There is nothing quite as good as a decent, old-fashioned horror story to those that like me enjoy this genre. So before you think 'Oh no, not another Stephen King book review' allow me a chance to say why this is one of his better novels. I don't think there is any need to go into the author's background except to say that there is a class distinction in America much like our own British one. We call it "working class" the Americans call it either "White trash" or "trailer trash". Before I get some remarks about "racialism" I'm simply trying to point out that these euphemism's are still in existence today as the times when Stephen King was a young lad. "White Trash" were one step up from coloured people, "trailer trash" applied to those who could not afford a proper house. Stephen King's family were the former type that is why you will find such expressions in many of his books. He must have felt it keenly to use it so many times. This has some bearing on the book so hang in their with me for a while.
The Plot ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
The year is 1994 and in Derry, Maine, Mike Noonan's wife Jo has recently died from a brain aneurysm while coming out of the local drugstore. Mike is a fairly successful writer but in the aftermath of his wife's death he finds he can no longer write. This is no ordinary writer's block but a severe panic attack every time he approaches his computer. Then the nightmares start all of them linked to a town on the Dark Score Lake where Mike and Jo had a retreat called" Sara Laughs" a substantial log cabin on the shores of the lake and also a home to locals and the "summer people".
Roughly around the months before Jo dies a young woman called Mary meets the son of a millionaire businessman, Max Devore who once had some attachment to the same place. In the space of a few weeks they get married, much to the annoyance of Max who wanted a much better bride for his beloved son Lance. Cutting him off without a penny to his name the young couple survive on what little earnings both can make until the birth of a baby girl Kyra forces them to live in a cheap trailer. Lance is killed a year later in a freak accident and "Mattie" struggles to bring Kyra up on her own.
This is the setting for a chain of events that will bring Mike together with Mattie and Kyra nearly four years later. In an attempt to face his nightmares Mike returns to the place where once he was happy with Jo, the only problem with their marriage was the lack of a child, the ultimate sorrow for Mike was finding out that Jo was newly pregnant when she died, but why did she keep it from him? All is not well in the house called Sara Laughs, a child weeps in the night, the fridge magnets start to spell out words and then Mike finds that Jo had been visiting the house without telling him while he was deep in writing a new book.
He first meets Kyra, a bright three-year-old child walking in the middle of a busy road, scooping her to safety in his arms Mary (Mattie) screeches to a halt with her battered car inches away from Mike's own. His initial thought of her as irresponsible mother changes when he finds out her background and the custody suit that Max is intent on winning despite the fact that he is far too old to care for such a young child. So the battle begins with Mike paying for a lawyer to fight for Mattie and her child. He also has to fight against the attraction he feels towards her despite an age-gap of nearly twenty years.
The poltergeist activities in the house take on a new meaning when Mike buys three sets of fridge magnets, two for his own house and one for Kyra, it seems that there are two presences in the house, one benign, one vengeful. Words appear "help her" and in the trailer Kyra too is picking up similar messages. Mike discovers that Jo had been researching the history of the area, in particular the events at the turn of the century when a band of talented coloured musicians once lived near to their house named after Sara the leading singer whose raw singing voice and her laughter charmed people from miles around. After over a year why did the group suddenly leave when they had built cabins there? Slowly Mike picks up rumours of a young coloured boy that died from blood poisoning after being trapped in a snare. Other rumours led to yet another young coloured boy being drowned in the lake. Then there are the stories that Jo found out, more cases of drowning this time over a period of time that spanned decades and involved certain families that had always lived in the area. Add to this the unusual name of Kia that Mike had chosen if the couple had a girl-child, the fact that Kyra called herself Ki and all the elements of suspense are there for the readers to find out for themselves.
Notes on the plot ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Stephen King's books are always page-turners but rarely has he juggled so many sub-plots without giving away the ending. He has that rare talent of building up the suspense until you long to find out the ending, it's one of the points that fans disagree on, some find the descriptions too long, others relish that slow build-up of tension that only few horror-writers can do so well. There is a lot of the supernatural in the book and some action sequences that are gripping, however, this is one of his more restrained books with very little of the gory bits that put readers off. There are some parts that are truly horrifying but this is no blood and gore story, neither is there the bad language that some find offensive. The horror is the kind that makes the reader glance over their shoulder and is not advisable to read late at night.
I've chosen this style rather than a lengthy summary. A good deal of the story concentrates on the subject of child custody, something that King did a good deal of research on. There is also romance of an enduring kind, which reaches out from beyond the grave. It's also another peek into small town mentality something that Stephen King does so well. Many of his books are set in or around the area of Maine where he lives with his family. For a large number of his fans this continuity helps to understand the American way of life that could prove difficult to understand in another setting.
Writing in the first person narrative is never an easy way to write a book as we see different characters only from the perspective of the speaker. We have to take the other characters on trust and hope the narrator is guiding us faithfully. There are characters in the book that we come to love or hate but the writing is so good that we get to see inside the narrator himself, warts and all. Despite some graphic scenes of violence the interaction between Mike and Kyra is the highlight of the book and the tenderness of such a fragile bond often had me near to tears, I wonder if King put the love of his own children into the soul of the Mike?
I'm sure you have already guessed this is one of my favourite Stephen King books. It has something about it that stands out from some of his better-known books. Some may find it slow in parts and too raw in others but for me it brings the author to life in ways that his other books didn't quite reach. It scared me a lot in some parts, it also made me take a good look inside myself to acknowledge that dark side that all people have at some times in their lives. There is also a moral to the story but that would be giving too much away. Borrow it from the library, look in second-hand shops or seek it out on Amazon or E-bay, but read it and weep. Prices.
My copy is a hardback version that I bought when I belonged to a book club. I think I probably paid about £8 for it as I have a large collection of his books in hardback. Prices vary as usual from 1p to about £6.30 depending on whether you want to chance an auction or buy it outright. As normal both Amazon and E-bay offer the best deals. In the words of the Master himself, thank you, constant reader. Lisa.