Bam! It’s clear that Stephen King subscribes to the notion that all exposition must occur after the inciting incident and the inciting incident must occur as close to page one as possible. There is a lot of exposition in this book (600 pages, so far), but you would hardly know it because the ghost of Baby LaVon haunts you from the very first page.
Headline recap: Soldier escapes secret facility; infects world with superflu.
The premise here is so grand, so existential, that it really allows King to get away with a lot that would have bored me in any other book. King’s characters are defined by their choices and each is at a crux. Larry finally found success after years as a struggling musician. Fran has to deal with an unplanned pregnancy and a namby-pamby (that’s right, I said it) baby daddy. Norm gets to die (it’s the norm, get it?). Starkey gets to deal with being a genocidal monster and Stu gets to deal directly with the end of the world.
Larry and Fran’s stories could be the premise of their own domestic novels. They’re stories we’ve seen before, but King gives them the touch of the specific that makes them relate-able and readable. Being a genre reader I wasn’t too interested … except for that looming specter of death hanging over every character. Yes, Frannie is staring in the one story that has been given to almost every teenage girl since the beginning of time, but we know that this one’s not going to work out in the traditional way, not with the coughing in the background and the subtle sneeze of a passerby. The ghost of Baby LaVon reminding us of what’s coming.
The storylines that deal with the fantastic are more propulsive, but still find time for the dense layering of character that must be what brings everyone back to King after over fifty novels. Its interesting to me how much he gets away with flashback and head-hopping. Two techniques I have avoided like Captain Trips since I started taking writing seriously. I’m tempted. It would make it all much easier. Maybe rules are made to be broken.
– Who refers to their baby as “Baby ______” especially when they are the only person of that name in the household and there are no other babies? It certainly established the character quickly, I guess.
– How many characters in this book are going to be named Vic and why? Victim? Victory in death? King only knows a hundred names and has to use some of them twice. There are at least two different Vics in the first eight chapters. If I was the type, I’d keep counting.
-Not name related: The idea that this story takes place in the late eighties is ridiculous. I understand that he updated some of the references, but not enough for it to make sense. In no parallel universe could a song called “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man” be any kind of hit in the late 80’s. It’s pushing it to say it could be a hit in the 70’s. Many other wacky examples to follow.