In reviewing Sleeping Beauties, I'm going to do something a little different than what I normally do: I'm going to offer day-by-day journal entries about my reading for that particular day.
Not sure I'm going to like the format, but if I get to the end of the process and think it's a colostomy bag in blog-post format, I'll simply scrap it ... and nobody will ever know it existed...! Waa-hah-hah! Ahem.
I will try to not be very spoilery, but I can't swear as to how successful I'll be. So I'll pledge to conclude the post with a determinedly non-spoilery wrapup section, where I'll give you an indication of how I feel about the novel without ruining anything for you.
So if you want to skip straight to that, scroll down until you see another image, and read what comes after.
September 26, 2017
The book was delivered by Amazon today. Much appreciated, fellas! Sadly, I won't be taking it out of the box today; no point, thanks to an unexpected "opportunity" to work on a day off. Ah, the perils of being full-time! (I'm happy to have 'em, FYI; if I grouse, it's mostly good-natured.) I'd initially taken three days off in a row in the hopes of being able to return to my heyday of plowing through a new King book -- even a weighty one like this -- as soon as it hit shelves. But events conspired to prevent it, and so, see ya in a few days, book.
September 28, 2017
I cracked the book open tonight, finally, and worked my way through ... uh, well, almost none of it, to be honest.
I did read the cast-of-characters section which appears right up front. I was sort of ambivalent about doing so, but I figured if the Kings took the trouble to write it out and have somebody print it that way, I'm nobody to ignore it.
I also read the opening epigraphs, plus the one-page italicized narrative section that seemingly introduces us to the novel's main (?) character. It didn't make much of an impression on me; didn't grab me. But it didn't seem designed to; it seems more of a dreamy, elusive thing than a grab-'em-by-the-shirt thing. I'll be curious to see how it reads once I'm familiar with the entire novel.
September 29, 2017 -- Part One, Chapter One
Why am I putting the "2017" on all of those headers? If it somehow turns into 2018 and I'm still working on this book, I'm turning in my fuckin' license to blog.
Anyways, I made it through the first chapter tonight. It was pretty good. A few thoughts:
- My utterly shite memory is likely to be on full display during this process, but maybe that's okay. Seems honest, at least.
- The novel opens with a scene between two female inmates, Ree and Jeanette, whose names I am shocked to remember.
- My initial feeling is that this chapter is heavily weighted toward Owen King's style and perspective. This is fine by me; I'm a fan, so if it sounds 100% like his previous work, that won't fash me none. [I hereby pledge to try NOT to be the guy whose primary goal in reading (and writing about) this novel is to "figure out" who wrote what. Interviews have made clear that it was an intensely collaborative process, and that the end result is one in which practically -- if not literally -- every sentence was rewritten by both Owen and Stephen at some point.]
- We soon shift perspectives and meet a middle-aged psychiatrist, whose name escapes me. He's married to a sheriff and is employed by the state as a resident at the same prison where the chapter opened. This doctor character is immediately sympathetic and likeable (he's lightly distraught over the buff pool guy working in his back yard, but in a way that implies no actual fear that the pool guy will invade his life in any way -- sort of a theoretical and/or on-principle distress), and there's a nice rapport with his son that kind of mirrors the sort of jocular relationship the Kings themselves have shown in joint interviews.
- We shift to what appears to be a backwoods meth lab, where a strange young woman -- and we immediately doubt that she actually IS a woman -- kills several people. This is Evie; "a stranger," as she is referred to in the cast of characters. Speaking of that cast of characters, I recognized the names of several of her victims from having seen them in that list. Somehow, that made their deaths here seem more shocking, which is an interesting side-effect. It's almost as if seeing their names all together like that put them on equal footing, so that when one is dispatched so quickly, it subconsciously feels like a real person has vanished from the story.
- When Evie shows up at the meth lab -- or the trailer next door to the meth lab, I think, if you want to get technical -- she greets the guy who answers the door with a "Hello, man." You don't actually "see" this happen; you hear it from the perspective of another female character. She also hears one of her trailer-mates ask Evie in a drug-addled manner if she is the Avon lady. She assuredly is not, and the Kings, in the next section, after she has bloodily dispatched several people by hand, refer to her as "the Avon lady who was not an Avon lady." I love that phrase, and am probably going to name this post after it.
- Part of what I love about the phrase is the use of "was not" as opposed to "wasn't." That's a deliberate choice the Kings made, and it means something to them. Therefore, it means something to me. So ... what's it mean? Well, my impulse is to say that it means that the story -- at least while we are (in a limited sense) in Evie's perspective -- is operating at a more formal level in some way. It implies a lack of emotion; and since Evie showed virtually no emotion during her dispatching of the druggies, it mirrors her and keeps us in her point of view to some degree.
