Monday, 28 May 2012
Devouring Stephen King: The Tommyknockers
So. As far as I know, The Tommyknockers was written in a 'difficult' period in King's life, where he was basically doing ALL THE DRUGS and generally being all high all the time. This alone is NOT a good excuse for why this book is so poor, because according to the back of the book, he wrote it over a 5 year period (1982-1987) a lot of which, I have to assume, was him putting it away in a drawer somewhere because it really wasn't working. The point is, anyway, that in a similar time period (I'm pretty sure it's something like 1981-4/5) he wrote It, which, as we're all aware, is the best book in the whole entire world (or, like, my favourite Stephen King so far. Or something.) The Tommyknockers is not It. It's not even The Talisman. It's much much worse than that.
Now. There's bad, and then there's Stephen King being bad, and those two things are very different. Because even when Stephen King's bad, he's still Stephen King, and what that means is that The Tommyknockers is a very well written bad book. And not well written as in 'observe my beautiful language that you just want to quote all the time' but as in 'wow, this is difficult to put down, I like your style Steve!' There were points where I was going 'I don't caaaaare, when is something going to happen?' but I was still like 'one more chapter. Just one more.' because I hadn't read a Stephen King since Misery waaay back in March, and, well, that's clearly too long between books!
But it's still pretty bad. And a lot of it's badness is down to things that I can't quite pin down, even, (I think a bit of it has to do with it being more sci-fi than horror-y, but that's not my main problem) but here are a few things that I can:
1. The characters- I really don't care about the characters. And that's not my fault, it's King's. Because it starts off with this nice lady Bobbi who finds a flying saucer buried in the Earth and decides to dig it out, and for a bit I like her. And then the focus shifts and we're with Bobbi's friend Gard, a suicidal alcoholic, and then I get behind him for a bit. And then it goes into the townsfolk and the 'scary' things that are happening to them, but we never knew them when they were normal, so why should we care about them now? Even in the last part when we go back to Jim and Bobbi, the focus shifts between them and characters we've never met before. Why? And also, what?
2. Nothing happens- I'm not kidding. The entire book is just Bobbi and Gard digging this flying saucer out of the earth, whilst the townspeople experience lots of 'changes' in their bodies and get all telepathic and stuff, and you might think that this is all leading up to something scary and fulfilling and which would make reading nearly 1000 pages worth it, but hey, you'd be wrong about that!
3. Ridiculousness- I mean, really the whole thing was just ridiculous in the end, but I'd like to pinpoint that 1) Around the time Bobbi first discovers the spaceship, ALL the women in Haven (that's where it's set... wow, I couldn't even be bothered to mention that!) get their periods at the same time for like a month. FOR NO REASON! Literally- it's not something that's ever brought up again like 'oh, we have to bleed out so that the alien lifeforms can possess us entirely' or whatever, it just seems to be an excuse for Stephen King to talk about periods. Or something.
And, 2) There's a killer coke machine. I swear, at that point I was nearly DONE with the whole book. I was like 'I'm sorry, this has just become too ridiculous' and I mean, seriously, what the fuck was he doing? I mean, drugs, I know, but doesn't the dude have editors?! Someone to take him to one side and just say 'Stevie, really? A killer coke machine? Come on man, you're better than this.' But apparently no one wanted to take on that task!
And the list goes on. One interesting thing about The Tommyknockers (maybe the only interesting thing) is that King didn't even realise until it was finished that it was basically a giant metaphor for addiction, in that like, the residents of Haven need to stay there (the air of the town is their 'fix') just to survive, and like Bobbi works so hard on digging out the spaceship that she loses all track of everything and forgets to eat and all she can think about is when she can get out there to dig out the spaceship again. And, of course, Gard's an alcoholic so... there's that, even though King seems to have mainly forgotten this by the third part of the book and sort of trails off on that issue. LIKE ALL THE ISSUES. But anyway, it's interesting that he wrote something that contained metaphors for addiction, whilst he was himself addicted, and it's also interesting that he didn't even notice it until later. I mean, how high did the dude get?!
So. The Tommyknockers. It's pretty bad. Like... If you've read all the Stephen King but this and want more, then you can read this and you'll be like 'ahhh... familiar writing, I feel all at home.' My fear, though, is that someone would read this and think 'I am NEVER reading another Stephen King because that was shit' because, well, he's so good! So, basically, read this at your peril. And if you really want to read it then it's here, for some reason (is this legal? I question the legality of this). But actually, read this instead, because... LOL. And also, I kind of believe it...
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Haha, don't you love The Onion!ReplyDelete
I haven't read this one, and considering how many Stephen King books I still need to get through I'm thinking I may just leave this one off the list completely. I mean, at the rate he's going, I'm NEVER going to catch up, so it's better that I just leave off the rubbish ones right?!
I do love The Onion! But I do fully believe that Stephen King must have forgotten some of the books he's written, right? Bob Dylan's forgotten some of his songs!Delete
I would say... READ ALL THE KING! But, like, if you're going to miss anything off, miss this off because it's not so good. It's well written because, well, I think it'd be harder to not write well, but other than that... it is not good. There's a fucking killer coke machine for fucks sake!
Like, like, like, like. Speaking of bad writing. I agree with your assesment of this novel but if your going to criticize and call out his editors maybe you should get one of your own. I hope that you don't speak this way, 1992 wants it's "Valley Girl" act back.Delete
Yes a killer Coke machine is a bit rediculous but in the contex of the story, where the towns people are creating all sorts of strange inventions, it sort of makes sense. I think the "bad" part of this novel is that it seems to ramble. Giving back story and/or side story is a trick that they teach in middle school to help find direction in a story that is log jammed and going nowhere fast. You can pick up on his "search" for the story a little too easily with this one. Here's what I think happened, SK had a great idea and a solid outline with but put pen to paper without fleshing out the "inbetweens". Like having a very tasty pretzel bun hamberger with gourmet cheese and homemade condiments, putting all the work into the trimmings and then using bologna for the meat!
This bit about it being a metaphore for addiction. Well, duh! Any one can see the personal torment he put into it just by reading the section about Gard and his cyclone of booze fueld fury.
I suggest that if you are new to SK, start somewhere else and come back to this one later on. It's my opinion that his Dark Tower Series is among the best of anything ever written. But if a whole series is a little too much to commit to right off the bat go with The Stand. It's so very well written and so, so scary.
If you don't like Laura's writing style then don't read her reviews. And before you hit send on your condescending comment next time maybe check your spelling so you don't come of looking like a fool.Delete
Gee Matt, thank you so much for your notes on my writing. Maybe next time I'm writing a post for a blog that LITERALLY EARNS NO MONEY I'll get someone to edit it so that reading it will be a pleasanter experience for you, a person I don't know.Delete
Interestingly, I tend not to read comments that are pretty rude from the outset, but if you're suggesting that *I'm* new to King then WOW you really haven't been here before. And it's ok if you never want to come back dude. Seriously.
He also commented on your writing... and then spelt 'ridiculous' wrong.Delete
Wooooow, someone's been trawling year-old Stephen King reviews and STILL felt the need to go all fanboy on you? Clearly he hasn't realised that blog reviews (and blogs generally, in fact) are MEANT to have a distinctive voice... otherwise they'd be newspaper reviews. And I don't read those because they're boring. Keep making us smile, girl! *cheers and throws confetti with Stephen King's face on it all over everybody*Delete
Hey Matt, you are like totally a loser, and like, stop trolling hate all over the, like, internet.Delete
LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE.
I am also here to jump to Laura's defense, because seriously, what the hell? Why would you leave a comment like this, Matt? Just *ridiculous*Delete
The last King novel I read was Insomnia. The novel dragged on and on, and yes, there were actual green men. I loved loved loved Salem's Lot, so I kept wondering if King was high on crack when he wrote this latter novel. I've been meaning to get to Bag of Bones...heard it's amazing. Have you read it?ReplyDelete
I love Bag of Bones so so much- it's probably my second or third favourite, after It and maaybe The Green Mile. It's sort of ghostly and creepy and just makes you feel a bit uneasy throughout, but also it's really sad and emotional!Delete
I'm sad that Insomnia isn't good though, because I've got that coming up soon... I've heard it's quite linked into The Dark Tower series though, which will maybe make it slightly better for me (I'm just completely assuming that you haven't read The Dark Tower which could be completely wrong!)
