the inherent value of those around me, as well as the neverending battle to be seen and heard by those who are so damned good at ignoring the privileges afforded to them thanks to the hard work and exploitation of half the world’s population.
  • I really enjoyed the post-apocalyptic and fantastical elements of “Our Place”. Our Place was depicted as an almost Stranger Things-esque “Upside Down” edition of the real world. The sense of community and peace achieved by the cocooned women, when given an opportunity to start again, was utopian and dreamlike but also raised questions of viability and sustenance.

BOOK REVIEW: Desperation by Stephen King

And so, the obsession with Stephen King continues. It’s been more than a year of this now. I’ve managed to make my way through quite a few of King’s most acclaimed bibliography, based on recommendations from friends and family, but there’s a comfort in knowing that there’s plenty more out there and I won’t be running out of material by him anytime soon (I saw on his Twitter recently that there’s another book due to be published shortly. I have no idea where he gets his perpetual fuel to write from, or how he does it with such consistent brilliance, but I’m sure glad this is the case).

Upon completion of a King book, I’ll move onto a non-King related title because there’s so many titles on my bookshelf and bedside table just gathering dust and waiting for their time to shine. Yet somehow, despite my initiative to delve into a diversified pool of other authors and leave King behind, I still find myself drawn back to a title by him in between every other book. I always tell myself that I’ll “take a break” from books by King for a couple of weeks/months, on account of the fact that his books are immersive, profound (therefore requiring a sort of “recovery period”) and girthy. Basically, you’re investing your time in characters and worlds that will draw a lot from you, if you sit down with a page-turner by him, and you will be lost from the world for a considerable while.

My most recent read was a book called Desperation, a novel about a desolate town of the same name off the quiet Highway 50 and a mysterious, domineering force that draws a bunch of strangers together for the ultimate showdown between good and evil in a place more populated by tumbleweeds and dirt than living townspeople. The group is comprised of a young family, a couple dealing with the trauma of a recent miscarriage, an old alcoholic Desperation resident and washed-up, self-professed “national treasure”, Mr Jonny Marinville. There’s elements of mythology and the supernatural, in a similar style to that of Pennywise’s lore in IT, and a very epic setting for a standoff between all that is holy versus unholy in a similar style to The Stand. In terms of psychological terror, I’ve got to say, it’s up there in my top 5 for most awful antagonists in the King universe thus far. Desperation‘s (first) antagonist Collie Entragian, who stands tall at over six feet and wide like a wall, is a real nasty piece of work and rivals some of King’s cruelest characters in books like The Shining, IT and Insomnia. He seems utterly ordinary from the outset, his mannerisms and speech as common as any layman, but frequently spits out odd phrases in the language of the dead and glitches, like a machine, stumbling on his sentiments. There’s the feeling that something isn’t quite right with this guy, but also the issue of his role as a law enforcement figure, and a charming one at that. Plus there’s his strange command over an assortment of venomous and aggressive animals symbolic of death such as coyotes, rattlesnakes, buzzards, scorpions, and fiddleback spiders who are almost always bowing before him and forever in the readers’ peripherals.

I can honestly say, without a doubt, that King is one of the most consistently talented writers I have ever read. He has this uncanny ability to make even the most minor characters in his novels so rich that you find yourself wondering where they’ve gotten to or how they’re doing as you progress through a story, and his imagination is, quite frankly, unparalleled. He has the capability to introduce audiences to creatures and forces that are so frightening because they’re beyond comprehension, but he also explores the most frightening thing of all: the human condition. So many of his characters are riddled by addiction or trauma, and they’re all the more striking because they’re utterly relatable and flawed. This is the greatest horror of all!

King’s bibliography is vast and may seem impenetrable to prospective readers, but I would urge you to start with some of his smaller texts, if you’re threatened by the big books. Maybe something like Carrie? The length of his stories honestly have no bearing on the the quality of the content

As for me, I’m taking a 1-book interlude again. I’m currently reading Speak your Truth by Fearne Cotton (real pace-changer) but, as always, I’m eager to get back to the dark stuff. What’s interesting is that Desperation is said to run in parallel to another novel by King called The Regulators, penned under his pseudonym “Richard Bachman”. Of course my intention is to snap that up as soon as humanly possible, but in the meanwhile, the next on my list is Under the Dome, another solidly gargantuan read which will no doubt lead to countless hand cramps and dench forearms from holding it up to read at night. If you, dear reader, have any King recommendations or general pointers towards other authors who may be of a similar style, please do let me know!