Stephen King,
(Viking, 1994)

Those who say Stephen King's Insomnia is hard to get into are probably the ones used to what National Lampoon once referred to as the "plot, plot, BOO!, plot, plot, BOO!" technique King used a little more commonly in his earlier years (Pet Sematary being a prime example). I'm not saying that technique isn't effective, because it sure is -- I'm just saying that King is trying to do something different here, and I applaud it wholeheartedly.

You see, King in this novel is engaging in a deep character study, much as he did in Dolores Claiborne, establishing the "country of the mind" of Ralph Roberts as much as the actual setting of Derry, Maine. Ralph's life is the life of an old man, with little left to him but to watch his friends and loved ones die, and to wonder when his own time will come, hearing its slow approach like the ticking of a deathwatch beetle under the stairs -- an image King uses to great effect in the prologue and epilogue.

In any event, King is evoking that world of uncertain certainty, that knowledge that death will strike, but not when. The fear that Ralph feels as he at first starts to lose sleep, then starts to experience the heightened reality of the Long-Timers, is the fear all the elderly must feel that they are losing their minds, that senility is taking hold or, even worse, that they have some terminal illness.

If you are unable to read these pages, then you are likely unable to face up to these ideas. King, a man who knows more about the fears of the living than any of us, has the surest feel for this country of the mind that I've ever seen. Young or old, you owe it to yourself to give Ralph Roberts and his world of certain uncertainty a try. The rewards will be rich.

book review by
Jay Whelan

31 July 2010

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new