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The Tommyknockers
Stephen King
Narrated by Edward Herrmann, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 26.5 hours

The Tommyknockers
Stephen King
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, in 1947. He attended the grammar school in Durham, Maine, and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.S. in English and qualified to teach at the high school level. He met his wife, Tabitha, in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine of Orono, where they both worked as students. Unable to find a teaching job, the couple lived on his earnings as a labourer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men's magazines. In the fall of 1971, King began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted his novel Carrie for publication. A few months later, its paperback sale provided him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.

Stephen King Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Column: Climbing the Tower
SF Site Review: LT's Theory of Pets
SF Site Review: Dreamcatcher
SF Site Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
SF Site Review: Hearts in Atlantis
SF Site Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
SF Site Review: Bag of Bones
SF Site Review: Storm of the Century

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven Brandt

  Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers,
knocking at the door.

While walking through the wooded acreage of her Haven, Maine home, novelist Bobbie Anderson stumbles across something very interesting -- literally. After picking herself up off the ground, Bobbie looks back to see a thin piece of metal jutting out of the soil. Letting her curiosity get the best of her, Bobbie begins to dig, in spite of the strenuous protests of her faithful dog, Pete. Bobbie doesn't know it yet, but she is about to unearth something never before seen on this world. Let's hope the world survives it.

Bobbie's best friend, Jim Gardner, is in the next state when Bobbie makes her big find, but he begins to get the nagging feeling that she is in trouble. Having fallen on some hard times himself, Jim decides it's time to return to Maine. He arrives, some two weeks after Bobbie's discovery, to find that his friend and her familiar old house have undergone some big changes.

Bobbie, a lithe woman before, is now almost grotesquely thin and on the verge of collapse. Also, Bobbie was never very handy with machines, but Gardner finds that she has rigged up her old water heater with some kind of new power source that is like nothing he has ever seen. What's more, her old farm tractor has a new gear that reads "up" and her typewriter hacks out novels while she sleeps.

Unbeknownst to Jim, there are strange things going on all over Haven. Spreading out from Bobbie's house, in an ever-widening radius, people have begun to change. They know things about each other now, deep, dark secrets that have never been discussed out loud. And it seems like everyone in town is inventing gadgets that defy the laws of science. Well, Earthly science anyway, and they all use power sources, tangles of wire and D-cell batteries, just like the one in Bobbie's water heater.

As days turn into weeks, the townsfolk of Haven resemble human beings less and less, and their collective mind powers grow stronger. Gardner has been immune to the effects so far; he believes the metal plate in his head may be the reason for this. Jim knows he must get out and tell someone what is happening in Haven, but he also knows that he is only safe as long as he is helping Bobbie dig. Time grows ever shorter as more and more of the artifact is uncovered, and Gardner has no idea what to do about it.

On the surface, The Tommyknockers is a pretty good science fiction tale, and pretty creepy too. A whole town full of people slowly turning into something alien, "becoming," as they say in Haven, while a few regular folks are caught in their midst, forced to play along. In that regard, this story reminds me a little of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll find something that's a little more down to Earth, although no less terrifying. There are all kinds of horrors in the world; sometimes they lurk beneath the surface of the earth, and sometimes they lurk beneath the surface of a human being. Both of Stephen King's main characters, Bobbie and Gard, have terrors hidden within them. For Bobbie, it's an over-bearing sister who wants to run her life. For Gard, it's the bottle.

Stephen King spent five years writing The Tommyknockers, an unusually long time for one book. In his foreword, which is included in this audiobook, King says "this book was not so much written as gutted out." The sentiment mirrors the overall theme of the book itself: demons must be exorcised, sometimes forcibly, like a rotted tooth. And this is coming from a man who has fought a few personal demons in his own life. Jim Gardner eventually comes to the realization that in order to save Haven, the artifact must be dug out and removed, just as his own demon must be removed, and that of his friend Bobbie, for them to be whole again.

Just as with authors, narrators can sometimes grab me right away, and sometimes they take a little while to grow on me. Edward Herrmann was of the latter variety: I was dubious at first, but over time I began to appreciate his style. He doesn't really do voices very well, but he has a relaxed style that feels very natural. Hermann is widely known for his role as Richard Gilmore on The Gilmore Girls, and as Max, the head vampire in the film, The Lost Boys. He has also done voice work for The History Channel, PBS, and a lengthy television ad campaign for Dodge throughout the 90s.

Yes, Stephen King knows about personal demons, and I can see where The Tommyknockers might have been difficult for him to write, but I'm glad he did. This is one of my favorite King books.

Copyright © 2011 Steven Brandt

Steven Brandt spends most of his waking hours listening to audiobooks and reviewing them for his blog, Audiobook Heaven. When not reading or reviewing, Steven is usually playing the saxophone for the entertainment and amusement of his family.

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