Wednesday, 21 March 2012

From My Bookshelf… ‘Desperation’ – Stephen King

Because now that the new bookshelves are up there’s even less of an excuse to go back and revisit some of the books that have been there for years (and subsequently been passed over for the ever growing ‘to be read’ pile). What’s the point of keeping them on the shelves otherwise?

Reading ‘Desperation’ got me thinking about a lot of things but it also got me thinking about books that live on my bookshelf but are very unlikely to ever be read again. Well maybe that’s a bit harsh; these books will be read but only very occasionally. It’s been a good five years since I read ‘Desperation’ and, after this read, it will probably be another five years at least before I feel the inclination to pick it up again (if I feel that way inclined at all). Do you have books like that on your shelves?

I’ll admit it, my problem is that I’m a completist as far as books are concerned. If I enjoy a book and there’s another book that ties into it then I’ll buy it, no question about it. And if that’s not bad enough, I’ll keep both books no matter what I thought of the second one. After all, just having the one book wouldn’t look right on the shelves. I managed to beat my ‘completist urge’ with the ‘Wheel of Time’ books (I’ve got the last two on the shelves but have got rid of the rest) but it’s still very much a problem on the shelves. It’s very much the case with ‘Desperation’, a book that I ended up having to have because I’d already bought a copy of ‘The Regulators’ (reviewed Here). It may ‘complete the set’ but it’s not in the same league at all.

Desperation. Population: One cop who prowls the highways and dispenses justice that is decided by the creature that has taken him over. If you’re pulled over then the best you can hope for is a quick death at the roadside; what lies in the town of Desperation itself is far worse as Johnny Marinville, David Carver and Steve Ames are about to discover. A battle is about to be fought in Desperation and neither side cares whom falls along the way…

I remember when I first read ‘The Regulators’ and ‘Desperation’ I spent hours trying to tease out the connection that I heard linked the two books as well as looking for the link to the ‘Dark Tower’ series that I’d also heard existed.
Well, I’m still looking for that link to the ‘Dark Tower’ series (and suspect that I will be for a while to come) but have finally come to the conclusion that the solid connection I was looking for just isn’t there. Desperation essentially has the same characters as ‘The Regulators’ but they’re all slightly different and are all doing slightly different things. If anything, it’s another way of looking at the monster Tak and how it affects the landscape at the source of it’s infestation. That’s about the size of it really and I’m pretty much done looking for any deeper connection than that.

It’s a good thing really as I’ve got no real inclination to pick the book up again after this re-read, not for a long time. ‘Desperation’ is Stephen King at his best and at his worst but this time round it’s the ‘worst’ that colours things and taints the book as a whole.

There is a lot of good stuff going on in ‘Desperation’; stuff that will shock and frighten you as well as really get you involved in the lives of everyone on the page. Stuff like this,

‘You have the right to remain silent,’ the big cop said in his robot’s voice. ‘If you do not choose to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand your rights as I have explained them to you?’

Five words cleverly hidden in something you hear almost every day on TV shows, and so on, five words that will shock you out of normality and throw you straight into this dark world that King is bringing to life. The book is full of moments like these and the characters journey through Desperation can be just as chilling with nasty surprises lurking around every corner.
The characterisation is there as well with another cast of well defined characters where King’s easy going prose lets you get to know them all without even realising it. You root for them and you can’t help but grieve with them when things go wrong (and they do, they really do).
Tak is just as vicious and evil as it was in ‘The Regulators’; you get more of a sense of its origins this time round but it’s motivations are as alien as they were before which is brilliant in terms of the sense of weirdness that it conveys for the book.

The scene is set then for a brilliant book then. Well, it would have been if it wasn’t for King’s habit of excessive verbosity coming to the fore…

Everything is overanalysed or gone into in far too much detail. Tension is dragged out and then lost by the end of that third unnecessary paragraph. Character’s memories are gone into at such length that I found myself wishing that the story would hurry the hell up and get going again. And there is only so much detail about a deserted mining town that a story can take…
At the very best, ‘Desperation’ is a book where the pacing is severely disrupted by this approach. At the very worst… ‘Desperation’ is a long and rambling affair where the effect of the aforementioned nasty surprises is very much muted by the time that it takes to reach them. I’m half tempted to go into this at greater length but that would be falling into the same trap as King does.

‘Desperation’ then is a novel with potential that sadly goes unfulfilled. King may ramble in his other books but it all seems to have a lot more purpose than it does here. You know what though? If I was to give it another five years (or even ten maybe) I’ll bet that ‘Desperation’ is still sat next to ‘The Regulators’ on the bookshelf. Damn me and my completist ways…

Seven out of Ten

1 comment:

Paul Sparks said...

It's hard for me to go back and re-read books, even ones that I love. There's always new books waiting to be read. Sometimes I think about re-reading a book, but am always pulled by my desire to read something new.