A Sad Case of Authorial Laryngitis


On Stephen King's Cell

Flying has its advantages. One feels the need for occupation. So, on this trip out to CA, I borrowed from a friend his copy of Cell.

Let's start on a positive--this is much better than many of the more recent works by Mr. King for reasons I hope to be able to articulate in a moment. The only thing I've read of recent date that I liked better was the very uncharacteristic Colorado Kid.

Cell shares much with other King works. It is post-apocalyptic and a true "romance" in the classical sense of that term. Indeed, in broad outline, the entire story follows the main line of The Stand. Thematically, it touches on some fairly classic Stephen King obsessions and ideas--the band of brothers/sisters, the "alien" if perhaps human calamity, who we are and who we aren't as a race and as a people. In all of these things, the book comes through shining.

But I can't help but notice that Stephen King has lost his authorial voice in much of this type of fiction. He makes serious slips with regard to character--having one extremely prim and proper character burst out with one of the obscenities that Mr. King is wont to pepper his works. There are moments when the reader is jarred out of the "vivid and continuous dream" by unnecessary detail, unnecessary and unconvincing metaphor and simile, and unnecessary editorializing on politics present and past. Should Mr. King feel the need to inform his readers of his views on abortion, birth control, fundamentalist religions, George Bush, and/or Richard Nixon, I would personally prefer it in a political essay that I could then choose to ignore.

Cell is, as said above, a post-apocalyptic novel about the disaster after "The Pulse," a powerful EMP begins to wreak havoc on helpless humanity. One is never told the origin of the pulse and characters speculate on it--but the origin isn't really all that important. The scenario plays out like The Stand or the truly dreadful (in a bad cinema/delightful way) Maximum Overdrive. As our intrepid band of explorers moves away from their initial location in the big city toward the country in search of relatives of the main character, the speculations slowly unfold, and the reader is treated to a glimpse of an alternative evolution.

Ultimately, the plot and the conclusion are gummed up by the fact that no one really knows the origin of the problem and it leads to difficulties explaining or dealing with anomalies resulting from it.

While a good book, it is like most of King's Horror fiction from Bag of Bones to the present, a disappointment. The command and the subtlety that shaded some of the early work is missing. Some of the dialogue and opinions are shrill. The language is unnecessarily vulgar at points, contributing nothing to either our understanding of or sympathy for the characters. Indeed, it seems to me, that Mr. King has lost his voice for this kind of fiction.

If that is so, it is no great deal because The Colorado Kid showed a new maturity of language, theme, and intricacy that we have been vouchsafed glimpses of in such works as The Body and Heart in Atlantis. Perhaps Mr. King should reconsider the direction in which he deploys most of his effort. The world of literature would benefit a great deal more with a few more works like those mentioned above, and a mite fewer of the now-feeble attempts to attain his former glory in the Dark Fantasy realm.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 9, 2006 11:29 PM.

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