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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In all of Stephen King's enormous body of writing, some of his best works have featured authors as protagonists. Among these, the chilling The Dark Half, the utterly creepy Desperation, and Misery, a true masterpiece, stand out. His new book, Bag of Bones, which revolves around bestselling thriller author Mike Noonan, can now be added to this list. Bones is a hauntingly beautiful novel that will touch your heart as easily as it tingles your spine. It has elements of classic King horror, but it's also something of a departure, as the author explores a few areas of the human mind and heart that are rarely significant roles in horror fiction. The result is an exceptional and excitingly original novel that is destined to take its place among King's most memorable.
Critics have said that Bag of Bones represents a more mature Stephen King. Real King fans know that he has been writing some of literature's most mature works since publishing The Dead Zone, but it's true that in this novel he displays a heightened emotional sensibility — which undoubtedy widens his appeal to an even larger audience. Die-hard King fans should rest assured that Bag of Bones doesn't skimp on the fear; quite the contrary. It offers up a horror that's very much in the tradition of The Green Mile: it's a softly dazzling, beautiful, almost quiet sort of horror that that creeps in a little more slowly but then takes a lot longer to leave your system. Bag of Bones is a haunting chiller — not only scary but melancholy as well. Itcontainssome truly heart-wrenching scenarios, among them the protagonist's grieving over the unexpected loss of his wife, who has the unfortunate distinction of being knocked off in the book's first paragraph.
On a very hot day in August of 1994, my wife told me she was going down to the Derry Rite Aid to pick up a refill on her sinus medicine prescription — this is stuff you can buy over the counter these days, I believe. I'd finished my writing for the day and offered to pick it up for her. She said thanks, but she wanted to get a piece of fish at the supermarket next door anyway; two birds with one stone and all of that. She blew a kiss at me off the palm of her hand and went out. The next time I saw her, she was on TV. That's how you identify the dead here in Derry — no walking down a subterranean corridor with green tiles on the walls and long fluorescent bars overhead, no naked body rolling out of a chilly drawer on casters; you just go into an office marked 'Private' and look at a TV screen and say yep or nope.
It's the delicate touch he shows here that has some previously unfriendly critics singing King's praises. The understatement and subtlety with which he traces and then fleshes out Mike's agony at the death of his wife early on in the book bespeaks a writer who is masterfully in control of his voice and narrative. This is not a story where a lot can be given away before hand — much of the pleasure of reading it is in the unusual and often surprising way it unfolds.
To give a very general idea of the plot though, the death of Mike's wife pulls him into a mystery that brings him to Sara Laughs, the summerhouse that he shared with his wife. At Sara Laughs, Mike finds himself involved in a disturbing child custody tug-of-war that erupts into a terrifying battle between forces of good and evil, present in both earthly and unearthly forms.
Without question Bag of Bones is ambitious. There's plenty of all-out terror here to satisfy his existing fan base, but there's also a truly touching love story that will appeal to many readers who have not given King a try since his early pure-horror days. In sustaining these two very different currents, and seamlessly combining them into one brilliantly crafted story, King has created one of his most expansive and artistically successful works — it's a great novel for long-time fans and newcomers alike.