Friday, January 5, 2018

Books 2017: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Is it just me, or are the three-stars taking forever this year? I try not to make any one post too long because I feel like it gets overwhelming. It felt like this one needed its own post because I had so many thoughts while reading it - not necessarily brilliant or worthwhile thoughts, but thoughts.

So. Sleeping Beauties. I was all kinds of excited when I saw that Stephen King had written a book with his won, which doesn't make a huge amount of sense because for me it's kind of the wrong son. I've actually never read any Owen King. I bought this with Strange Weather by Joe Hill, who I have read and really, really like - at his best I think he might surpass his father, and I would give a fair bit to know how Papa King really feels about that. I mean, he's probably just proud and happy, but what are the odds that one of his kids would not just write, but write horror, and write horror at this level?

Anyway. When I finally cracked this open and read the jacket copy I was surprised to realized that I had bought it without even reading what it was supposed to be about. In fact, I thought I had read the synopsis, and it was something about a serial killer who left "sleeping beauty" type corpses. No idea where the hell that came from. Should I put the Goodreads synopsis here? Perhaps I should. Here it is:

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain?"

So. There was baggage here for me. First of all, from what I've seen of Owen King, he fancies himself as somewhat more of an auteur than his father and brother, producing straight, serious fiction without a hint of the otherworldly. There's no earthly reason for this to be off-putting to me, and yet somehow, because of this and because I hadn't read any of his books, I found myself doing two things. First, I would blame him for anything I didn't like in the book; the fox, who sort of bugged me at the beginning? Must be Owen. The exhaustive listing of the cast of characters, which seemed sort of superfluous, since the important ones were made known through the story and the important ones, well, who cares? Clearly Owen's idea. Second, I would blame him for things I didn't like that are vintage Stephen King - repeating certain phrases ad nauseum, that one death that's just gross for no reason, anything along those lines - dammit, Owen, you couldn't have reined him in? All indications are that I was giving poor Owen King very short shrift.

Then there were the strong feminist underpinnings of the story. No one can claim that King is trying to jump on a bandwagon here - Carrie, Dolores Claiborne, Gerald's Game and Rose Madder are all pretty overtly feminist, and that's just off the top of my head. And as far as I'm concerned, if a popular male author wants to add his voice to that conversation, I'm all for it. 

So. Was the story done well? I think it was. It certainly kept me reading. It featured a lot of things that King has done before, but they were done well. The set-up where we meet all the characters involved and, in short order, come to care quite strongly about many of them (that is one of the things King does best, in my opinion. I've read so many horror novels that seem to have all the requisite elements, and yet I never really care enough about the characters to feel the horror). There are characters who are more good than bad, and some who are more bad than good, but most are a realistic mixture. There's usually at least one character who seems like a hopeless waste of skin but redeems himself to admirably that it's really upsetting when he dies (yes, I think it is usually a man). Then the crisis. Then the characters reacting to the crisis. Then a big free-for-all fight at the end. 

So, was it new and exciting? Not exactly. There were some very positive reviews on Goodreads that made me wonder if the reviewers had read most or all of the rest of the oeuvre. In fact, I felt like a lot of this was Rose Madder with some new window-dressing. Some violent men, some women who suffered as a result of that violence, and an otherworldly nature-y realm where... something... was being decided about men, or women, or something. In this story, that realm is personified by Eve Black, who is interesting and sometimes amusing, but King never really pins down exactly what she is, and it feels to me like it's because he doesn't really know. 

Most of the feminist stuff hit the right notes for me. A few times I found myself thinking that he had gone too far with misogynist characters and then realizing, sadly, that he was probably dead on. Judging by some of the stuff I've seen on Twitter and Facebook lately, it seems eminently possible that if women started going to sleep and ending up wrapped in cocoons, a large segment of the male population would, in fact, delight in calling the cocoons 'bitch bags'. He doesn't fall into the trap of making all men bad and all women good - in the one healthy marriage in the book, my sympathies were slightly more with the husband. I felt like the decision made by the women at the end was a little too easy, but by that point I think we all kind of wanted it to be over. 

Bottom line: this was a perfectly readable Stephen King book that didn't break any new ground (which is why in the end I left it at three stars instead of four), and I couldn't find evidence of a different, additional author in it anywhere. Really interested to hear what Steph (HI STEPH) thinks when she's finished it, and anyone else I know. 

1 comment:

Steph Lovelady said...

I was enjoying it while we were away for Christmas, then the first week back was so busy I didn't pick it up again until yesterday. I'm less than a third of the way through.

I do think it's funny, though, how you're blaming poor Owen for things King always does.