I finished this book over a week ago. Why haven’t you reviewed it and moved on already, you may ask? Well, I have this compulsive thing about reviewing a book immediately, so I’ve just been totally ignoring the fact that I completed it. This delay is partly due to the fact that I’ve been insanely busy and too tired to read more than a handful of pages a day, much less having time to properly formulate a response to what I’ve read. But the other cause for the delay is that mediocre books are the hardest to review. And as much as I’ve been loving King the past few years and have enjoyed binge-reading his work every October, that’s what this book was for me: mediocre.
There was nothing wrong with the book, exactly. The writing was in King’s signature style. The character development was on point; in fact, Johnny might be one of my favorite protagonists King has ever penned. There was a multifaceted depth to Johnny that really appealed to me. The secondary characters were sympathetic and believable. I think the problem for me boils down to two issues: the believability of the antagonist, and the plot.
First, let me address the antagonist. Greg Stillson just didn’t work for me at all. I know there are charismatic sociopaths out there who could convince a vegan to don a leather jacket and eat a hamburger while maintaining eye contact with a cow. But true charisma requires a certain level of charm, right? We’re told that Stillson is charming, and we’re even shown him charming crowds of people into figuratively eating out of the palm of his hand. However, I as the reader was never charmed, and thus found the charisma very difficult to accept as fact instead of some weird brainwashing technique preformed by King on his creations, not by Stillson on his constituents. I don’t know if this was just me, as I’m sure there are many out there who would disagree vehemently, but I couldn’t see Stillson as anything more than a jerk of the highest caliber. Because of this, his entire half of the plot just never did ring true for me.
Now, about the plot. The whole concept of a preternatural insight into the lives and futures of others is a great foundation for a King novel, and one that he wrote with much aplomb. I’m also a big fan of the idea that one can recover from some type of extreme trauma and have actually gained some sort of ability like this. The addition of a Dead Zone in the mind that would keep certain facts regarding both average life and second sight from being easily viewed or remembered by said mind is also interesting, but seemed like almost an afterthought, a way to tie the title into the story. Generally, King’s title concept is incredibly important to the plot, and I felt that this story could have taken much the same route with an almost identical outcome without the presence of the Dead Zone. Yes, I understand the point being made here, that there’s nothing quite so ominous and terrifying as a future imagined. While these fears were not proven, they were also not refuted, leading to the pentacle of the story. I’m just unconvinced that the presence of the Dead Zone really altered very much.
Also, it felt like very little actually happened in this book. The story meandered through the majority of the book. However, I did feel that this was one of King’s stronger endings; it didn’t leave me feeling frustrated, which isn’t a claim I can make regarding all of his books. I also like that I’m going back and reading some of his older work after starting with his more recent publications. Because I’ve already read 11/22/63, I could see how aspects were inspired by The Dead Zone, which was fun for me. Because I read Needful Things before picking this one up, I found it incredibly interesting to visit Castle Rock before the arrival of Mr. Gaunt. In other words, there were aspects of this book that I enjoyed; it just didn’t wow me. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t mind-blowing. It’s a book that I would pick up if stuck in an airport of doctor’s office for an extended period of time, if a stranger offered it and I had neglected to bring a book of my own. But I would have no qualms about closing it mid-chapter and handing it back to the owner when my name was finally called.
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