Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King

Hardcover, 561 pages

Published May 2018 by Scribner

I am no different than many in the horror community, I grew up on Stephen King, he is the biggest and most popular writer of dark fiction in the history of the universe. For better or for worse he is a writing machine with more books published that is hard to even consider. With probably more than a trillion published words it can't all be good can it? Nah I am of the belief that for most of his career I like or love 60 % of his work. 30% is iffy, and 10% is just bad.

I certainly prefer the early novels and stories but I have liked recent books. I loved 11/22/63 and count me in the group that enjoyed Doctor Sleep. For the first 200 pages of the Outsider I was sure this book was going to be in the 60% of positive. None the less we end up in the iffy category.

Look I a firm believer in outlines for novels, King writes without a plan, and often I think the bad habits he gets into are directly a result of not having a clear plan. The first 200 pages really start off with a creepy set-up. Imagine for a minute you are Coach T. Terry Maitland is a respected teacher and youth baseball coach. Everyone in his small town of Flint City knows him.

The novel kicks off when Ralph a cop who becomes our primary POV publicly arrests Terry Maitland during a little league semi-finale. The arrest is for the brutal sexual assault and homicide of a local kid. The thing is Coach T has a rock solid alibi, and at the same time DNA evidence against him. Thus sets up the mystery. How can this man be at two different places at the same time? The strength in the book is the set-up, for 200 hundred pages we have a set-up for a perfect mystery, the only answers possible are impossible. I am trying to stay spoiler free as it is the twist around the two hundred page mark that changes the path of the novel and not for the better. (I will go Spoilers later)

At that point the novel went off the rails for me, most of my enjoyment of the novel was all in the first act. The middle act is devoted to investigating other cases that relate to the main story. Another case entirely that is related in that it is a murder impossibly in two places at once.

There are excellent moments through-out, I was never bored but the book I envisioned when I was 100 pages in was a much better story than the one we ended up with. The characters were good, and I enjoyed the experience enough to give the book 3 out of 5 stars. That may be a little kind. Over-all I can't recommend this book when there are so many horror authors coming up that are doing more exciting things with 0.0000000000001% of the sales.

You just can't spend 250 pages going in the wrong narrative direction, and then recycle a monster from Desperation. No matter how good the set-up or characters the second half has to deliver.

SPOILERS: The problem in The Outsider starts with the second act. SK focuses the story on the investigation, showing and telling us the details of the various cases over 250 or so pages. I understood what was happening 30 pages into this and I wish King trusted his readers. This was being promoted as King returning to scary supernatural horror, the cover was so rad I was looking forward to that. Devoting so many pages to the procedural just zapped the potential for the book to scare.

Who am I to tell the master how to write a scary book but I learned it first from King himself? In the wake of Coach T being killed on the steps Ralph should have been convinced still that he got the right guy. The town should have been relieved, and they should have been heroes. That way when another murder happens, that is when the questions begin. But also the town has to be afraid of another killer. Then Ralph on to the monster/vampire that doubles people situation would have to fear that he could trust no one in town. Anyone could be the active killer still out there. After the first 100 pages that is where I thought the book was going.

There are excellent moments in the Outsider still. The scene where the double with Tattoo's comes to warn Ralph's wife that he has to stop was great, but the missed opportunities were too much.

Side note: Is SK getting paid by Wal-mart? because one characters love for Wal-mart gets mentioned over, and over. It actually becomes a plot point. What up with dat?

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