As I’ve been reading through King’s back catalogue, I’ve come across very few of his stories that hadn’t been spoiled to some extent for me, simply by the culture in which we live. While I had never read The Shining or Pet Sematary or ‘Salem’s Lot, I had some idea what was going to happen because they’re so present in our collective cultural psyche. The same could be said for Carrie, and Misery, and IT, and so many other King novels. But Bag of Bones? I went into this one completely blind. And as with Needful Things and Rose Madder, other books of his that I knew nothing about, it was more impactful because of my lack of exposure. It’s not among my favorite King books I’ve read, but Bag of Bones will be sticking with me for a while.
“I see things, that’s all. Write enough stories and every shadow on the floor looks like a footprint; every line in the dirt like a secret message.”
First and foremost, this is a story rooted in grief. King does such a good job at portraying honest grief, at showing how that grief can sneak up on you at the most unexpected moments. I mourned right alongside Mike, because his grief was so vividly expressed and rawly displayed. We see how grief doesn’t just recede over time; it might ebb for a period, but it comes in waves. We see how grief isolates, and how it can freeze you in a single moment for days, or months, or years. And we see how grief effects the creative process in ways ranging from subtle to violent.
“Grief is like a drunken house guest, always coming back for one more goodbye hug.”
Something else that King does incredibly well is write writers. “Write what you know” is such a common piece of writing advice, but it’s very effective. No one can write a middle-aged, white, male author quite like Stephen King. And I love what he has to say about writing as an art, as a vocation, as an addiction, through the actions and thought lives of his characters. I think Mike Noonan is one of his best in this regard.
“The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.”
King is also the, well, king of crafting small, creepy communities with deep, dark secrets. The TR in this book is no exception. There are a plethora of proverbial skeletons in this community’s metaphorical closet, and the people who populate the area will do just about anything to keep said skeletons hidden. I thought that the TR was very well fleshed out. The side characters were varied and interesting, the baddies were deeply disturbing, and the two main supporting characters, Mattie and Kyra, were absolutely lovely.
“Dead people put on weight, it seems to me; both in their flesh and in our minds, they put on weight.”
The mystery element of this book was great. And sincerely disturbing. It kept me guessing and involved to the very end, though I’ll confess that it did lag a bit around the middle. I think it could have lost a couple hundred pages and been all the better for it. Where I had issue with the book wasn’t a surprise to me. King does a lot of things really well, but writing sex scenes isn’t one of them. There were a few instances, and one nightmarish dream in particular, that made me both roll my eyes and wrinkle my nose in disgust. That was that largest contributing factor to this book being a 3.5 star read for me instead of a 4 star experience.
“Any good marriage is secret territory, a necessary white space on society’s map. What others don’t know about it is what makes it yours.”
Despite a few fumbles, Bag of Bones is a great story. I can see why it’s one that King himself particularly loves. It’s a compelling story with sympathetic characters in a very well-drawn setting. And I’ve very interested to see how it ties into the Dark Tower. While it’s not my favorite book he’s ever written, it’s definitely worth reading.
You can order this book from: Bookshop.org (Support independent bookstores!) | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible | Libro.fm (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping)