Desperation by Stephen King


Desperation, a recent Stephen King novel, is not just a book, but an experience that leaves the reader frightened, paranoid, and questioning his moral beliefs. Picture, if you will, a lone, crazed Nevada policeman who pulls over vehicles on a lonely desert highway and forcefully takes away their occupants. Whichever of them he doesn?t kill immediately, he locks up in the jail of the small desolate town of Desperation. Among those captured are the vacationing Carver family, whose RV is sabotaged on its way to Arizona. Already incarcerated is Tom Billingsley, a once well-known member of the now slaughtered community of Desperation. They are soon joined by formerly famous, currently old and overweight writer, Johnny Marinville, who is riding across the country on his Harley-Davidson gathering material for a book of short stories. How to escape Desperation isn?t the only unanswered question, though. How could and why would one man single-handedly murder the population of an entire town? How does he have such control over the minds of the animals? Why are they locked up when he could have killed them like every one else? Whatever it is that possesses the body of officer Collie Entraigan can?t last forever, though. After several days his body is falling apart at the seams, and he is bleeding from every orifice. Weirder yet, he is growing several inches a day and is bound to burst soon. Will he? Or are the occupants of the local Desperation jail just backup bodies that the possessor will use when it wears out its current one? If so then what is it? More importantly, who?s next?

An intriguing aspect of this book is that there is no real protagonist. King leaves the reader in constant suspense. Frequently changing views, the story follows one character or group of characters for one chapter and then in the next chapter, follows another, often intertwining the time sequences. The overlapping action is interrupted only by flashbacks that allow the reader to sympathize with a particular character?s actions or feelings. These flashbacks are so intricate that it is difficult to believe they are fictional at all. They go into such detail of the life-altering experiences of everyone involved that the reader gets a sixth sense as to how the characters will react to certain situations. Telling the story in this manner allows the reader to see why every character acts the way that he does.

The book itself begins with a distressed Mary Jackson shouting ?Oh! Oh, Jesus! Gross!? (p. 1) in repulsion upon seeing a dead cat nailed to a speed limit sign along the Nevada stretch of highway 50. This particular stretch of asphalt boasts the title ?The Loneliest Highway in America,? and to New York born and raised Peter and Mary Jackson, it is beginning to get a little too creepy. Soon Peter notices an upcoming car in the rear-view mirror. ?Big chrome grille, coming up fast and reflecting such a savage oblong of sun that he had to squint . . . but he thought the car was white, which meant it wasn?t State Police.? (p. 6) Soon the little white Acura they are driving is pulled over. They are missing a rear license plate, the hauntingly large officer tells them, and when they open the trunk to get out the tool kit, he notices a gallon sized baggy full of ?greenish-brown herbal matter.? (p. 18) Soon Peter and Mary are en route to the Desperation town jail. On the way there they pass an RV with four flat tires that the policeman flys by as though he doesn?t even see it. Upon entering the doorway of the police station, the cop puts his arm around Peter and pumps three bullets in his guts while he and his wife stare in disbelief at the figure of a dead little girl, neck snapped, lying crookedly at the base of the stairs.

Now the reader is introduced to the Carver family. King evens out the story line by interrupting moments of intense action with flashbacks. In this particular case, King tells of the prior intentions of the Carver family. The story goes into such believable detail that it is difficult to take as fiction. He tells of how they had started out as ?Four Happy Wanderers? as was detailed into the pinstripe of their RV, how