Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Rating: 3.5 of 5

A well-written novel with a multi-layered plot that features King’s trademark descriptions – wordy and vivid – and seamless integration of the paranormal into everyday life.

Here is Stephen King’s most gripping and unforgettable novel — a tale of grief and lost love’s enduring bonds, of haunting secrets of the past, and of an innocent child caught in a terrible crossfire. (Source: book cover)

Here’s the gist:

Thirty-something author, Mike Noonan, hasn’t been able to write anything since the sudden death of his wife four years earlier. Unable to beat his severe case of writer’s block, Mike decides to pack up and spend the summer at his lakeside home, Sara Laughs. Upon arrival he discovers two things: the house may be haunted; and, during the last year of her life his wife, Johanna, hid something from him – something that involved Sara Laughs and its community. Mike’s path soon crosses with that of another young widow, Mattie, and her three-year-old daughter, Kyra. He learns Kyra’s grandfather, Max Devore, is a man who stops at nothing to get what he wants, and what he wants is custody of Kyra. So Mike feels compelled to help Mattie and Kyra. But his decision to help only makes matters worse. And what should’ve been a battle for custody turns into a battle for their lives.

Here are my two cents:

For the first 100+ pages (of a 732-page paperback), I was deep inside the grieving main character, Mike Noonan; I don’t think I needed *that* much development of Mike’s mental state, personality and relationships. But King knew just how much not to tell in order to keep me turning the page against the relentless exposition.

Once Mike arrived at Sara Laughs the pace picked up significantly, and the paranormal aspects were intriguing and eerie. During those scenes I felt a little antsy in my chair. However, I didn’t feel a constant pressure or even a consistent tension. There’d be a really juicy scene and then a quick resolution. Not necessarily in the form of an answer but an end to the supsense that had been building. (I prefer stories mimic the beginning of a rollercoaster: when you slowly creep, inch by inch, to the top until BAM! You race toward the bottom and then rip through the middle and arrive mostly unscathed at the end.)

Probably the biggest problem was I just didn’t connect with Mike or his relationship with Johanna. Or his relationship with Mattie and Kyra, for that matter. But that’s me, and I have a hard time with lengthy exposition when from a character I don’t care much for.

Here’s what you might not like:

* It takes between 200-300 pages for the deeper mystery to reveal itself

* It takes even longer for the paranormal activity to kick into high gear

* Racism

* Graphic violence and sexual assault

Final thoughts

I probably won’t read Bag of Bones again anytime soon, if ever, but that’s based more on personal preference than the novel’s quality or content. I would recommend it to readers looking for a slow-paced paranormal mystery built around a town’s dirty secret, with a love story at its core, and topped off with moderate “horror” elements.

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