September 30, 2017 -- Part One, Chapter Two
- We spend more time with the sheriff in this chapter, whose name -- I got it down now, baby! -- is Lila Norcross. Her husband the psychiatrist is Clint. We find out that she lied to Clint about her whereabouts the night before, and my snap assumption was that she was humping Anton the pool guy. But no, it seems instead that Lila has discovered a secret about Clint -- that he has a daughter she didn't know about -- and has had a difficult time figuring out how to proceed with that knowledge.
- Through the eyes of a woman named Magda -- who is Anton's mother -- we see a television report about the spreading sleeping sickness. Magda talks to the television a lot and has a foreign accent that makes me think of the scene in Cat's Eye where Drew Barrymore's father makes fun of his mother-in-law's accent, to the complete non-amusement of his wife.
- Tiffany calls in and reports the murders. I'd thought there was a possibility that she was killed by Evie, but this turns out not to be the case.
- Lila is called, and is on the verge of sleep. She feels something stringy on her face, and obviously is pulled back literally from the brink of the sleeping sickness.
- She drives out to investigate the explosion, and has a near-miss with Evie, almost running the "girl" over when she is in the middle of the road. Evie somehow already knows Lila's name.
- This novel is beginning to remind me a bit of Under the Dome, which is fine by me; I loved most of that novel (yes, including the ending, you the-ending-sucks-claiming weirdos). What Evie herself is making me think of is a character not from the novel, but from the television series: Melanie, the resurrected dead girl. There aren't really that similarities between them, apart from their sharing a knowing otherwordliness that is presented as a mystery to lure in readers/viewers. Melanie's storyline on Under the Dome also ended up involving cocoons, as I recall. She made her first appearance in the second season's debut episode, "Heads Will Roll," which was scripted by King himself. I don't think there is going to end up being any purposeful similarity between these two characters, but it came to mind for me while I was reading this chapter.
- So based on the length of this chapter -- about 25 pages, same as the first -- I've fallen into a pattern early on in this process: I'm reading a chapter per night. And then what I've done in composing these notes is, I've written them the next day based on my memory of what I read. Assuming the chapters stay at roughly this length, I might keep to this pattern; I kind of like the idea of stretching the reading out for a while, and I like exercising my memory a bit by forcing it to think back to the previous day. Early signs indicate that this is going to result in a lot of plot summary, though, so I fear these notes might end up being more spoiler-based than I'd hoped. Ah, well; if so, that's just how it will be. Let's assume I'll be doing nothing but spilling my guts about everything that happens; if you don't want to be involved in that, this is your warning to bail out now.
October 1, 2017 -- Part One, Chapter 3
- The Kings pull a trick -- and I'm assuming they did this on purpose, though that could be a faulty assumption (making this less a "trick" than a thing that just kind of happened) -- with a character named Frank, who is an animal-control officer (and a would-be police officer Lila doesn't want to hire). We met him briefly prior to this, but here, he is revealed to be African-American. Confession time: if I'm reading a book, unless somebody is specifically mentioned as being a different color (or unless their name strongly implies it), I simply assume everyone is white. Question: does this make me a racist? I don't know, but if I want to be able to claim "woke" status, I guess I better say it does. Except I don't actually think it does. I think it means simply that I'm a middle-aged white man who's spent the entirety of his life consuming media that was dominantly charactered with white people; running the numbers, the odds are still overwhelmingly in favor of Character X in Story Z being white, and that may be changing, but it's not going to change enough in my lifetime for it to swing the numbers around. Anyways, I enjoyed the fact that the Kings here seemed to maybe be playing with that idea a bit; Frank's racial makeup is only revealed in a moment when he reflects upon it having been a bit of a problem for him. In that moment, I'm somewhat complicit, and since I've got a requisite amount of liberal white guilt, that actually made me side with Frank ... who is then revealed to be not a particularly nice guy. Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I enjoyed having my expectations willfully (I think) turned on their head here.
- I have a memory of King Sr. having done something similar with Mike in It. Do I remember correctly that he isn't "revealed" to be black until well into the novel?
- The chapter also involves Lila having a conversation with Evie, who seems like even odder a duck than we suspected. It feels almost as if she wants to go to prison.
