Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cannonball Read Book 4: The Mist, by Stephen King

I know many people who love and adore Stephen King.  I've tried twice now to see why, and twice I've come away thinking, "Well, he's all right..."  The first time was Firestarter.  Upon hearing this, many King fans insist that I simply started with the wrong book.  I'm wondering if they would say the same for The Mist.  It wasn't a bad book--- it was a quick, engaging read and spooky enough to make me put it down a couple of hours before bedtime.  What I think spoiled it for me was having seen Darabont's film adaptation.  It's usually the other way around, but this time--for me, anyway-- the book pailed in comparison to the movie.

I think one of the main reasons for this is the book's first person narrative.  The story is told only through David Dreyton's point of view.  The character is sympathetic enough, a touch grumpy and at times even crass, but ultimately caring, brave, and forgiving.  The problem with getting only his point of view is that many characters who were well fleshed out in the film get short shrift.  From seeing them through the eyes of another character, we only see and hear of them as he does, and any insight into their motives, hopes, and fears is limited to his speculation.  This works for many stories, but in a novel about a diverse group of people sharing the same terrifying situation, each handling it in their own way, the choice of singular first person narrative feels like a great, big wasted opportunity.

There is also the repeated mention of the narrator's fear, dread, rage, etc.  If done more sparingly, this device would have been much more effective.  But the repeated mention of Dreyton's intuitive dread at the beginning, his terror at the crux, along with his hopelessness and rage, seems annoyingly heavy-handed.   Like a manipulative film score, King seems to be trying too hard to tell us what to feel.  It's as if he doesn't trust his own material to achieve the desired effect in his readers.

It's a shame too, because even with these problems The Mist is still frightening and engaging.  I may have problems with some of his choices, but it's clear from this book that King knows how to tap into the darkest regions of his readers' collective unconscious.  The vulnerability that comes with being trapped, knowing nothing of the threat one faces, watching helplessly as your would-be allies lose their senses and turn on you are all terrifying scenarios.  For my part I've seen them rarely in recent horror, so to have those fears drawn up in my imagination felt like the summoning of a subconscious nightmare, dreamed before but long forgotten.  If King's other work achieves this, I'd be more than happy to give him another chance.  Given the choice however, I'd still be more likely to pop Darabont's adaptation of The Mist into my DVD player.


  1. I have never seen the movie, but I read the book many, many years ago. I'm not a big horror fan... but I am a compulsive reader and it was there. It really creeped me out. Maybe my imagination is a little too good. I read about the ending of the movie, though and think I prefer the original ending.

    I don't usually like horror, but I have to say that I do enjoy Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas series.

  2. I am a King fan and these are surprising choices. Firestarter is a dud and anything King's written in the last ten (or more) years isn't any better. Pick up The Shining and start there.