Song of Susannah is the penultimate installment in King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower. And though I still wouldn’t consider it a bad book by any means, I do believe it’s the weakest in the series since The Gunslinger. That being said, I still very much enjoyed my time in this world and with these characters. I was absorbed the entire time, and the tension was palpable. Even when King isn’t at his best, there’s something about his writing that just sucks me in and won’t let me go, even after I’ve read the final pages.
“In the Land of Memory the time is always Now.
In the Kingdom of Ago, the clocks tick… but their hands never move.
There is an Unfound Door
and memory is the key which opens it.”
First, let’s talk about what didn’t work for me in this particular installment. The way King writes women isn’t my favorite. Something about it gives me the ick. I feel like he’s not at all sexist or racist, and yet there are unintentional undertones of both in his writing. This is something that I try to overlook, as I’m so enraptured by the stories he tells, but it’s hard to do so when so much of this particular book is coming from the perspective of a black woman. Another drawback to this installment, at least for me, is that the ka-tet has ben divided in three. This division gave the entire novel a disjointed feel that books 2-5 did not suffer. I missed the camaraderie of the group as a whole.
“Anger is the most useless emotion… destructive to the mind and hurtful to the heart.”
Now, onto the things that I did enjoy. King is killer (no pun intended) at capturing a particular time and place in our reality, which he’s done multiple times over in Song of Susannah. Most of the action takes place in our world across various times and places, and I never had any trouble remembering where and when we were in the narrative. He’s also brilliant as his characterizations. While his handling of Susannah was problematic at times, overall all of the members of the ka-tet, from Roland on down to Oy, are fantastically well fleshed-out and are very sympathetic. I’ve come to care tremendously about all of these characters, whether they’ve been around for one book or all of them. King also did a great job with the horror elements of this book, specifically in the final quarter. Which I’m sure surprises no one. And the action was propulsive, as always.
“When you came right down to it, how did anyone know they weren’t a character in some writer’s story, or a transient thought in some bus-riding schmoe’s head, or a momentary mote in God’s eye?”
Beyond here lie mild spoilers, so proceed at your own risk. They’re spoilers that I was aware of before even starting my Dark Tower journey, and were actually one of the reasons I was excited to read the series, but if you want to go in totally blind, skip the next paragraph.
In this book, Stephen King introduces himself as a character. The hutzpah of this man, to not only writing himself into the story but make himself its creator even within the pages. It’s a level of meta that could have backfired horribly. And did, with many readers. But not with all, and not with me. I love all things meta, so this decision on King’s part appeals to me deeply. My favorite part of this entire book was the inclusion of the Coda at the end of the novel, which gave us some of King’s journal entries as he wrote the series. I can’t wait to see what role he plays in the final installment.
“The wind blows and the story comes. Then it stops blowing, and all I can do is wait, same as you. They think I’m in charge, every one of them from the smartest of the critics to the most mentally challenged reader. And that’s a real hoot. Because I’m not.”
“Pain rises. From the heart to the head pain rises.”
I can’t believe we’re coming to the end of the road. Song of Susannah was my 23rd read out of 24 on my journey to the Dark Tower. The end is so close I can almost smell the Rose. I’m ready to see the gang all back together again, and to join them on this final leg of their quest. King has crafted something truly special with this series, and with the ways in which he’s tied in so many of his other works. I just hope that the final reveal is worthy of all the buildup.
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