- A cocoon begins growing over the face of Tiffany the meth-head, and the EMTs -- or is it the deputies? -- freak out about it a little bit. The Kings drop in one of those foreshadowing tricks King Sr. loves to use, where he tells you somebody's fate before you reach that point in the story. This isn't that, but they say that the EMTs (or officers) made the best decision of their lives when they decide not to try to remove the silk-ish threads from Tiffany's eyes and/or nose. That, clearly, is going to mean something later on.
- I'm digging this novel so far. Might have to accelerate the pace a bit; we'll see about that.
October 2, 2017 -- Part One, Chapter 4
- The sleeping sickness -- which is beginning to be called "Aurora" (after the titular princess of Disney's Sleeping Beauty) -- is beginning to spread in a major way now, and it appears to be impacting more or less the entire world at the same time. Thanks to the fact that some places' populations are at different points in their sleep cycles relative to other places, certain regions are being affected less. Dooling -- which is in West Virginia (except not in reality) -- is one of those being affected less.
- The Norcross child -- whose name escapes me at the moment -- has a conversation with a girl friend of his who he seemingly wishes were a girlfriend. She's considering going to an Arcade Fire concert with a guy he knows to be a bully and an all-around dick. I love Arcade Fire, and don't care for the idea that in this story, both Régine Chassagne and Sarah Neufeld are going to have cocoons on their heads. Those rock-'n'-roll types sleep late, too, so they're probably already thus afflicted at this point in the story.
- What other stuff happens in this chapter? Well, Lila remands Evie over the the temporary custody of the Dooling prison for psychiatric evaluation (by her husband). And Clint has a conversation with Jeanette, via which we learn that he feels she really ought to be a free woman, despite having killed her husband (in circumstances that were seemingly as much accident as anything else). Elsewhere, we learn that Lila was at a basketball game of some sort the night before, and that she watched Clint's daughter -- whoever that is -- have a triple-double game. Evie makes several references to "triple double"s, too, which seems ... odd.
- While it's on my mind, here's what I'd say about the writing style the Kings are employing here: it just seems like the work of one writer to me. They've said in interviews that they rewrote and re-rewrote and re-re-rewrote each other during the novel's composition, resulting in what they felt was almost the voice of a third person. From what I've read so far, this sounds entirely accurate to me, although the way I'd characterize it is Owen's prose applied to Steve's plotting. Not sure that's actually the case; it's just how I'd describe it if I had to. Whatever the case, it works for me, at least through the first hundred pages.
October 3, 2017 -- Part One, Chapter 5
- One problem I have with this novel is becoming more apparent: too few people seem to be freaking out about the fact that the women of Dooling are going to be succumbing to this sleeping sickness. There's a scene in which the (female) warden of the prison discusses an inmate who's already begun the cocooning process. She's having this conversation with Clint Norcross, and neither of them brings up the idea that she herself is going to be dealing with this problem in a few hours. This seems inherently unbelievable to me; they'd discuss it, even if only for a moment, and even if only as a practical concern. Or, if they didn't discuss it, they'd be thinking about the fact that they weren't discussing it. The fact that neither of these things happened in this scene is problematic for me. It doesn't threaten to topple the novel or anything ... not, at least, yet. We'll see where it goes from here.
- Frank is turning into an interesting character. He's sympathetically unsympathetic, partially because of the fact that he knows he is troubled and is equally willing and unwilling to do anything about it. He's not dissimilar to Jack Torrance in that way; he's not the classic character that Jack is, but then again, the novel isn't over yet. So we'll see.
- There is a scene in which the prison officer who is being investigated for sexual harassment -- his name escapes me -- forces Jeanette to jerk him off. This is thoroughly repugnant, but I suspect indignities even more repugnant have been suffered by inmates throughout history. There's always some guy who wants to be jerked off, and if he's the wrong guy, and he has a way to put somebody else in that position without fear of reprisal, then odds are good that's he will get jerked off, or worse. I don't think it's a bad thing to be reminded of that from time to time; you gotta watch out for that guy. You certainly wouldn't want to vote for him if he ran for office of some sort.
- The Kings show us what happens when somebody removes the cocoon from a sleeping woman's face: the woman becomes violent and takes it out on whoever is near. And thus Anton the pool guy passes out of this story. I enjoyed the way the Kings structured this: Anton is watching television, and Michaela is about to show a video of the cult in Texas (Texas?) where one such incident occurred. He loses interest and changes channels, but we then cut to Frank, who is watching. The Kings then bounce back and forth between Anton and Frank, which is fun.
- The cult stuff reminded me a bit of a bargain-bin Leftovers for some reason. I don't think this stuff is particularly successful. It veers too close to comedy, and here, I feel Owen's hand; this stuff, tonally, reminds me of Intro to Alien Invasion, which was fun, but indicated King Jr.'s unwillingness to take some of this fantastical stuff seriously in the way his father and brother do. This could end up being a detriment to Sleeping Beauties, but I'm not at the point yet -- not even close -- where I'm saying that's what's going on. It's just a thing that I worry about a bit.
October 4, 2017 -- Part One, Chapters 6 and 7
- Hey, remember when I was complaining that nobody seemed to be thinking of how Aurora was going to impact them on a personal level? Well, that's a primary focus of Chapter 6, so there go those fears out the window.
- We find out that Lila's issue with Clint having a secret daughter lies in part with the fact that the daughter has the same last name (Norcross). This subplot is intriguing, and I'm curious to see where it goes, but I wonder if some readers will find it to be too soap-opera-esque. Hard to say for sure without having the context of the full novel.
- I'm enjoying writing these daily notes, but it's an unnatural way for me to read a novel, and I worry that I might be spending too much time in my own head (and not enough in the Kings') as a result. This is somewhat akin to watching an episode of a television show and then carping about it for a while afterward, when it is entirely possible the very next episode will address whatever thing it is I'm carping about. And I mostly don't like watching television that way, so I'm not sure I like the implications of forcing myself to read a novel that way. So it may be that this will be a one-time experiment.
- Chapter 7 is shorter than the others have been, and adopts a limited view of events around the world. We find out that Evie is apparently "present" everywhere via the wildlife; for example, she is herself if the Dooling prison, but she is also an ant crawling through the blood of a dead woman on the lawn of the White House. So clearly something is up with THAT.
- News apparently just came out that Sleeping Beauties has gone to the top of the bestseller list. So Owen King gets his first #1, and Stephen King gets his, like, hundredth. Cool!
October 5, 2016 -- Part One, Chapters 8 and 9
- Things are definitely beginning to ramp up now. So why is my memory of what happened ramping down? Let's blame it on me just having seen Blade Runner 2049 and being kind of distracted by thinking about it. (I'd give you an opinion on it, but it's going to require more processing. I think it's either a masterpiece or an inferior disappointment, or something anywhere between those poles. I'm leaning toward the former, but it's just going to require more time. I'll say this definitively, though: it's one of the best-looking films ever made. If Roger Deakins doesn't win the Oscar this year, we need to riot.) After all, how would I even know if my memories of these chapters are real?
- Clint has a conversation with Evie, who freaks him out by way of knowing things she ought not to know (including the fact that he has apparently forgotten he has a daughter); in a development of which Annie Wilkes would not approve, Clint and Lila's son (Jeremy?) is hit by a car, but ends up being basically fine; Ree tries to arrange an audience with the warden to rattle on Mr. Wants-a-Handie, whatever his name is; and Lila goes out to the site of the explosion, where she finds what seems to be an illusory faerie-land. It's seemingly trying to lull her into sleep, and vanishes when she successfully fights sleep off. I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of that.
October 6, 2017 -- Part One, Chapters 10 and 11
- Apropos of nothing, let me mention something now that's popped into my mind several time: how much I appreciate the fact that there have been no glaring connections (so far) to other Stephen King novels. Guys ... I think the interconnectedness aspect of his work has been overplayed. I have never wanted or needed for that to bleed into every single one of his books. That said, I'm not opposed to it being present; I'd just prefer that it be minimal and subtle. So, like, no need for the number 19 to be a big deal in any King novel ever again. Don't need it, don't want it.
- There is a fascinating bit at the end of Chapter 10 in which Evie -- who is "sleeping" in her cell communicates telepathically with the Queen of the rats who live in the walls of the prison. The rat addresses Evie as "Mother," which in my mind makes it rather likely that Evie is intended to be a personification of Mother Nature. I can't swear that that's what the Kings intended, but it's how I'm currently reading it, and I'm intrigued to see where that goes from here.
- In other developments, Don Peters (he of the illicit handjob) is busted by the warden, but seemingly puts some sort of a plan to get out of it into motion that involves drugging Warden Coates with Xanax; Michaela decides to abandon her job after it turns into a shitcircus; and Clint reminisces about his childhood in foster homes, and we find out that he had an affair at some point with Shannon, a girl he knew back then and unexpectedly met up with again as an adult. We already know that Shannon is the mother of Clint's daughter, thanks to Lila's investigations. Clint's own thoughts about Shannon do not in any way indicate that he is aware of having a daughter, though, so I'm thinking Shannon got pregnant during their illicit hookup, but never told Clint, who may not even be aware that Shannon lives nearby. Soap Opera City, to some extent, but I'm still interested in it.
