The Romance Novel Challenge was designed to broaden my own reading horizions while teasing some of you who have never read a romance novel (or an inspirational romance novel) into giving one a try. I promised to share my impressions of the books I am "forced" to read, so here is the first of my book reports:
In exchange for a promise by "kstar" (Kimberly Starrett) to read an inspirational romance novel by Francine Rivers, I agreed to dive into a Stephen King book she had recommended. I had never read a horror novel until I sat down with Bag of Bones.
I had read King's On Writing a couple of years ago, so I had a pretty good idea the man could tell a story, but I was still blown away. He's an amazing writer. I really wanted to like Bag of Bones, Kimberly, but I'm afraid King pushed me too hard. The "reality" he tried to draw me into wasn't at all frightening, only ridiculous.
Years ago I read a lot of Robert Heinlein and Ursula LeGuin, and I've had a lifelong admiration for J. R. R. Tolkein. But I can be pulled into fictional worlds only when they're markedly different from this one. In our own place and time, I just can't believe in haunted houses, and Stephen King didn't change that. He drew me into a story about places and people that seemed very real, and then he asked me to believe in ghosts. I couldn't.
Every time some unseen hand moved the little magnets on Michael Noonan's refrigerator to spell out a cryptic message, I wanted to roll my eyes. Every time the ghosts responded to his ridiculous "tap once for yes, two for no" questions, I snorted. The closest King came to engaging my imagination and disturbing me was with Michael's nightmare scenes. I bought it when Michael awakened from the dreams and scrambled to right his reality. Were they just dreams, he wondered, or were they messages or visions? Yeah, dreams like that would definitely mess with your mind. If King had stuck to subtleties like that, he'd have had me easy. But he blew his chance by pushing my credulity too hard, presenting those dream sequences again and again, each one longer and "scarier" than the last. Reading about a grieving man's confused reaction to nightmares about his wife sucked me into the story. But when those scary things were shown to be real, not just Michael's wild imaginings, I dropped out.
The ridiculous supernatural elements aside, I rather liked the rest of the story. I was crying by Chapter 3, wishing Michael's beloved wife hadn't died and left him all alone. I was right there with Michael in his bewilderment when he learned she had been keeping some pretty big secrets from him, and I was rooting for him as he tried to discover why she had done it. I was less convinced by the romance that occurs later in the book. Sure, I could buy Michael's attraction to the beautiful young woman who was in trouble. But the man had fallen apart after his wife's death and in four years, hadn't even looked at another woman. So it was a little hard to believe he could fall so hard and so fast for a woman he barely knew, especially when she was 19 years younger than he was.
I don't suppose Mr. King wants any writing advice from this romance novelist, but if he did I'd encourage him to let that romantic tension simmer a bit longer. After having revealed so much of the dead wife's character and showing us the depth of Michael's love for her, King fails to make us understand why Michael's feelings for the young woman would extend beyond simple compassion (she's a poor, single mom engaged in a child-custody battle with a rich, evil old man) and sexual attraction.
Kimberly, I'm not sorry I read Bag of Bones. There was quite a lot to like about the story (Michael's fierce love for the 3-year-old girl was extremely moving). The writing was so amazing I found it impossible to skip pages the way I usually do when a plot becomes tedious. But even the wildly talented Stephen King couldn't make me believe in ghosts, not even for a few hours.