Newsflash: Last year's Stephen King novel, Cell, is not very good.
Prior to reading his attempt at zombie fiction, it had been quite some time since I had purchased a new King book. (In fact, it was Christmas of 1989 when I received and read The Dark Half.). I should have stopped reading his mighty tomes in the 1980s, but I could not resist the temptation of purchasing a King book about a zombie apocalypse. What can I say?
Sadly, the book offers merely the typical zombie motifs (stereotypes?) and adds little to the genre. King tries to add a twist by calling them "phone-crazies" (an awkward name the creatures earned because their transformation into the undead or living dead or walking dead was prompted by an electromagnetic pulse sent out by cellular telephone). If you have seen any zombie films (whether they be the old school George Romero films or more modern quick paced ones like 28 Days Later or the Dawn of the Dead remake, you have little reason to turn to King's latest offering of pop horror. You get the same flurry of action and confusion following the immediate aftermath of the post apocalyptic event, the same grouping together of dazed survivors (who, throughout the course of the narrative, prove to be more flinty than they seemed, or who perish due to their failure to prove more flinty), the same initial inability to cope with the sudden transformation of the world, and of course, the germination of an idea or scheme to thwart the zombies (at least temporarily). As zombies have become trendy in comics and film, the formula remains the same (with only Danny Boyle of 28 Days Later and the Shaun of the Dead guys truly adding something along the way). King really adds nothing to the equation (which is not surprising as he was last innovative during the Reagan years).
What struck me while reading the book, though, was not the plot's deficiencies or lack of originality. It was the realization that King is not a very good writer. That may not be news to you, dear readers (and I can't say that I am surprised, either) but for those of us who really haven't read his work since the dawn of the first Bush presidency, it is of note. Perhaps I am a more mature reader than I was in the winter of 1989 (I hope). Perhaps King was better in the late 1970s and early 1980s (when he was young, new to the publishing industry, and still hungry for mega-success rather than routinely churning out books en masse). The same thing happens to aging rock stars, why not aging writers? Or maybe, and perhaps most likely, he was never anything more than a guilty pleasure and I didn't notice during my youth in the 1980s.
The dialogue in the book, which is obviously important to any narrative, is stilted and awkward. Crafting good dialogue is very, very tricky. King's dialogue is just odd. People don't speak as he presents them , and it is obvious. Some authors write dialogue the way they themselves speak, or the way they think they do, or worst of all, the way they themselves write (and not speak). King's attempt at clever dialogue is even more stilted.
If you've made it this far into the review, you may be wondering, why bother to make the statement that King is not a good writer? Isn't that akin to a multiparagraph entry on the sky being blue, grass being green, or Kevin Smith being overrated? Perhaps. But really, what I find disturbing is that it is evidence of a trend. Nostalgia, aided and abetted by the onslaught of media and consumerism, resurrects many, many things which were popular when we were young. Without fail, those things that are brought back into our lives inevitably disappoint. Whether they be television shows, movies, or whatever, the things we enjoyed during our youth turn out to be embarrassments when we revisit them decades later.
Oh, well. That's what I get for buying pop fiction, right?
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