Off the Shelf

Bag of Bones

By Marcus Pan

Bag of BonesNobody knows where they come from, but King keeps pumping them out. Every time you turn around there's a new King novel on the shelves. This time, he takes us to Maine (big surprise there, eh?) and to Dark Score Lake, a virtual paradise if you ask me - leaving aside all the various ghostly aspects of it anyway. Bag of Bones is told in a first person view and is written very well. I think that is mostly due to the main character, Michael Noonan. Mike's a writer and I think maybe you get a few glimpses into Stephen's head as well through the course of this novel. In the first person view used and being narrated by someone that King can relate to, I found the segues and thought processes of Noonan incredibly realistic. You really get to know Mike - see through his head - and that makes the story much more vivid. Bag of Bones is a long book. But it reads very fluidly and flows so quickly that you don't notice that much.

This is a ghost story - a good, old fashioned New England ghost story. Following the sudden and unexplainable death of his wife, Jo, in a Rite Aid parking lot Mike finds himself unable to continue his writing career. After using up the manuscripts he had written in between times that haven't been published yet he eventually heads off to the vacation home he shared with his wife, affectionately called Sara Laughs and named after one Sarah Tidwell, a black woman who was the lead singer for a local act known as the Red Tops. After his return to Sara Laughs Mike discovers that previous to her death Jo had been researching information for something she was writing. In this process she had uncovered a town secret - a terrible deed the townsfolk around Sarah Laughs kept to themselves for generations. And it haunted them still.

Mike had met a girl named Mattie, a young mother in a pretty white dress. She has a daughter Kyra and it is around her head that swirls the black of a long-dead deed. It is up to Michael Noonan to end the unrest that was left behind and in doing so save Kyra. Throughout the story King keeps throwing you curve balls. Two thirds of the way through the novel the main aggressor to Mike meets his demise. Then a couple days after that Mattie is struck down. It's just so unusual to see major characters disposed of like that - or at least what you perceived at first to be major characters. But there are no major characters here except Mike, so it seems. Everyone else is a tool to the spirits of the story. Even Mike comes out a bit on the damaged side.

The way King works the voices of the ghosts into different things - a refrigerator turned Ouija board, his own book turned into a warning, the abundance of K names in the phone book. How this all becomes meaningful is extremely well done, like pieces of a 10 million piece puzzle coming together. These pieces need to be put together one at a time, a little bit at a stretch. It takes all these pieces before Mike was able to understand what it was he had to do. It reminded me of the Dark Tower series where nearly everything seen and heard, no matter how minor, takes on a large impact in the storyline. This winding together is quite amazing - I don't know how he does it. His notes that he takes during the story to keep his facts and ideas straight must be as big as the book is.

In summary, Bag of Bones is a great story. A romantic ghost story and a little off the beaten path of King's normal works, but still stays within his horror style. It's much more subtle than his previous horror novels and the first person narration in which he chose to write it is a boon to the story which allows you to really get inside the character, know what makes him tick and this makes Michael Noonan nearly as real as anyone else you'll meet.

"Bag of Bones" by Stephen King
Published by Scribner
Copyright © 1998 by Stephen King
ISBN 0-671-02423-X

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