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Storm of the Century
Stephen King
Pocket Books, 376 pages

Storm of the Century
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 on 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.

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A review by Duane Swierczynski

No, that's not a typo, and you're not hallucinating: Stephen King has actually produced a book under the 400 page mark.

I've been a huge King freak ever since I started carrying an adult library card -- somewhere around the age of 12. I loved the quick-paced vampire action of 'Salem's Lot, the short, sharp shocks of Night Shift, and practically devoured the anorexic Carrie (200 pages!) in one day. Damn, could that man tell a wicked story. I vowed buy anything that had the man's name on it. (As did hundreds of thousands of other people, apparently.) Then somewhere in the mid-80s, King got Big -- and I'm not talking about his waistline. Sure, I went along with the 1,100-page It. (Though to be fair, King did pack every possible monster between its two covers.) I dealt with the long and winding Tommyknockers, too. But by the time I hit Insomnia, Desperation and The Regulators, something snapped.

It was my wrist, from trying to prop up the suckers open.

Fast forward to 1998: When I heard that the screenplay for Storm of the Century, King's self-proclaimed "novel for television" was going to be released in trade paperback, I was thrilled. Here was the svelte Stephen King I'd grown up with, stripped down to the bare essentials: setting, character, plot, and plenty o' chills.

The year is 1989, and the small coastal island town of Little Tall, Maine is about to get socked with one of those serious, Buddy-Holly-killing snowstorms.

As the town scurries around preparing for the worst, another force of nature is moseying into town: Andre Linoge, a tall, creepy stranger with a thing for nursery rhymes. But don't let the kiddie tunes fool you: Linoge is in town all of ten minutes before he brains a kindly old lady to death with a wolf's head cane, terrorizes a 12-year-old, and tells the town manager that his mother is burning in Hell, waiting to scoop his eyes out. Yeah. That kind of creepy.

Weirder still is the fact that when Little Tall constable Mike Anderson investigates, Linoge allows himself to get arrested with zero resistance. And as he's brought into the tiny jail (which sits in the back of Anderson's grocery shop), Linoge spits out the dark secrets of every Little Tall resident he passes. She had an abortion. He's a vicious homophobe. Your mother burns in Hell, and by the way, has dandruff. (Kind of like a New York City gossip column come to horrible life.) Needless to say, this freaks the townsfolk out, but not as much as when Linoge tells Anderson: "Give me what I want and I'll go away," because the rest of Storm is spent exploring exactly what Linoge wants, and trust me folks -- it ain't pepperoni pizza. Did I mention there's a killer snowstorm hitting Little Tall at the same time?

To be sure, Storm is a well-crafted, smartly-plotted, hellzapoppin' story -- exactly what you'd expect from the master of 20th century gothic literature.

When it comes to realistic yet original dialogue, King is still... well, the King. But unfortunately, the story also feels a bit like King's Greatest Hits.

There's the familiar dark evil dude (Randall Flagg from The Stand, that old creepy devil guy from Needful Things) in the usual Stephen King Small Town™ (Castle Rock, Derry) up against the earnest but pleasingly flawed protagonist (you name it). A lot of townsfolk, with a lot of weird secrets. Kids put in mortal jeopardy. People dying left and right. It's disappointing that King seems to be resting on his old tropes, rather than breaking new ground with a fresh terror or two. We've even seen the snowstorm thing before (The Shining).

And even though this is a "novel for television," there are way too many characters populating this story. You've got the Hatchers, the Kingsburys, the Beals, the Robicheauxs, the Carvers, Sonny Brautigan, Alex Haber, Ferd Andrews, Lucien Fournier, Llyod Wishman... I would go on, but I lost track. In fact, when a person died in the story, I was actually relieved -- one less body to keep track of. Certain books of the Bible have less characters, for goodness' sake. King's full house dilutes the terror a bit, because there's not enough time to care about the folks before they get decapitated, bludgeoned or turned into human creamsicles. True; there are some great King zingers that you won't find in the broadcast version -- mostly in terms of some wicked screenplay narrative. One note reads: "He bends out of the frame, and we hear the SOUND OF VOMITING (sort of like THE SOUND OF MUSIC, only louder.)" And every scene with Andre Linoge screwing with people's minds is as riveting as the Regan possession scenes in The Exorcist (an influence King himself admits in the book's introduction.) But there's way too much white, fluffy stuff, and not enough Linoge. And even he isn't somebody we haven't seen before.

Word is that a new King novel is set to appear in April -- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, followed by a linked story collection (Hearts in Atlantis) in the fall. I really hope he decides to take us in new directions with these books -- or least, keeps things under the 1,000 page mark. I'd love to be King freak again.

Copyright © 1999 Duane Swierczynski

Duane Swierczynski recently escaped New York and is now a pen-for-hire living in the small town of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania. His long-awaited novel, SECRET DEAD MEN, might actually appear early in the next century... depending on how this whole Y2K thing shakes out. In the meanwhile, you can find his work in such varied publications as Details, Men's Health, and Sparks! The Trade Magazine of the National Static Cling Research Foundation. He's currently building his upper body strength so that, someday, he'll be able to read Desperation and The Regulators back-to-back.

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