Stephen King, Dreamcatcher (Scribner’s, 2001)
[originally posted 19Apr2001]
I should have known better than to start a new Stephen King book at 11PM on a weeknight. Two and a half days later, exhausted, I put it down.
Dreamcatcher (whose working title was Cancer, according to King’s afterword, his wife wouldn’t let him release it with that title) is not, despite what you may have heard, a sequel to It (though traces of that book show up now and again). It’s the story of five friends, both as they came of age and as they came together again to battle a nasty creature. Yeah, it does kind of sound like It, doesn’t it? In fact, resonances of earlier King works can be found throughout this novel, not just through the calling to mind of old characters—a long-ingrained King trick—but through the book’s style and plot.
In my usual mechanism of giving writers I like the benefit of the doubt, I think King’s going through a transitional phase, and this was the book where he worked it out. It’s still a relatively good book; after all, King was on a real tear before the accident, having just released two novels (Tom Gordon and Bag of Bones) and a short story (“Blind Willie”) thank rank among the best writing he’s ever produced, and it stands to reason that some of the afterglow would carry over into the post-accident work. But if he continues on in this tradition, there should be a humdinger coming next, or perhaps two books down the road.
I say this because, though King’s writing is still of the fast-and-easy-to-read genre (whatever else it may be, a King book is eminently readable), he seems to be getting more expansive. Two hundred pages into this six-hundred-plus page monster and King was still gearing up to let fly. It read fast, granted, but the steam was still building. Unfortunately, it never really blew its top, and it ended up ringing a bit hollow because of that. That’s why I think King’s in the midst of a style shift, not the surface style of witty on-the-mark cultural references and the ability to fully draw a minor character in two sentences flat, but down in the heart of things. There was a shifting that started a few books back, not as glitzy as the shift between Barker’s The Damnation Game and Weaveworld, but a shift nonetheless, and it’s now starting to affect the writing. Soon, it’ll pull an Alien-style chest-burster, and something new will arise.
So I end up categorizing this book with Firestarter, Gerald’s Game, and a few others—a kind of workshop that found its way to the publisher. Of that particular category of Kingisms, though, this is by far the best to date, and I feel that it may presage the finest work King’s ever done; history will tell, eventually. ***