Ginger Nuts of Horror
I don't like disclaimers on reviews, I never have and never will, however for this review I feel I have to come clean. I have never been that big a fan of Stephen King; I fully appreciate his immense talent and the role he has played in putting horror on the map, he is a writer who never spoke to me as a person, I couldn't connect with his writing. So with that dirty little secret out in the open what did I make of Sleeping Beauties?
Welcome to Dooling a small Appalachian town, home to the Dooling Correctional Institute for women, whose inmates range from those who have just strayed from the path of law-abiding to those who have committed multiple murders and in some cases things even worse than murder. When a strange and baffling disease starts to spread across the world, whose symptoms are as terrifying as they are strange. Where any woman who falls asleep becomes cocooned in a strange weblike gossamer material, that puts them into a state of semi-hibernation, where they sleep seemingly at peace with the world, but be careful any attempt to wake them from their sleep will result in them turning into a nearly unstoppable crazed animalistic killer.
As the world succumbs to this strange plague Dooling and its correctional institute become the epicentre of the battle between good and evil, where the remaining women will try anything to stay awake, where men revert to their seemingly fundamental bullish ways. A few good men and women barricade themselves in the institute to protect the mysterious Evie Black, a woman who can wake after sleep normally, a murderess, and a seer, a woman who seems to know where the sleeping women have gone and who appears to know what is destined to happen.
Make no mistake about it Sleeping Beauties a massive doorstop of a novel coming in at over 700 pages it is a daunting read for someone who hasn't read a lot of King. However, don't let that put you off. Yes, the first couple of hundred pages are scene setters where the Kings take their time to introduce every cast member of the book, from the main dramatis personae, right down to a talking fox, I kid you not. In novels, this could be classed as padding, but thanks to the immense skill of the Kings, and the natural and absorbing way in which these scene-setting chapters are laid out, you quickly find yourself fully immersed in the World of Dooling and the battle of Aurora plague.
Sleeping Beauties is a timely novel, in a world that seems determined to destroy itself from the actions of men cursed with a sense of toxic masculinity. Where every passing day sees mankind wondering what it means to be "a real man" the Kings place all of this under a finely focused microscope to provide an insightful and at times damning study of what many think makes a real man.
Would the world be damned without the calming force of women kind or would it just continue to carry one as though nothing had happened? Depressingly it would seem that based on this thoughtful mirror on our world as it is, it would seem as though we would be determined to see it all burn.
The King's portrayal of society almost devoid of female interaction is intelligent, and thoughtful if at times a little heavy handed. At times it feels as though they are slightly labouring the point, but thanks to a wide cast of characters, where only a small percentage of them can be classed as either inherently good or evil, King uses dark grey areas of humanity to explore the main themes of the book. We have the erstwhile female Sherrif Lila and the Institutes' psychiatrist fighting the good fight as the only two characters who stand completely in the light. Both of them are interesting in their own way. Lila is the stereotypical mother figure, protective of her son and husband, who just happens to be the Institutes' psychiatrist, and just as protective of her hometown, strong loyal and determined not to let chaos win. She is an interesting character, similar in many ways to the cliched square-jawed hero that seemed to litter every horror novel of the 1980s; it was rather refreshing to see this cliche turned on its head and seen from a woman's perspective.
Her husband Clint Norcross is even more interesting, imagine a turtle necked sweater wearing therapist, whose hands are in constant state contemplative finger touching. A man who feels he is better suited to solving the crisis because, you know, he is a man with a degree in solving mental problems. The King's just manage to keep him on the right side of condescending, mainly because as a character he is genuinely concerned about those under his charge.
However, the real meat on the bones is provided by those characters that straddle the line between good and evil, and this exemplified by the town dog catcher, Frank Geary. A brutish, mean man, who more often than nought resorts to using his size and fists to solve a problem. For example, when a neighbours cat is run over by a careless driver he takes the matter into his own hands for fear of his daughter being ruin over, by taking a course of action that would see him lose his job. He is a man whose actions has to lead to the breakdown of his marriage. There is a section near the start of the book where he talks about an incident that happened before his marriage broke down, where he talks about "bad Frank". It's a wonderfully written piece, genuinely chilling, yet very inconsequential, and it will have you wondering if he is related to Jack Torrence. Frank's journey from lowly dog catcher to... well you will just have to read the book, is the most enjoyable part of this excellent book. The King's shine when dealing with this character arc, a man determined to do the right thing no matter what the collateral damage will be.
Strangely, Evie, despite being the focal point for both sides of the battle, is probably the least developed character in the book. This may very well be deliberate, with the King's using her more as a cypher/metaphor for the female struggle in a world dominated by toxic males. She is still a kick-ass character though, more like a smart-talking force of nature.
Sleeping Beauties is a powerful allegorical tale, and despite becoming a little bogged down in the final few acts of the novel, with its desire to get its message across. With a wonderfully ambigious ending that may well set us up for a sequel. It is still a striking read, with a deft narrative, fantastic insights on the everyday life of small-town America, while still managing to take a thoughtful look at the failings of a modern world obsessed with pointless and pathetic displays of power.
After reading this novel, I was left wondering as to whether I enjoyed it so much because it might not be a typical King novel, and the input from Owen may have tempered those parts of Stephen's writing that I could never take to. Or if I have just matured as the reader, hell it has been close to twenty-five years since I last attempted a full-on King novel. I would like to think it is a bit of both, either way; I'm going to head to the nearest bookshop and pick up a few choice King novels to test out the theory.
In this spectacular father/son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?
All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent...
In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, the virus is spreading through a women's prison, affecting all the inmates except one. Soon, word spreads about the mysterious Evie, who seems able to sleep - and wake. Is she a medical anomaly or a demon to be slain?
The abandoned men, left to their increasingly primal devices, are fighting each other, while Dooling's Sheriff, Lila Norcross, is just fighting to stay awake.
And the sleeping women are about to open their eyes to a new world altogether...
The first hardback print run of SLEEPING BEAUTIES will have FOUR secret hidden-on-the-board covers featuring enchanting foiled illustrations. The one you receive will be random, but all are jaw-droppingly beautiful.