Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review: The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub

I first started this book when I was around 10 years old and didn't get far in it at all. I don't know the reason (actually, there were a few Stephen King books I started back then but never got around to finishing....maybe my brain just wasn't ready yet), but I picked it up again a few weeks ago and the ride has been awe-inspiring and a real testament of the imagination.

Meet Jack Sawyer, a 12-year-old boy who's tall for his age. At the age of 6 he had to deal with his father's death and now cancer is eating away at his once-Hollywood-star mother. In a hotel in New England he knows that his mother is waiting to die, and it seems like there is nothing in the whole damn world that he can do about it. Until he discovers that there is this other world waiting for him. This world where his mother is someone important and her death would be mean destruction and chaos. A world where Jack is the only one with the power to be the hero.

The Talisman is one boy's quest to find, well, a magical talisman to save his mother's life. He must do this by traveling from coast to coast while discovering horrors both in the world and the next--the Territories. The novel really shines in its imagination. Nothing is spared here--King and Straub bring out all the sparks. Every environment Jack encounters (and there are a lot) is rich in originality and just as scary in it grimy detail. And, surprisingly, some of the scariest things are found in this world rather than the next. And that is where the writing really hits home, when it's not some dark wizard, demented ghoul, or led astray werewolf that is terrorizes the town, but rather the good 'ole, reliable stench of human nature. The characters that Jack meet are all colorful and wholly distinguishable. From the bordlerline cowardly cousin who just can't for the life of him accept magic and parallel universes and all of the crazy stuff happening in front of his eyes, to the werewolf we come to have more of an emotional connection to than most humans we meet in novels, to the main villain, whose evil persona has no redeeming qualities: anything that was ever good in him died a long time ago. Even characters that are just passing by have memorable qualities and little unique quirks that show both the horror and glory of the human spirit.

This brings me to a point about characterization that I notice in a lot of King's works. His world is bad. And what I mean by this is humanity's ugliness exists in a lot of King's characters, and this book is no different. While in other novels/movies it seems that the majority of people a main character meets has more good than bad, it is backwards with King. Along the way, Jack comes across child molesters, crooked cops, men who beat their wives, their children, drug addicts, religious zealots that kill in the name of the lord, etc, etc, etc. Even other kids around Jack's age seem to have deep-rooted inherent evil. A typical character in this world is rough around the edges, has seen some pretty f'ed up things in their lives, and most likely looking out for themselves. This makes it so that the main villains have to REALLY do some crazy stuff to stick out in the reader's mind and anyone that is a genuinely good person/being also has a last effect. It comes to a point where the child molesters and wife-beaters almost become forgettable because they are the status-quo. It makes for an interesting read, but it makes me wonder about the King's background. I don't know how much this is attributed to Straub, but it's something I notice in a lot of King's works.

Or maybe the world isn't as sugar coated as I see it.

The writing is fantastic, as always. King has a way of going deep into his characters, sometimes veering off right at a heart-wrenching part to relate to some part of the character's past, often shedding a brand new light on what is happening in the present. Also, even though the book follows Jack Sawyer, it has little interludes where it switches to the perspective of other characters, sometimes the main villain himself.

One thing that I didn't care for so much was the use of time. King/Straub would often start a new chapter 3 or 4 days from where the last chapter (just a turn of a page) left off, with the main character in a completely different mindset because of the harrowing and yet-to-be-known events of the last few days. This makes for some heightened interest from the reader, but I often found myself confused and having to backtrack as the authors would almost go backward to catch the reader up. A lot of times during these points in the story I didn't know exactly at what point in the time lines the things that I was reading had happened. Fortunately, though, telling events in this fashioned wasn't used too much and were more so in the middle of the novel. Now that I think about it, it was almost like an experiment that the authors decided wouldn't be good for the whole book but decided to leave remnants of anyway.

All in all, without spoiling too much, The Talisman is a great read. The things that you will see in this book (and trust me, you WILL see them) will stretch and fold your imagination, sometimes making you cringe, sometimes making you laugh, and sometimes making you just have to take a break from reading for a moment, not because it's bad, but because your brain may need to recover from the overload. I'm glad I was able to finally finish the journey that I started some 10 years ago and my only regret is that it's over.


  1. I fucking adore this book kid. I'm glad you liked it.

  2. Oh shit, I forgot a comma. Just pretend it's a novel I wrote in 72 hours. No, I'm not making fun of you. Yes, I'm impressed. And yes, I just spent a half hour reading your blog.

    And The Tommyknockers is a good call, Buick 8 was horrible, as was Dolores Claiborne (all my opinion, mind you). King just can't handle the car movies. State of Fear is good, it made me even less likely to ever believe in "global warming" or "the environment". I just bought Next. I'll let you know how it goes...funny though, Next being his last book...

  3. Ah, but it's not! Unless you meant his last book before he died, then nvm.

    And thanks for taking the time on my blog. Muuuuch appreciated.