October 7, 2017 -- Part One, Chapters 12 and 13
- All I remember from yesterday's reading is that Warden Coates goes to sleep thanks to Peters's Xanax gambit, and that Jared Norcross tries to help his friend Mary, as well as a neighbor's grandaughter. They arrive at a supermarket riot already in progress, which is more than a bit reminiscent of a comparable scene in Under the Dome, but not as impactful.
October 8 -- Part One, Chapters 14-16
- It occurred to me today that at the pace I am currently reading, I will likely not finish this novel until the end of the month, and that's just too darn long, especially since Joe Hill's Strange Weather comes out on the 24th. So I'm going to try to step it up a bit. The fact that I've just finished working day one of ten consecutive days is likely going to help that goal not one whit, but we'll see.
- One thing this novel has going for it is that there are occasional sentences that demonstrate quite capably the fact that this novel has been written by two very good writers. Can I remember one? No, of course not! but they are there; every day's reading has held one or two of them, and if I were highlighting strong passages, I'd have put my highlighter to relatively frequent use.
- My shitty memory is being obstinate tonight, but here are some things I recall from the three chapters I read last night:
- The fox who was hanging around the homeless lady's place cuts its back severely, and seems to be headed for a slow death when it encounters the tree which Lila previously saw. Rubbing its back on the "fairy handkerchiefs" near it heals the fox, who then encounters a tiger which speaks to it with Evie's voice.
- Frank and Elaine -- is that his wife's name -- have an argument about his idea to go get the meth-head doctor to try to treat their daughter. Dr. Flickinger proves to be surprisingly amenable.
- Angel hears that Evie has managed to fall asleep without contracting Aurora, so she goes to her and angrily confronts her, which leads to Evie opening her jaw unnaturally wide -- like Pennywise in the It movie, or Renfield in the Night Flier movie, but less evil -- and letting a huge flood of moths loose.
- Things are beginning to go downhill pretty fast at the prison. One inmate tries to remove the webbing from another's face, and is attacked; a guard shoots the attacking woman before she can kill her intended victim, though.
- One problem I have with the novel is that so many of the women seem to be taking it so well. They're not really taking it well, but it seems to me like that half of the world's population would be more or less on the verge of panic in every moment that brought them closer to sleep. It also seems like many of their respective boyfriends, husbands, etc., would be fairly panicked as well. Lots of people getting a goodbye hump on, I'd imagine. The novel isn't really doing much of that sort of thing yet (although these chapters did include a vignette in which a book club got drunk and then took a bunch of pills to help them fall asleep faster). As such, it's proving to be something of a failure in terms of realism. But, of course, there is a heavily fantastical element going on here, and therefore realism may not even vaguely be the Kings' intent. So by no means is this a deal-breaker for me yet.
- I suppose it's a sign of the times that I'm beginning to see political overtones/undertones (both, really) here. Do I want to talk about them? I do not. Do I find them to be oppressive? Not in any way, at least not yet. Do I blame the Kings? No sir. These are proudly liberal fellows whose politics generally align with my own, so even if they drive their go-kart straight into Libtardsville and crash it on the corner of SJW St. and Woke Rd., I'll give them the room to do it. But I hope that doesn't happen, personally; keep it subtle, guys, if you can.
October 9 -- Part One, Chapters 17-20
- Things ramped up in these four chapters, which represented about seventy pages and took me all the way to the end of Part One. So I'm now almost exactly halfway finished. Liking it quite a bit; there was some intriguing stuff in tonight's reading, and I'd say I'm much more invested now than I had been previously.
- I feel like I'm mostly done with being super-specific about the plot. But maybe not? We'll see. I'd say you should continue to read only at your own peril.
- Some of my concerns regarding many people seemingly taking things a bit too well have more or less been dissipated now.
- We get a few good sections in which we get more of a global view of what's happening. These are darkly tasty little aperitifs, and the Kings do a terrific job of using them to suggest a broader and more epic story happening, not at all unlike some of the similar sections in The Stand. Not quite up to par with that one, sadly; but few such end-of-the-world novels are, so it's not entirely a fair comparison. What's here is great, no need for it to measure up to some other thing.
- There's a great stretch in which Jeanette is "talking" to "Ree" as a means of focusing herself. This is a trick she's learned from Dr. Norcross, and what it means, basically, is that Jeanette is talking to herself, but using Ree -- who has died -- as an imaginary friend of sorts. I love the way this is written, with Jeanette speaking out loud, complete with quotation marks; she is "answered" by "Ree," in choppy and basic sentences that the King present without quotation marks. And boy, there's something in the lack of quotation marks that really gets me. Jeanette is aware that she is playing make-believe here; and via that expert non-punctuation, the Kings reinforce that fact every time her imaginary friend "speaks." This becomes even more effective once Jeanette is present in the room with Ree's corpse, saying goodbyes of a sort.
- The sopa-opera stuff between Clint and Lila is resolved, and in an effective fashion.
- A bit more politics seeps into things. And no, I still don't want to talk about it much, but ... the talk of the 'net these past few days has been the bombshell accusations against Harvey Weinstein, who, apparently, was not merely an asshole of the highest order, but also a ... shit, what do you even call this guy? "Rapist" seems perhaps -- one can hope -- to be incorrect; but "criminal degenerate" is both too vague and a bit too light. Anyways, you can look it up for yourself. The point is, this is not the first such report that has come out about men in the entertainment industry recently, and it's getting to be tiresome. Oh, don't misunderstand me; it's not that I'm tired of hearing it, it's that I'm tired of it being true, which I assume all of these allegations to be. And if that's the case for me, imagine what it must be like for women to have to live in a culture that, for a long time, has permitted such things to be possible. Harvey Weinstein didn't do these things last month, y'all; he's apparently been doing such things for decades. People who knew a bit about it kept silent -- or, in some cases, offered support of a kind -- because they wanted to protect their own professional futures. In many ways, the past -- what? -- eleven (?)-plus months have felt like America has slipped into some sort of nightmare funhouse mirror. But the further into the funhouse we get, the more it seems to me like they've taken away the goofy mirrors and replaced them with real ones. I'm afraid we might be seeing ourselves quite accurately right now.
- All that said, one of the undertones -- maybe even one of the overtones -- of Sleeping Beauties thus far seems (I qualify it because one judges or analyzes half a novel at one's own peril) to be a very despairing one suggesting that as the male/female divide is concerned, it might be best if the whole thing were just burned to the ground. And since there's no real way to do that and have a world left once it's finished... I begin to fear -- hope? (oddly, yes, kind of) -- that this is going to develop into a very dark novel indeed. Because, frankly, the times seem to be demanding it.
- Evie suggests something similar, by the way. And we get a bit of information from her that I won't divulge. Let's just say that I'm no longer sure she actually is an avatar for Mother Nature. That's not off the table; but I think something else, something perhaps less specific, might be going on here.
- Amusing "cameos" from Peter Straub and Joe Hill and Clive Barker happen during a library scene. No mention of Stephen King, though; or Owen, for that matter. But I suppose the existence of Joe Hill in this story makes the existence of Steve and Owen a natural conclusion to draw, and if that's true, then one could probably make the argument that this is taking place on Keystone Earth. And I've got to say, I hope that is the closest this novel gets to having a Dark Tower connection. Don't need it; don't want.
October 10, 2017 -- Part Two, Chapters 1-3
- A major new -- well, not "new," exactly, but new in the manner it's presented here -- is introduced in these chapters. The sleeping women are revealed to be existing in some alternative Dooling, where time is passing at a faster rate and they are very much "awake" and moving around in a world utterly devoid of men. We'll see where it goes, but I'm not immediately enchanted by this.
- Hey, what about trannies? Maybe that will become an issue during the rest of the novel, but there's been no mention of how trans women and/or trans men are impacted by Aurora. This is the sort of thing I wouldn't have even considered five years ago, but times do change, I guess.
- Frank Geary is coming into focus as one of the novel's major potential villains. He hasn't turned to outright villainy yet, but you sense it's on the way.
- I barely made it through the third of these three chapters before sleep claimed me, which is an unsettling feeling. Probably would be moreso if I were a woman. King Sr. recently tweeted something about how one doesn't fall asleep if the book is good enough, and maybe that's true if you DON'T have sleep apnea and if you aren't perpetually exhausted, but I do and I am, and so on occasion, regardless of how riveting the book/movie/tv show is, the eyelids are gonna droop.
October 11, 2017 -- Part Two, Chapters 4-6
- I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say tonight. These were good chapters, though; and, specifically, they did a LOT to shore up my uncertainty about the plot involving the sleeping women in their new world. I won't reveal what's going on here, partially because to some extent they are still suspicions on my part rather than certainties. But they've increased my interest in this novel substantially.
