Thursday, April 20, 2006

15. Cell by Stephen King

Cell pictureOkay, this snuck in during my french BD reading because I had it reserved at the library before I started the comics project and it became available during. I couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Meezly does a better job of an overall review without giving away too much of the plot than I could have, so I'll let you read that and then add my own analytical comments.

First, I quite enjoyed Cell. I don't know if Stephen King is back or anything, but Cell was much more of a fun and direct read, closer to the books of his earlier days than his later more literary (and frankly boring) efforts. It starts off fast, hard and gory and keeps going. At first, it seemed like a The Stand lite, but when it was done it felt more like The Stand tight. The focus was much more personal, on the main protaganist and his drive to find his son, rather than on a collection of characters coming together for some epic post-apocalyptic battle. You didn't get the great scope of The Stand (I particularily enjoyed the spread of the disease, told in the 3rd person omniscient) but the impact of a world gone made may be more direct and powerful in Cell, seeing it only from the limited perspective of one young man trapped in Boston.

What I've always liked about King is that he is a very critical writer. He is not afraid to take shots at people, though they are usually indirect. For a horror story, Cell has some very strong political persuasions. There is a real anger here against christian fundamentalists that crops up regularily. More potent, though, is the entire theme, which read to me like a new england Liberal's disenchantment, disillusionment and, ultimately, contempt for the rest of America. The survivors, outside of the protaganists little gang are at best cowards, fearfully surrendering their freedom in exchange for the false security offered by the new enemy and at worst angry hateful bigots.

A scene among the refugees from burning Boston, when a shopping cart, pushed by an old couple, breaks a wheel and spills the boy inside on the ground, captures King's pessimism and bitterness:

"What had made his spirits sink to his shoetops was the way people just kept on walking, swinging their flashlights, and talking low among themselves in their own little groups, swapping the occasional suitccase from one hand to the other. Some yob on a pocket-rocket motorbike wove his way up the road between the wreckage and over the litter, and people made way for him, muttering resentfully. Clay thought it would have been the same if the little boy had fallen out of the shopping cart and broken his neck instead of just scraping his knee. He thought it would have been the same if that heavyset guy up there panting along the side of the road with an overloaded duffelbag dropped with a thunderclap coronary. No one would try to resuscitate him, and of course the days of 911 were done."

When I first read that, I thought he meant 9/11. With Cell, King punctures the American fantasy of unity that the current government is using to stay afloat. Like the survivors, following the call to the phone-free north where they will only meet their demise, Americans are following the corporate right to the false security of freedom of consumer choice and a war on terror. It's no accident that the cell phone is the medium for humanity's downfall here and interesting to note that under About the Author it says "Stephen King lives in Maine with his wife, the novelist Tabitha King. He does not own a cell phone."

I strongly recommend it.


meezly said...

Good review, Conan. That’s totally what made Cell so satisfying for me, too. King struck the right balance with the thrills n’ gore, and also had a few things to say about the current state of American society without being too preachy or heavy-handed.

And yeah, I can speak objectively since this is like the 3rd Stephen King book I've ever read ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is an all around GREAT LIST. Incredibly rounded.