You're right. I haven't read The Dark Tower series... For me, Insomnia just dragged on and on after I found out they were little green men.Delete
I recently read Bag of Bones and i have mixed feelings for it. It is very well written in many ways, but it is just not so SCARY. There is really only one moment that is very very shocking and another that makes you feel chills, but otherwise the evil just does not feel enough menacing. I dont know if his earlier books were really more scaring or if it is down to me being much younger when I read them.Delete
I have King's memoir On Writing but haven't read it yet...I wasn't aware of his addictions until others began to discuss the memoir...I was an early King addict with Misery being one of my all time favorites. But by the time he got to the crazy clown stuff in IT, he lost me forever (so far). I'm curious now to read the memoir myself and look at the timelines between his addictions and writing progress. I'm supposed to be giving King another try with Natalie's King challenge over at Coffee and A Book Chick but I haven't picked which book to read yet...it certainly won't be The Tommyknockers :pReplyDelete
Duuuuuuuude, IT is the best! Literally my favourite! (I ignore the clown and focus on the relationships and whatnot, and it's just so awesome!!) Misery is amazing though- I'm thinking you like the more psychological horrors, so it might be worth checking out the Bachman books, which are less supernatural, and more just like 'How can humans do this to each other?!' I think he was totally high when he wrote both Misery (hence the addiction to painkillers that Paul has to get through) and IT though, so... Yeah.Delete
Anyway, yeah, READ MORE KING! Go for The Green Mile or The Shining if you haven't read those yet :)
I'm with you on The Tommyknockers. It's funny, though, that the thing that bugged you so much about this book was one of the standout parts of Maximum Overdrive!ReplyDelete
I had to google Maximum Overdrive to remind myself of what it was, and 1) I definitely didn't hate the short story, but maybe because it was all about the machines, whereas in The Tommyknockers it was like a thrown in bit of ridiculousness on top of boredom/other ridiculousness that I just couldn't deal with it! I genuinely nearly threw my book into next door's garden! (I was outside at the time, which hopefully makes that less weird...) and 2) did you know it's also a movie? I recommend watching the trailer on youtube because OMG Stephen King is in it and he is terrifying. Also he has a funny Maine accent, which is always good.Delete
Sorry Laura, I meant the film. It's one of those 'so horrifically bad it's weirdly good' films. It features a killer coke machine (an AC/DC soundtrack) and, in this context, it has just the right level of hammy menace. My phone isn't letting me paste the link to the clip so I'll tweet it.Delete
hated...hated....HATED this King book. I finished it (and please understand the order I read was: It, Stand, Tommyknockers) and I was so PISSED I wasted all of that time for such an underwhelming chunkster. It and The Stand? Brilliant. Timeless. Uber Scary. The Tommyknockers? Well, I wanted to knock something that's for sure.ReplyDelete
Hehehe, I do love you Christina! That's a *terrible* order to read the books in though! I mean, to be fair this does come right after Misery which is FAB, but I was prepared (sort of) for mediocrity by The Eyes of The Dragon and a few other squibs from around that time, but right after those two? I mean, basically no book is going to be good enough, but this is even worse than not good enough!Delete
One of my least favorite King novels, but it is interesting for the whole addiction angle. I think the root of that Onion article is that King actually said in an interview that he was so messed up during the time that he wrote The Tommyknockers that he has no memory of the writing process.ReplyDelete
Also, wasn't there a Tommyknockers TV movie? I think it was equally as bad or maybe even worse than the book!
This sounds like a thing he could have said! I know I remember reading that there were parts of It he couldn't remember writing, and I thought at the time that that was kind of awesome and scary (like, the book wrote itself or something) but actually, now, it's just kind of sad...Delete
I do believe there was a TV movie, and I know Jimmy Smits had something to do with it which seems ridiculous- he was surely too young to be Gard, and I just... I don't really know what he would have been doing with it! Unsolved mystery that I will NOT be solving, because Stephen King films of the GOOD books are usually bad enough...
Great review of this one! I think that the Onion piece was pretty much right on - some of those middle books are just not that great. This one was a bit of a dud, I wasn't too thrilled with "The Dark Half", "Dreamcatcher" was pretty tedious. But, for a guy who's written more books than most people will ever read, he gets a few off days.ReplyDelete