Sunday, June 12, 2016

End of Watch -- by Stephen King

Photo: First Edition book cover, from the book's Wikipedia page

Another compulsively readable story from King, who again shows here that he's more of a natural storyteller than a writer, which adds to the feeling of compulsive reading, rather than detracts. My guess is that if he were to worry more about fantastic writing, and less about fantastically-compulsive storytelling, his books would sell a lot less than they do. At this stage of his career, that's not likely to happen.

You don't have to read the first or second in the trilogy to read and get through this one, and I'm not quite sure how I take that. Good for sales, I think, but this does detract from the journey you're supposed to feel you've been on with these people over the last three books. I didn't feel like I'd been on the road with these guys, and when it all ends, it's in a this happens, then this happens, then this happens--and then these things stop happening kind of way. The storytelling just stops, but there's no...verisimilitude. There's no feeling of loss, exactly, or of the curtain closing. It just ends. That's it.

The way it's written adds to this lack of feeling. I'm rarely a fan of third-person omniscient present-tense, and I wasn't thrilled with it here. This is best when the writer needs a gritty, you are there kind of feel. That isn't needed here, which is a good thing, because it doesn't happen. The after-effect of this, though, is that it distances the narrator from the story and reader. You get a sense of detachment--not good, if you want that present-tense to pack a punch. Probably it was a decision for pure storytelling sake; again, this happens, then this happens, then this...but there's a lack of resonance with this choice. It's hard to feel anything for anyone with this kind of distance.

The story itself probably isn't anything you haven't seen before, even in a bad movie. Essentially this is Chucky, who moved from doll to person to doll to person, and so on. Brady's the doll here, and a crappy, vintage game is the method (rather than a chant or spell), but really it's all the same. There's a bit of psychobabble about herd mentality here, as well. I'm not sure it's wrong, exactly--at my job, I see herd mentality all the time--but I'm not so sure it's as pat and automatic as it's presented here. You'll have to decide that for yourself. But it's an interesting, anti-puppet message.

That's minor, though. The story here is, well, the real story, and you're either going to go with it or you're not. It's not even a matter of liking it or disliking it, really. It's a pleasant enough ride while you're on it. When the ride ended, I wasn't regretting the ride, but nor was I hoping it would continue forever. The ride is the ride, and it's not really about liking it or not, or even judging it. The ending for such a long book may be a downer. As usual, there's an ending after an ending here (I've written about this in King's books before), and if you're a Constant Reader as I am, you'll see it coming. King pulls no punches; he lets the cat out of the bag rather early here. (And, well, see the title?) In the 1st end, there wasn't much more than an old body with Chucky in him, after all, and an old human body is still just an old human body. That's pretty much the message for the second ending as well, but in a different way.

This one is probably the best of the three. The second was the worst for me, and parts of the first were grating. Nothing grating here, but it's not The Stand or The Shining, either. I do feel his overall mojo is gone. I wrote somewhere recently that I thought there had been too much of the Tower in his writings before, sort of a forced Purpose. But now I miss that, because in his most recent stuff, there doesn't seem to be purpose enough. Reading his work now passes the time, but it's possible you may ask yourself why you're doing it, rather than that other important thing you should be doing. But perhaps that's what reading is, anyway: escape from what you should be doing.

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking that Revival (especially the ending) is the best of King's work lately, with Joyland being a pleasant distraction, but without the scares you'd expect to be there. Looking back at all his books now, I'm seeing that the last work of his to really wow me was Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower--and that was 19 books ago. (11/22/63 was overall very good, but there were some blocks that dragged a bit.) Anyway, an old body is an old body, and it is what it is.

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