I finished reading Dreamcatcher by Stephen King over the weekend. I liked it. I didn’t love it, but it was an engaging story. I’ve found myself thinking about it on and off since finishing. It’s a rather long book at 620 pages. The length isn’t a bad thing, but it could have used a bit more editing. There were overly indulgent portions, and then other parts that could have used some more fleshing out.
The book starts out with the story split between four male friends, our protagonists. We get some background about the friends as they each prepare to meet for their annual November hunting trip in the woods outside of Derry, Maine. These four have been together since jr. high school, and thus have mottos and catch phrases that infect the book. By the end, I’m likely to summarize the whole book by labeling it SSDD, or Same Shit Different Day.
Though, in truth their story is anything but SSDD, nor has it ever truly been. These friends share an unshakeable bond that was formed during one heroic act when they were about 14 years old. Henry, Jonesy, Beaver, and Pete stood up for and protected a disabled boy named Duddits from the bullying of the local quarterback and his cronies. It was this act that both bound them and came to define them for the rest of their lives. And since this is King, Duddits is extraordinarily gifted, paranormally so. Though we don’t fully come to realize how gifted until close to the end of the novel.
We’re also introduced to the characters’ extrasensory powers. Jonesy, a college history professor, can sense when students are cheating. Pete, a car salesman, has an almost supernatural ability to find lost objects and retrace a person’s steps. Beaver, a construction worker, has an unnatural ability to soothe. Lastly, Henry, an accomplished (though suicidal) psychiatrist, can sense the truth of his patients almost to the point of mind reading.
These friends embark on the last hunting trip of their lives without realizing its significance when, BAM! They’re thrust right in the middle of an alien invasion and the fight of their lives. This alien invasion is one part X-Files and one part medical experiment gone wrong. There is an alien fungus, called “Ripley” by the military force trying to eradicate it, which turns people into drones for the sentient alien life force. There are also horrible beings called, I kid you not, shit-weasels. These beauties grow in a person’s guts eating through them and causing the most horrible gas imaginable – we’re talking burps and farts from hell, liable to clear out an entire convention center rather than just one measly room. Once the horrible flatulents reach critical mass they expel themselves from the rear end of their host, thereby killing said host.
Now, this isn’t such a horrible premise for an alien invasion. There have certainly been worse. But, the book clearly talks about how these same aliens have been visiting earth for decades testing the waters and planning their attack. Then, they just so happen to touch down with a sad amount of troops, unprepared for a fight, and in an inhospitable environment. And we’re supposed to buy all that? Seems rather convenient… for the author, that is.
The meat of the story centers on a fight between Jonesy and the alien consciousness, Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray has taken over Jonesy’s body and mind, but Jonesy is able to lock himself in a little room inside his mind and protect his awareness from being assimilated, or destroyed, or whatever. The alien is frustrated by this ability since no one has ever presented it with this problem. Mr. Gray is attempting to find a way to infect the world at large with Ripley, and Jonesy is attempting to save himself and possibly the world. The rest of the story hinges on a military force attempting to isolate and clean up the alien threat, and it’s all headed by a singularly maniacal madman named Kurtz.
By far, the best aspect of this book is the representation of Jonesy’s mind. This is accomplished by describing Jonesy’s inner sanctum as a locked office, and outside the office is the largest warehouse imaginable. The warehouse is filled with stacked and labeled boxes which house his memories. He merely needs to think of certain subjects, and suddenly those boxes are stacked neatly outside the door to his office. I would have loved some more exploration in the memory warehouse throughout the book.
The supernatural aspects of the book were interesting. There was a lot of telepathy, and that was fun. I liked the arguments both for and against, and actually spent a bit of time indulging my own fantasies of what life would be like with widespread telepathy being the norm. Duddits, the Down Syndrome friend, has supernatural abilities regarding telepathy and connecting people. In fact, Duddits is so special that he can transfer some of his abilities to others, hence the abilities of his four best pals.
The conclusion wraps up with the typical tropes: humanizing the alien, love conquers all, and mind over matter. It was okay. It was expected. I’m just glad that there was an epilogue rather than ending at the conclusion of the action scene (the cop out of many authors). An actual dreamcatcher made an appearance in the book, but disappointingly so as a bad metaphor.
Overall this book was enjoyable. It wasn’t great, and I wouldn’t recommend it anyone but Stephen King fans. I could have used a lot less of the graphic scenes involving flatulence. I do wish there was more exploration of the friendship of the four protagonists. I also wish there was more exploration of the inside of Jonesy’s mind. So many reviewers have compared this book to It, and I’ve yet to read that novel. I’m now looking forward to it since I hear it’s one of King’s best.