- Touching base real quick on the issue of who wrote what: I realized during last night's reading that I had not pondered that issue in days. I take this as a sign of success on the Kings' part in terms of the melding of their styles. Too early to say definitively (I've got about a third of the novel left to go), but to the extent I can do so I am calling it now: purely from a standpoint of the prose, this was an entirely successful collaboration.
- It actually reminds me more than a bit of Joe Hill's style, which makes a certain amount of sense.
- I heard a podcast review of the novel that slagged it for, among other things, having too many characters. It does have a large cast, but I don't feel it's overlarge, personally; and I'm invested in most of them.
October 12, 2017 -- Part Two, Chapters 7-9
- I've encountered a mild amount of grumpiness from Constant Readers about the fact that both of Steve's books this year were collaborations, but I've got to say, I'd happily read more collaborations between him and Owen. His short collaborations with Joe have also been strong, and I'd be pretty stoked to see a full-length one between the two of them. Or an Owen/Joe team-up. Or a Steve/Tabitha team-up. Boy, now THAT would be fascinating! So would a Tabitha/Owen or a Tabitha/Joe. Let's get Kelly Braffet in there somewhere, too.
- The plot kept on chugging in these chapters. One character was permanently -- I assume -- done away with, and I was surprised by how affecting this was, especially given how little time they had spent in the actual narrative.
- I just asked myself the following question (no, not aloud): who is my favorite character? Weirdly, I'm not sure I have one. I like more or less all of the characters ("like" being a relative thing in the case of some of the more villainous ones), but I'm not sure I love any of them.
- I watched a YouTube video of a recent appearance the Kings made in Sarasota while on their book tour, and one of the many interesting things I noted during it was that Steve says there was no intent on their part to put politics into the book. As with all books, their personal politics do come out a bit, but they agreed that once you began exploring the scenario, the "political" aspect of the gender divide simply began asserting itself, because how could it not? That makes perfect sense to me. And, for the record, I continue to feel that the novel has been very restrained in its politics; lots there via implication, I suppose, but very little in direct intent.
October 13, 2017 -- Part Two, Chapters 10-12
- As we enter the final stretch of this novel -- I've got about 150 pages left -- I am struck by the fact that I don't know what this novel is about. I don't mean in terms of the plot; I mean in terms of the thematic implications. See, here's the deal: I think it's going to turn out to be one thing OR another (specific) thing, but I honestly don't know which of those two things it's going to be. Therein lies a great deal of the suspense of the novel, and for the moment, I think that's a virtue. Whether I still feel that way after I'm finished, I don't know. but right now, if you were to ask me how I felt about the novel, I'd mostly want to shy away from answering, because until I have a better handle on what I feel the King are saying with it, I don't really know how I feel about it. I am enjoying it, though.
- One potential issue cropped up while I read these chapters: the Kings introduced two seemingly major new characters. If 550ish pages into a 700ish-page novel seems too late to be introducing major new characters to YOU, well, rest asurred that you have company in that boat. To be fair, these characters had been mentioned several times previously -- often enough that I recognized their names as soon as they appeared -- but still, this struck me as a mild party foul. I'm happy to give the Kings an opportunity to win me over, though, and through the three chapters I read tonight, I'm leaning in the direction of being won.
October 14, 2017 -- Part Two, Chapters 13-17; Part Three
- Most of the remaining chapters in Part Two are devoted to what might well be the lengthiest action setpiece of Stephen King's career. I've done zero research on this, granted, but the only things that come to mind as being comparable are various of the Dark Tower novels (Wolves of the Calla springs immediately to mind) and arguably both Needful Things and Under the Dome. Depends on what you classify as "action," I guess, but this stuff -- I'll reveal that we're talking about a siege on the prison -- is reminiscent of Assault on Precinct 13, and action of that type is not necessarily what you think of when you think "Stephen King." And it DAMN sure isn't what you think of when you think "Owen King." But whether they were inspired individually or as a result of their collaboration, they really deliver the goods with these chapters.
- And with the entire end of the novel, really. I guess I can imagine some people being frustrated by certain aspects of it, especially Part Three, which is an extended wrap-up. But for me, this is where the novel really came together. I'm not always impressed by King Sr.'s endings -- and I thought King Jr.'s Double Feature was a great novel in search of a good ending -- but here, I think Stephen and Owen put it all together. It was surprising in some ways, it was happy in some ways, it was sad in some ways. It wasn't what I expected; I wrote yesterday briefly about how I expected it was going to be one of two things, and it turned out to not be either of those things. Not precisely, at least; it was kind of one of them, but only kind of. I thought it was pretty great, though.
