January 2010's SK Flavor of the Month - The Talisman
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Our first book of the year is the Stephen King/Peter Straub collaboration The Talisman.
I've put off reading this book for years. I LOVE both guys solo work and am afraid that the two together will disappoint. Though I do think they have complimentary styles. Both are at their best when they are writing about a large cast of characters and both excel at detailing their characters hum-drum domestic issues in order to make the more fantastic elements believable.
At any rate, I have to enjoy it more than the godawful last book I read: L. Ron Hubbard's (yes, that L. Ron Hubbard) Fear. What a stinker that was.
Does anybody know about what their methodology was, if there's any way besides sheer deduction to know which belongs to whom? Have either or both of them ever written or talked about this subject?
And another question I want to toss out there: Is the place known as "The Territories" in this book related to/the same as the alternative/parallel/other place in the Dark Tower series (of which I've read only the first, and found that to be quite confusing)?
ETA: my second, hopefully not too terribly uneducated, question.
I was gonna mention that in my earlier post. For the most part, the whole first chapter reads like Peter Straub to me. I've always thought Straub is, technically at least, a better writer than Stephen King. I say he's more literary, but then I may not be using 'literary' properly.
Subconsciously I'll probably read the entire book thinking 'King wrote that bit', 'Straub did that', but I'm going to try and just pretend they sat side-by-side in front of a typewriter and banged the whole thing out together.
I also wanted to say that the name 'Jack Sawyer' is such a perfect one. It's not a quirky name that will distract the reader, but 'Jack' is a name so heavily wrapped up in fairy stories (I'm blanking on it now, but I remember a science fiction writer wrote book linking the various 'Jacks' together). Sawyer of course makes me think of Tom Sawyer, America and 'lighting out for the territories' (which is also sort of the name of the first section of The Talisman).
But anyway, back on topic, I just started the book yesterday (it's a hefty one) and although I've read it once before I've forgotten most of it. Except of course for the Sunlight Home chapter. Can't wait to get to that part to see if it's as bad as I remember it being...
Jack has traveled to the Territories, peeked in on the queen and phonied up some tears.
The book is fantastically written, but so far is a pretty straight up fantasy. Not really my thing (which is also why I don't love The Dark Tower or Clive Barker's novels). Not that I would quit reading it, but I don't think I will be anxiously awaiting Black House to pop up as a flavor of the month.
A couple of devices I've noticed, for the first time, that he seems to like a lot:
The simple but deep companion/guide (Tom Cullen, Wolf) and the wise, other-worldly, elderly African American guide (Dick Halloran, Mother Abagail, Speedy Parker).
For whatever it's worth.
I'm not a big fantasy fan either, maybe that's why this book stirs no memories at all.
I'm noticing I much prefer Jack in our world to the Territories.
The Territories is just too straight-up fantasy. I have to give credit, it is very good fantasy. I appreciate all the little details like how their money works or their religious views (God pounds his nails), but I still enjoy it more when Jack is dodging monsters in the good old US of A.
Jack and Wolf were just arrested in Indiana and are being sent to the Sunlight Garden Home.
I do like the book, but I keep wondering why fabulously wealthy Jack didn't just buy himself a bus ticket to California? I know he had to leave quickly and all, but the extra two hours spent on arranging a bus or plane ticket would have shaved weeks off of his trip. I wish they'd had Speedy whip-up some reason that he had to make the journey by the sweat of his brow or something.
I believe that making the journey under arduous conditions, with only the clothes on his back and the contents of his small pack, is part of what makes it a quest, a hero's journey. Presumably, Odysseus could have hightailed it back in a much more straightforward manner to Ithaca, but then there wouldn't have been an odyssey...
Right, right. I understand thematically why the book happens the way it does. I'm just surprised that King and Straub didn't offer any in story rationalization of why Jack is behaving that way.
Like I said, they could have just had Speedy spout some Mother Abigale mumbo-jumbo about Jack "needin' to head out with jus' the clothe on yo' back" and there would be no problem.
It's like when you are watching a scary movie and the heroine decides to walk up the unlit stairs to investigate that noise. Now, as a veiwer you know that it has to happen to set up a scary situation, but you still ask yourself 'What is she, stupid?' and if the movie makes characters act in unbelievable ways enough times you will decide it is a bad movie.
I picked it up again and have read up to Jack and Richard discovering the train.
You know, I've already stated that fantasy isn't my preferred genre, but in general The Talisman is kind of bugging me. I feel like the authors are letting themselves get away with stuff they never would have in one of their solo books.
I already mentioned that it just seemed a little sloppy not to explain why Jack didn't just fly back to California.
But I was also irritated that Sunlight Gardner wound up being a twinner and in cahoots with the bad guy. It just seemed hugely coincidental that Jack wound up at that home.
I remember Stephen King talking about his irritation with the T.V. series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, because Kolchak wouldn't be able to go on a cruise without coincidentally stumbling across a group of Satanists.
To me, Jack's stumbling across the Sunlight Gardner Home was just as wildly coincidental as anything Kolchak stumbled across. This could have been alleviated if it were implied that Jack's actions were being directed (or if it turned out that Sunlight Gardner was just a real prick, but not linked to the Territories), but as it is it feels like this one 12 year old boy is crossing two different countries and repeatedly bumping into the same couple of power players from the Territories.
Lastly, both of these authors are experts at creating believable characters, but aside from Jack the characters here feel pretty flat. And don't even get me started on Richard Sloat. I hate when a character in a horror story repeatedly refuses to accept the facts around him, regardless of the amount of proof provided.
Ah, maybe I'm being too harsh on the book. Anyone have any differing opinions?
Ha! At the rate I'm going right now, I guess you could say I'm hardly reading at all this month either.
