Friday, July 6, 2007

Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher"

This is the first Stephen King book that I have read and I must say I was surprised because I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
I know King by reputation -- the writer of "horror" novels such as "Carrie", "The Shining" and the like. This is not one of Stephen King's scary novels; there is almost nothing here to the curdle the blood or make your hair stand on end. It is about the supernatural but not of the disembodied ghostly type. The focus is on extra-sensory perception, telepathy and dreams. There are passages that describe violent and bloody deaths. These are vivid and stomach churning at times but they will not make you fear the things that go bump in the night. The title comes from a device, somewhat like a net, that Native Americans sometimes hang in their lodgings to capture their dreams or to weave it into some kind of reality.
Set in the New England states of USA, the plot involves characters, friends since childhood, who are caught in a covert military operation to annihilate a group of recently arrived extra- terrestrials considered to be extremely dangerous. The four become the victims of both the military -- who want to shut them up because they stumbled upon the operation -- and the aliens, who are looking for human hosts to inhabit.
This is one good read. King shows just how good a novelist he is. There are passages of really superb prose and clever use of time shifts which reveal the plot yet keeps us in the dark. The past and the present intertwine and, of course, the present is affected to a large extent by events of the past. Central to the plot is the outcast Douglas, a mentally handicapped boy, whom the characters befriended as teenagers. It is through Douglas's special mental ability that the characters manage to shift from past to present, from dream to "reality", in their attempt to escape their pursuers.
Descriptions of the the location are vivid, and this is not surprising since King when researching for the novel explored all the routes the exciting car chase takes. To write how it feels to be traveling in a army "humvee", King borrowed one and drove, one suspects -- very fast and recklessly -- the same roads and tracks leading to the reservoir where the final scene takes place. So if you find yourself a bit breathless reading the description of the chase, you know why. This is an author who does not want to short change his readers -- at least not too much.
Description of the aliens and the spawn are a little disappointing. None of are clearly delineated and it seems that King is depending our exposure to TV and the movies the create the images ourselves. By the way, there are several references in the novel to movies and an insider joke King creates by imagining the events in this novel being being recreated in a blockbuster movie -- King even names actors who would play his characters....Like many of King's other novels, this did become a movie, but I am not sure if the actors he suggested for his characters did in fact play these roles.
Passages that dwell on dreams and the psychological trauma the characters experience can be confusing for the reader sometimes as we get disassociative glimpses of events that take place in childhood days or ruminations of the characters who seem to suffer more than just mid-life crises. Some of these may not hold the interest of the reader as much as the main story line but theses are essential to the plot.
Some might find King's emphasis on the salvation through good deeds done in the past -- in this case the befriending of Douglas -- a bit overdone and simplistic but it seems to me that the message is more of the mysterious qualities of the human mind -- its ability to dream, to communicate telepathically, and to generate superhuman effort and strength.

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