- I've mostly been avoiding reviews until I finished the novel, but I did hear a relatively spoiler-free one on the Losers' Club podcast. A reliably enjoyable podcast, that, but their reviewer was negative on this novel, and was especially negative on certain politically-tinged aspects of the finale. I think those criticisms were mostly off-base; they've got to do with a white cop feeling remorse for accidentally shooting and killing a black character. I'll grant you that this subplot is undoubtedly more political on the face of it than most of the rest of the novel has been; but I'd argue that the Kings are using it to illustrate something about the fundamental decency of the person who does the shooting. They are irreparably scarred by this incident, and wonder whether they would have hesitated for just enough longer to make a difference if the person on the receiving end had been white. It's a political issue, but it's also a human issue, and I think the Kings are innocent of making a political statement here; they are making a human statement, and if a political point is suggested by it, I think they are probably okay with that.
- And that is where I'm going to bring these notes to a close.
|UK edition from Hodder & Stoughton|
Man, I love that cover! I love it so much I bought myself a copy of that edition; didn't cost me any more than the US version did, either, so I consider it money well spent.
Anyways, here's my non-spoilery thoughts:
I found this to be a thoroughly entertaining novel that gained strength as it progressed. And that continued right on through to the end. As I was just saying in the spoiler-lamp-is-lit section, a good ending does not always happen with a King novel. For my money, it happened here; I even found myself loving a few characters who had not meant much to me for the first several hundred pages. But that's part of what a big, thick novel like this one can do; if one ends well, that process can bring the entire thing into focus.
I'd argue that that is what happened here, and I am already relishing the thought of diving into the novel a second time, so that I can reread some of it with the full story in mind. I think some of the early sections will work better for me this time, which suggests that I am likely to enjoy the novel more the second time than I did the first. Speculation on my part, but of the semi-informed variety.
For those of you who are wondering: Stephen and Owen meshed together quite well. Impeccably, even. I sensed both Stephen and Owen at times, and while there is no way to use this novel to peek into the secrets of their collaboration, I sense that working together was both easy AND challenging for the two men. The prose flows too well for it not to have been somewhat easy; there are occasional signs that perhaps the story got pushed in directions by one author that the other might not have expected at times, but there is no sign of conflict in the prose whatsoever. Or if there is, I failed to pick up on it.
I also think the two challenged each other, and that each individually rose to the other's challenge, because this doesn't fully seem like the work of either one. It's less cornily jokey -- though not entirely free of this trait -- than is sometimes true of Stephen work; the plotting seems tighter than Owen's work has suggested thus far. There had also been relatively little sense in Owen's work previously that he took works of fantasy seriously as a writer; he'd dabbled in genre work on occasion, but with what always struck me as a bit of reluctance and lack of commitment. As much as I enjoyed his previous book -- the graphic novel Intro to Alien Invasion (written with Mark Jude Poirier and artist Nancy Ahn) -- I felt a bit as if he were arching an eyebrow at the genre, as if to say, "Oh, look how silly this type of thing is!" The result was fun, but also a bit arch. There is scarcely a hint of that in Sleeping Beauties.
Here, it seems like his father is almost teaching him how to work with genre. They have revealed in interviews that the idea for the novel came from Owen, which is interesting. The end result almost feels as if the idea was akin to a model airplane that a son took to his father, asking, "How do I put this together?" The father looks at it, says, "Hey, this looks like fun! I'll teach you how. We'll do it together."
And so they did. But don't feel as if it was entirely father leading son; the character work here reminded me of Owen more than of Steve, and much of the levity seems more the son's than the father's. There's not a huge amount of it there; but it is definitely present, and that, too, struck me as being more Owen than Steve.
The great thing, though, is that I almost never found myself getting caught up in wondering who wrote what. It's too good a story for that; they have said in interviews that they felt their collaboration resulted in a third voice, and I agree with them on that score.
In fact, the voice that Sleeping Beauties ended up with struck me as being not at all dissimilar to that of Joe Hill. Joe and Owen share a similar wit and general outlook, or so it seems to me; and Joe and Stephen share a similar taste for fantastical horror, as well as a similar love of character. Owen, too, has a love of character; but I find his to be more reminiscent of his mother (Tabitha King) than of his father. And while I can't quantify any of that easily, I do feel it all to be true and accurate, and I swear that if you'd marched this novel back in time to the me who was in 2015, I'd have read it and thought it was a Joe Hill novel.
Regardless of any of those feelings, I think that this collaboration between father and son was a successful one, and one that may prove to have a strong impact on both of their solo writings going forward. As always, I look forward to those.
But if they did another one together, and soon, that would be just fine by me.