April 20, 2001

King's New Catch

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It was bound to happen. Even though America won’t admit it, the space race is still in full swing. And even though the general public won’t admit it, UFO fever still grips the nation from time to time. With the media continuing to zero in on UFO phenomena through crappy movies like Independence Day and even worse television shows like the WB’s Roswell, it was inevitable that one of the world’s freakiest authors would pen a novel about little green men. Only this time, it’s little gray men, and they’re trying to take over the world by abducting our puny human minds in Stephen King’s latest novel, Dreamcatcher.

Set in the wooded state of Maine, the story centers on the strangely close friendship of five men: Gary “Jonesy” Jones, Pete Moore, Joe “Beaver” Clarendon, Henry Devlin, and Douglas “Duddits” Cavell. Jonesy, Pete, Beaver, and Henry are just teenagers when they rescue Duddits, a sufferer of Down’s Syndrome, from certain torment at the hands of a bully. This one random act of kindness binds the five teens into a friendship that survives decades, primarily because Duddits is no ordinary guy. Duddits sees “the line,” and passes this telepathic power on to his friends in varying degrees.

Thrown into this mind-meld are telepathic aliens, crash-landed in the woods of Maine. There is a government cover-up in the form of an all-out slaughter of the entire crew, save one, of the crashed alien ship. This lone surviving alien, known as Mr. Gray, is confused by and yet drawn to the powers of the five friends, and to Jonesy in particular. This alien hijacks Jonesy’s body, but he can’t get rid of Jonesy’s consciousness. Despite this, Mr. Gray still sets off to destroy the world, while Henry and a governmental official are on the chase, determined to “be heroes.”

Characteristic of any Steven King novel, the story is masterfully crafted into a gripping tale that transports the reader away from reality and into a modern day War of the Worlds. The writing is magnificent; King manages to be shocking, sentimental, comical, and rather disgusting all at once, often running the reader through this varied gamut of emotions while reading a single page. His words flow so effortlessly that the reader doesn’t even notice the turning of the pages.

Now, the question is if Dreamcatcher is full of King’s notorious nail-biting suspense and freakishly strange characters and events. While Dreamcatcher is not the type of book that you hand to others with the warning “don’t read this alone in the dark,” fans of King will not be disappointed. Abe Kurtz, the head of the government cover-up, is a dictatorial personality so perfectly in touch with his insanity that he revels in his masochistic leadership. Then there is McCarthy, who turns up at Beaver’s hunting cabin after having wandered more than fifty miles in the frigid fall cold. McCarthy doesn’t know the correct date of the year, has missing teeth that he is unaware of, and suffers from a severe and inhuman form of flatulence that King gleefully describes many times over during the course of the book. Those who are faint of stomach should not worry, though, as the usage of potty humor is always bordering on tasteful, and is amusing rather than vomit-inducing.

The story is long, with the history of Jonesy, Beaver, Henry, Pete, and Duddits told in memory flashbacks that pepper the main storyline. Part of the story’s griping allure owes itself to these flashbacks: King introduces the reader to unexplained and yet vastly meaningful tidbits of information within the very first pages of the novel, causing the reader to speed through the book’s daunting 617 pages. To be honest, the importance of the flashbacks in the story will force you to think. Don’t worry though, it’s a pleasurable read.

In the end, reading Dreamcatcher is a very satisfying experience. The departure from King’s normal psychologically twisted and frightening style is refreshing, and the tale still manages to secure the readers’ interest without scaring the bejesus out of them. King succeeds in serving up a novel that fantastically portrays the human will to survive, in spite of an alien invasion, crazed government officials, and phenomenal gastrointestinal irritations. Dreamcatcher would be a fabulous choice for mental exercise during the lazy, hazy days of summer that are fast approaching.

Archived article by Katie Porch