Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Another story by Stephen King – a tale of an ordinary boy who is an average student academically but something of a legend at sport. It is his misfortune that his mother was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and his father attempted to drown his grief in drink. Charlie Reade learns how to take care of his father, and himself.
When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog called Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch. It is with this combination, the boy, the dog, the old man that Stephen King’s ability as a writer opens in full bloom. King plumbs the very depth of his writing powers to produce an imaginative tale of an ordinary boy caught between two worlds, at least one of which is at war. Bowditch, an aged recluse, lives in a big house at the top of a hill. He has a locked shed in the backyard from which strange noises emanate. With the old man’s death Charlie learns that the shed is a portal to another world.
King’s storytelling abilities have never been higher. His imagination is powerful with both small things and large. On the one hand, he can imagine and describe a functioning ‘new world’ while creating an inhabitant of that world in a simple goose girl who has no mouth. Charlie’s alternative world is peopled by men and women whose faces are grey and disfigured. The ‘time is out of joint’ since talking horses and intelligent crickets are regarded as normal.
Calling his story Fairy Tale makes it an easy step for King to imagine that aspects of various fairy tales will contribute to his new work. Hence Rapunzel is an early starter, as is The Little Goose Girl. Fairy Tale also harvests material from The Wizard of Oz, and from The Never-ending Story. Fantasia has a place. In fact, there appears to be an attempt either to allude directly to a particular fairy tale or else to produce a reflection, in sight or sound, of a traditional tale. A curse is assaulted directly (as in the Goose Girl’s ripping her mouth open to give her speech.
Perhaps in this regard, King has been too clever. Charlie seems a well-read, intelligent and brave young man. A little bit too much so, I would have thought. To pay full due to King’s characters, the bawdiness of the gladiators is well reproduced, and, Charlie seems to fill the role of an educated prince more than adequately. We are reminded that he is just a lad when Eris offers to lie with him. His comment – “as to what followed…if it was a thank-you fuck, I didn’t want to know. And if it was a mercy fuck, all I can say is hooray for mercy” (561). This quick observation returns our minds to his conversation with Arnetta Freeman whose offer clearly diverted his thinking out of the realm of real-world parallels and make-believe ones (161).
The most noticeable jarring effect may have its origin in cultural differences. There is much evidence of physical love between the father and the son. Australian writers rarely report the intimacy between a father and a seventeen-year-old son that King does. It may be that close physical relationships among American families is a norm rather than an exception.
One of Stephen King’s better books.
By Stephen King
$32.99; 592 pp