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Cell, by Stephen King
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2006
Review Posted: 9/18/2006
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

Cell, by Stephen King

Book Review by C. Dennis Moore

Have you read this book?

I can't think of too many other authors publishing today who could have written Cell other than Stephen King. It's not that it's particularly well-written (in fact, the first 50-100 pages, I thought, were horribly-written and had the feel of an author who's started with an idea, but has no idea where to take it, so he's plodding along just hoping to hit some kind of stride). But when you look at the plot, it's just so damn ridiculous, it really does take an author with King's credentials to put aside your laughter and say, Yeah, okay, maybe.

One fine day, October 1st to be exact, something happens. A pulse comes out of nowhere and anyone unlucky enough to be using a cell phone at that moment is turned into a rage-driven zombie. Zombie's not really the right word, but given what Hollywood's done to the idea of zombies, it's the closest thing that fits. These people aren't dead, they don't eat flesh (not always anyway), so they're more like the 28 DAYS LATER-type of "zombie". Anyway, that's the premise. So in the blink of an eye, or the ring of a phone if you prefer, the world is changed. The phoners are wandering around, killing people, destroying things, mindless and angry. The normies, those who didn't get a dose of the Pulse, start to band together and try to figure out just what the hell's going on.

Clay Riddell, our main character, is in Boston on business. He's just landed a comic book deal that he's expecting will end his worries. Only then the Pulse comes and wipes out civilization and now all Clay wants is to get back to Kent Pond, Maine and check on his wife and son.

Meanwhile, as the days progress, the phoners begin to . . . evolve. Whatever this Pulse was, wherever it came from, it seems to have wiped out their hard drives and re-installed all their software, this time with a much bigger program, one that unlocks those parts of the brain they say we don't use. The phoners develop telepathy for one. Later they even begin to levitate.

Clay wants to find his family, but the phoners want to gather together all the normies and hand them a cell phone, because the Pulse is still going.

Cell is like a science fiction road trip novel, maybe THE STAND meets THE TOMMYKNOCKERS? But King managed to do something I didn't think he could. Despite the utterly laughable premise, by focusing entirely on our little band of heroes and never once cutting away from them, he really made me care about these people. Clay, Tom, Alice, Jordan, they became real people to me and I felt like I was there with them, walking the highways at night (the song was wrong because in this case, the freaks DON'T come out at night), trying to beat the Raggedy Man's odds and come out sane in the end. There's a scene between pages 228-234 that's just heartbreaking. As unbelievable as the plot was, the characters were real.

The dialogue had some rough spots--a lot of rough spots if I'm being honest. Even though the people were real to me, it seemed every time they opened their mouths, I was drawn out of their world and saw them again as just characters in a book. "Jordan may have occasional problems with the King's English," headmaster Ardai says, "but he did not get his scholarship for excelling at tiddlywinks." Who talks like that? Especially in the middle of a situation like this one? I seem to ask that question in a lot of King reviews. And there's the repetition. Anyone who's read a King novel knows there are certain phrases that pop up in the course of a King novel and once he seizes on something, man, he can drive that thing into the ground. There were plenty in CELL, the least annoying of which was the repetition of the phrase "No-fo-you-you" and variations of it.

Overall, however, I think Cell is a success. It's far from his best, but he's done much worse. And as ridiculous as the plot is, and as rough as it started, Cell became one of those novels where I reached a certain point (page 200 out of 350) where I just read until I was finished because things were getting really interesting and you just have to know what comes next.

I don't think Cell will ever be a huge novel, it'll probably be relegated to the status of a novel like DREAMCATCHER, readable but dumb, and quickly forgotten. But for what it is, a good old-fashioned horror novel, Cell works. It's entertaining, it's tense, and it's got characters you root for. What more is there?
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Comments on Cell, by Stephen King
Posted by Jeff Edwards on 10/4/2007
I was disappointed by this book. For me, the opening was the best part, as King depicted the Pulse, but then I lost patience with the book as it became a kind of retread of "The Stand." Like you, I kept reading along towards the end, not because I thought it was interesting, but because I just wanted to finish it and move on to something better!