The cheese stands alone...
But I'm with BeckyJG on this one, I'm enjoying it very much--I like the journeying along with Jack and finding out what new horrors are just around the corner. I just need to find the time to sit down and finish it!
BeckyJG - completely agree with the descriptions of the empty funfair, just beautiful. Something about the rollercoaster looking like charcoal strokes silhouetted against the sky. I just have no interest in Jack, his mother, Uncle Morgan or Speedy at the moment. I haven't read anything by Straub and haven't got far enough into the book to say, but I'm wondering if the different styles are working against each other. For instance, as beautiful as the funfair description is, it seems indulgent considering the introduction of the characters' stories is so muddled and clumsy. Uncle Stevie's digressions are going to seem less than cute if I'm still feeling like I can't see where this is going and couldn't care less by the time I'm halfway through....
It just wasn't my kind of thing, but I did like the intermingling of their writing styles. I would like to see them work together on a mammoth It-style horror novel.
For example, I absolutely love Clive Barker's Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show, but didn't like Imajica at all, and never read anything by him after that. I don't know if that's because I read the first two as a teen.
One thing I will say about The Talisman - it seemed so bloody cliched that The Territories had a ye olde medieval England feel. It's possible that I'm only annoyed by it because of a bad break up years ago with a bloke who turned into a complete tosser after getting into 14th century re-enactment ;)
I kind of got the feeling that King and Straub were chugging along and what editor is going to question those guys?
Did anyone else think Wolf was the most uninspired name for a character ever? If he were the only one of his kind I could understand it but he says he has a whole family. Are his sisters named Wolfette and She-Wolf?
I really like the character and it just bugs the crap out of me that they couldn't even bother to think up a better name than Wolf.
Sometimes drugs are good for writers (The Talisman); sometimes they're not (The Tommyknockers).
I don't like those books myself and didn't especially like The Talisman. But I did like the combination of King and Straub's writing. the book wasn't terrible, just not my thing.
i appreciated that the Territories were a fantasy world with no elves or dwarfs. At least their fantasy world didn't feel like a Tolkien clone.
As far as Wolf goes, I think all of the werewolves go by the name Wolf.
Nope, no substance abuse going on here Enrique, although I wondered if it would help ;)
Jack didn't grab me in anyway, Speedy talked gibberish, and Lily came across as a cynical, chain-smoking old lush. Not a good start either.
I'm not sure how King and Straub worked together on this but it's more miss than hit so far. I'm getting on better with it, but more because I've lowered any expectations I had and because I'm now just going along for the ride.
I still think they should of gave Wolf a name besides Wolf.
I find myself agreeing with a lot of the views already shown.
The book started very slow and flat. Speedy was....Hmm...odd? Something, I didn't care for him.
Wolf definetely needed another name but in some ways it suited him, maybe if it was a simple nickname instead of his given name.
There were a lot of coincedences...The Sunlight Home being the most glaring. It bugged me that all the evil kids had evil twinners and they all found each other.
For a start, every time I got into it, something ridiculous and too concidental or convenient occurred, and threw me right back out of the story. For that reason it took a long time to read - it didn't flow very well and I kept stopping and starting as a result.
A lot of the problem with the convenience of events was that often, something wasn't explained until it HAD happened - something would come out of nowhere, followed by a bit of background information. There often wasn't anything leading up to it or hinting at it. One example - the scars on the inside of Morgan's thighs (what scars?), and the reason behind them quickly explained to rationalise Morgan's grudge against Speedy (what grudge?). Eh? The plot went along in this fashion all the way through the book. Jarring to say the least. All of these instances COULD have made a great build up and a fantastic, rich history of the Territories.
All of the events seemed random and over-the-top, and as a result came across as separate from each other (giving no sense of coherence or of the quest element of the story) and chaotic (therefore giving no hints as to what exactly Jack was learning along the way, except when he knew just what to do and when to do it, just as he needed to do it, when the authors required that to be the case). Everything seemed very arbitrary.
I couldn't really sympathise with the characters. Jack was a bit flat, Speedy was odd, Wolf was a liability, Richard a whinge, and as for the baddies - caricatures, the lot of them. I couldn't understand the relevance of the gull and the little sand whirlpool at the beginning either.
I haven't read any of the Dark Tower novels, or any Peter Straub, so I have nothing to compare this to, but I'm inclined to think that it wasn't the fault of either author; instead I think it struggled because fantasy, which is unrealistic by nature, works when it is carried along by a clear, single vision. This was always going to be problem with two authors and in this case they didn't manage it. Will be interesting to see if their approach improved in Black House.
I always try and give a book my best shot, and go along as open-minded as I can - I had my reservations with Thinner at the start but had a lot of fun with that one. Sometimes you can't help what you like or dislike :)
I understand how things can just take you out of your reading because they are so jarring, I'm sorry it didn't work for you. I will have to try Thinner, always been skeptical and never picked that one up.
Jacey, do yourself a favor. Go pick that up - and read it. I agree with Moomin_Mama; Thinner is a lot of fun! One of the best Stephen King novels I have read myself...
Edit: tried to fix touchstone...
I think you should take post #50 and turn it into a review. I like it better than my own long and rambling review of The Talisman and agree with all your points.
I do recommend you give Peter Straub's solo works a try. At least Ghost Story for something supernatural or Koko for a suspenseful non-supernatural story.
Don't judge him by The Talisman. He really is much better.
I feel like such a critic...
I won't let The Talisman put me off, in fact I'm more keen to try out some of Straub's work than I was before (I've heard such good things about Ghost Story, and I'd like to see what he's usually like). Thanks Jseger and Bookmarque for the recommendations.