Author: Stephen King
There’s a portion in Stephen King’s The Stand where he talks about all the people that died after the devastating plague in circumstances unrelated to illness. Things like accidentally electrocuting themselves or getting injured with nobody to help them or call for help. Because it’s Stephen King, the passage in question is stretched out for many pages, with each character getting some background to get an idea of what sort of person they are, so each story can become a mini-tragedy or a setup to a punch line (the “no great loss” lady has always stuck with me). Reading The Tommyknockers felt a lot like reading that portion of The Stand but stretched out to nearly 800 pages. That’s not a compliment.
The premise of The Tommyknockers is that a local writer named Bobbi and her dog Peter stumble across a metal object sticking out of the ground on her property and decide to dig it up to see what it is. Bobbi soon becomes obsessed by the object, making it her sole objective to unearth what she believes to be a gigantic flying saucer. Bobbi also begins to exhibit strange behaviors in the form of inventing strange objects while her dog begins emitting green light from his eyes and acting years younger than he had before. When Bobbi is visited by her ex-boyfriend Jim Gardner, he finds a woman who has run herself to the point of starvation. Gardner ends up sticking around to find out what’s going on and stay with the woman he loves.
Beyond that, the rest of the plot deals with the strange behavior of Bobbi spreading to the rest of the town of Haven. Out of the 750 pages, it felt like about 500 pages dealt with side stories about characters like Bobbi’s sister, or a young boy’s magic show gone wrong, or a curious reporter getting his first big scoop, or a jealous poker player, or a Constable obsessed with dolls, or a dozen other characters. By the time a pyromaniac with a plate in his head showed up near the end I had lost all interest in how this story would end. Along with The Talisman, this is the only King book I’ve read so far that I just wanted to end multiple times throughout. Unlike outright bad books like Rage or Roadwork, there’s an interesting story at the core here but King squanders any interest in the resolution by padding the pages with uninteresting non-essential characters.
Beyond that, the book is also frustrating by having its hero character be a drunkard who spends 95% of the book going along with things before pulling a miracle out on one leg at the very end. The idea of having only those with metal in their body able to resist the Tommyknocker influence was fun, but I can’t help but think this would have been a much more compelling read with either the Constable or Ev Hillman as the protagonist instead of Jim Gardner. Gardner’s story arc isn’t so much about redemption as it is cleaning up a mess he helped enable to fruition. It also doesn’t take a genius to draw similarities between King and Gardner (a poet) in this book, which further added to my impression of the story as a meandering story being sprawled by an out of his mind writer.
For King junkies, there are some fun cameos in this book, including the government agency from Firestarter and Pennywise the clown from It. The book also references the events of The Dead Zone and seems to be pretty firmly in the Maine continuity of other Stephen King books (don’t let all the references to the Dallas police fool you). The first trip by Ev Hillman and a state trooper into the woods was pretty exciting, and could have been the basis for a much more exciting novel. The good parts overall were buried under too much fluff to get excited about. This feels like the type of book that King could have bottomed out writing, I can only hope he tightens up the storytelling from here on out.