Bag of Bones, by Stephen King

bag-of-bones-stephen-kingGenre: Horror
Publisher: Pocket
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: fourstars
Book Review by Vincent W. Sakowski

Reader Rating Why not rate it! 1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars

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So, you’re wondering if this King is worth shelling the big bone out for, especially after so many duds he’s been putting his name on in recent years. (Wizard and Glass being an exception, of course.)

Well, yes, this book is set in Maine, once again.

Yes, the protagonist is a writer — a novelist to boot. King has to slip one in somewhere.

Yes, this same protagonist wets himself in fearful Kingian fashion within the first hundred pages.

And yes, the title reappears in the book about a dozen times. (I got bored and lost count.)

But overall, these are arguably minor irritants; so yes, this book is very much worth the bother.

Why?

Well, even though King is staying on familiar territory — both literally and figuratively — and pulling everything he can from his own bag of tricks, he’s doing it right this time out.

To begin with, his fully drawn characters are smart and intriguing. Mike Noonan, (the protagonist), and a host of other good guys are sympathetic without being pathetic, and the antagonist, Max Devore, with his own host, are equally interesting and complex. Thankfully, each character is also drawn according to his need. King takes his time with his principal players, while only giving what you need to know about the peripheral figures. They all have depth and personality, but it’s good to see King pull back the reigns, and not tell us everything that we don’t want to know about every single character.

The story itself is filled with complexity and mystery. Everyone has a lot of skeletons in his or her closet, and King leaves hints and threads hanging here and there only to pick them up later and turn them over into something else. I figured out a few of the mysteries along the way, but after awhile, I stopped trying — not because they were so difficult, but simply because the book carried me along and I didn’t want to take the time to stop. I wanted to be surprised, and I was. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Thematically, it’s good versus evil in the usual Kingian fashion, but again there’s enough twists and turns to keep you going. What is perhaps the most interesting, is the fact that King takes more risks — as he does in his best short fiction, rather than in his novels — and they pay off. Sometimes the pay-off price is rather high, but again, it’s worth it. We’re not being cheated like revealing that the antagonist is a giant space spider, or the hand of God doesn’t come down to save the day.

So although, I was initially reluctant to return to King’s Maine one more time, I found it well worth the time. The only effort was pulling myself away from it.

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