Saturday, June 18, 2005

Book report: Bag of Bones

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.


Michelle Pendergrass said...

I guess you can kind of see why I said that it is hard for me to imagine that you got the full gist of "On Writing"
You've seen just the tip of the iceberg. Doesn't really matter if you believe what he says, the man has a gift for storytelling.

When I used to drive the semi, I was always on the night shift and Stephen King was one of the only authors that wouldn't allow an abridged version of his stories (I argued with Phil a LOT on that one, I said SK wouldn't allow it, Phil said it was just coincidence...I won that argument YEARS later when Phil bought me "On Writing" for my birthday!) Anyway, SK also read every single one of them. There is NOTHING quite like listening to him reading his own story.

Which is why I say I can hear him reading "On Writing" to me.

I'm glad you can appreciate his talent, he's got a good share of it!

Read Green Mile when you get the chance. You'll really LIKE that one.

Laura from Denver said...

Brenda, that's why for me "The Shining" is so scary and maybe "Christine," another SK novel, is not: One's about a guy who slowly goes nuts and tries to kill his family, and the other is about a car that goes nuts and tries to kill ...huh? If I want horror, I want a story that could, under the right twisted circumstances, actually happen. That's why "Psycho" is terrifying and "The Attack of the Two-Headed Geek" leaves me bored. If the writer makes me want to leave the lights on at night and check under the bed, they've got me.

Fair said...

I usually don't read horror, but I think Stephen King will be remembered as the Charles Dickens of the 20th century. However, some of his books do make me roll my eyes repeatedly. The quality varies quite a bit. (I think "It" is ridiculous. And I got too bored with the silliness in "The Green Mile" to finish it. I didn't like "Christine," either.)

I'd recommend "Misery," a truly incredible book (with no supernatural elements). One warning: It is very stomach turning in parts. But it's worth it.

"The Shining" is also good. He wrote a novella called "The Mist" which is excellent. "The Stand" is pretty good, too. He's an amazing storyteller.

(Btw Brenda, I love your blog. I don't read inspirational romance but I am going to start with yours.)

kstar said...

Hi Brenda,
Ah well, at least the writing was good enough that you couldn't skip pages. I agree that some of the supernatural stuff is a bit hard to swallow at times. I think I am a very gullible reader if the storytelling is skillful enough to pull me into the story. Often it's not and I find myself critiquing every move the author makes. But with SK I'm just a sucker and he gets me almost every time.
I'm sorry you weren't as taken with BoB as I was. You may like Misery better as there is almost no supernatural mumbo-jumbo there, just a psychotic nurse. Bwuahahaha!
Sorry, I just had to do that.
I'm still waiting for my Francine Rivers book to arrive. Don't even get me started on how long it takes for Amazon to deliver stuff.
Anyway, I'll report in when I get it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Michelle, Laura, Fair, and kstar, I'm thinking I might really like Misery, the other Stephen King book I've agreed to read. I can't wait to snatch it out of my mailbox and get started on it.

Fair, are you saying you want to take the Romance Novel Challenge? If so, what book or author (besides Stephen King) would you have me read?

Fair said...

I'll have to opt out of the formal challenge because I share most of your dislikes -- I can't recommend a Scottish romance (aside from Outlander, which isn't really a romance novel) or a paranormal romance, and I don't like war stories. I'm mildly interested in graphic novels but haven't read one yet. And I can't think of any horror novels worth reading aside from Stephen King.

(If you're opposed to all time travel stories, how about Time and Again by Jack Finney? It's not perfect, but it's good. Not a romance, but it does include a romantic subplot.)

The challenge aside, I've got your book on my Amazon wish list and I'll buy it with my next Amazon order. It usually wouldn't occur to me to read an inspirational, but I like sweet romances and I like your blog, so I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Thank you, Fair. I'm very flattered.

Outlander, Misery, and Riverwatch have just arrived with today's mail. Guess I'll just close my eyes and pick one and get started....

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Aw man. That stinks. I love BAG OF BONES, but I love Stephen King period. And it's been awhile since I've read it, too. But it's always good to spread your wings and read stuff out of your norm, I guess, right? Bravo to you for doing just that!

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, I'm glad you're impressed, Brenda. ;-) I've just finished Outlander (look for a book report tomorrow or the next day) and am about to take a deep breath and wade into Misery.

Anonymous said...

Brenda C, how did they talk you into reading Stephen King, you couldn't pay me enough to read one of his books!