BOOK REVIEW: FAIRY TALE BY STEPHEN KING

Reading

I reviewed It Was All a Dream: An Anthology of Bad Horror Tropes Done Right a little while back. In that review I talked about how tropes, when used well, when used with originality and creativity, are the heart and soul of genre fiction.

It should come as no surprise that Stephen King handles tropes as well as any author, well, ever. In Fairy Tale he deploys three of the biggest: Portal Fantasy, The Hero’s Journey, and the Golden Child, and they work together beautifully. This is a big, bold, exciting fantasy, epic in scope. This is King’s pandemic book, one he wrote after asking himself, “What could you write that would make you happy?”

As it turns out, what made King happy to write made me ridiculously happy to read.

I said that Fairy Tale is, as I think the title makes clear, a fantasy, but it doesn’t start out that way. King starts out doing one of the things he does best, evoking small time life as he introduces his main character, Charlie Reade. He’s 17, and he’s already been through a lot—the death of his mom, his father’s descent into alcoholism, and his own flirtation with the dark side. As we meet Charlie, his father has been clean for a little while, and he himself has straightened up, pouring his energy into high school sports. Then a chance meeting with a curmudgeonly old man, Howard Bowditch, and his aging German shepherd, Radar. Charlie saves Howard’s life after a nasty fall, and takes it upon himself, at least partly to atone for past behavior, to nurse Howard back to health and take care of Radar.

Howard gives his trust grudgingly, and he has a lifetime of secrets held close to the vest. One of those is the mysterious, locked shed in the back yard. When circumstances finally lead Charlie to enter that shed, King unleashes all the considerably powers of his imagination, and Fairy Tale takes flight.

And…that’s all I’m going to say about the plot. One of the many considerable pleasures of this novel is discovering for yourself King’s richly satisfying tale. The tropes I mentioned above may give you a hint, but I promise you, King has a wealth of surprises in store. What I will say is that Charlie, and Howard, and Radar (because he is very much a character in his own right), and in fact all of the dozens of characters that populate this epic length novel, are deeply rendered and complex. Charlie in particular is a layered, multi-dimensional character, with plenty of flaws that make him all the more human.

King is working at the top of his game here. Fairy Tale is a must read.

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