on 1 November 2005
I'm actually going to sway away from popular opinion on this one. Even though it’s by no means a bad book, it’s not great either.
Desperation is certainly more of a gore-fest rather than a psychological horror. The book begins with a couple driving through a desert. As the pass a sign, they notice a dead animal nailed to it, this is the first scare, then a cop pulls them over, and then BANG! You’re into the action immediately. The story certainly starts very quickly, no time building characters or the scene too much with this one, oh no, the horror is fast paced and I’m sure that almost everyone will find the first 100 pages impossible to put down. But this is the big problem. How do you sustain this kind of pace for 700 pages? Simply, you cant. This is very disappointing, as I thought the first part really was some of the most intense storytelling that I’ve read in a long while, unfortunately, you pay for this because the story really does begin to drag a bit from there on in.
If you like blood, guts, severed limbs, and basically just downright gore, gore and throw some more gore in, then you wont be disappointed with this. But if you looking for a more psychological horror, then I suggest maybe Bag of Bones also by King.
A good horror story that maybe drags on a little too long, and maybe the horror is too in your face (which in my opinion is much less scary most the time) for some, but don’t let it put you off. A good read nevertheless, maybe a slightly average story made better by a great author.
on 16 January 2015
Whether you like this novel or not, whether you like King or not, you do have to admire the brilliance of the people who give Stephen King marketing advice. “Desperation” was released in conjunction with Richard Bachman’s (a name long known to be Stephen King’s pseudonym) “The Regulators”. Resurrecting a long dead author and releasing 2 books at once, the second under a different author name that everyone knows is really King anyway so that people will buy both books is a bit of a masterstroke. And King used the same set of characters, although he switched some of the names around so he got 2 sales when he’d really only written the one book. As a marketing idea it’s a stroke of genius but one which left “constant reader”, as King calls us, feeling just a little ripped off. King gets 2 books for the price of one, I got at best 1½ books for the price of 2. And the reasoning behind how Bachman came to publish another book is as flimsy as parts of the story itself.
Maybe there’s something I’m missing, but as far as I can tell, "Desperation" is not a good novel. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Stephen King, but he had a bad run during the 90's, with "Gerald's Game” and "Dolores Claiborne" being very poor. Then came "Insomnia", and you get to thinking that he was back on track, a slight blip there, but it happens, no problem, here we go again. And then...oh, dear!
It’s a fairly simple story, in essence. It’s based on that old favourite of good versus evil or even God versus evil. Evil in this case is embodied by a local policeman in the town of Desperation, Nevada, who has been taken control of, infected even, by an evil presence that has for many years lurked patiently in the mine that has provided most of the population of Desperation with work, either directly or by serving the mining community. Closed down several years before, it has been reopened, and the evil released.
The good are a bunch of people, mostly travellers who happen to be passing near to Desperation on the nearby Interstate. None of them have any business in Desperation and would simply pass it by at 55 miles an hour if they hadn’t been unfortunate enough to be singled out by Officer Entragian and dragged into the Desperation jail. Apart from those who were travelling together in a family unit, there’s no links between any of them, apart from their desire to be somewhere else.
As is often the way, their group is whittled down, mostly through various random killings, which seems apt given that they were supposedly thrown together in fairly random circumstances, to a manageable size. It is this group that can manage an escape and attempt to battle the evil that is in Desperation, all held together by a young boy who has already lost his mother and sister to the force of evil that is Officer Entragian and his faith in God.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a terribly original idea. It’s been done better elsewhere, by other authors and, indeed, by Stephen King himself. This novel is, essentially, a watered down version of “The Stand”, only without the road trip part that bought the characters in that novel together in the beginning. Whereas in “The Stand”, there was a constant state of moving on with the story, with very little attention paid to the past, it seems like there is a constant back trail to “Desperation”, with a lot of the reasons behind what is going on based in the past, rather than the present. As a result, the story seems to take too long to get going, circling around issues rather than progressing the plot. It makes for a book that feels longer than it is which can’t be a good thing, especially as it is a pretty lengthy read to begin with.
There’s a great deal of suspension of disbelief required to get through all this. If anything strange happens, it’s largely down to the power of God. Whereas the basics behind “The Stand” were a little more interesting than that, this is what underpins the whole thing in “Desperation. To draw the comparison further, whilst the God of “The Stand” is a force for good, the God of “Desperation” is a cruel God, which makes the boundaries between His side and the supposedly evil side a little less clear. Although “bad” is clear, the line that marks the start of “good” isn’t at all obvious. You don’t end up cheering for the wrong side, but it’s difficult to feel any great sympathy for or kinship with the right side. If you were forced to pick a side to cheer on in the battle for Desperation, the real problem wouldn’t be choosing which side is the right one, but whether or not you can be bothered to nail your colours to either mast.
Whilst the basis behind “Desperation” isn’t a bad idea for a story, it’s not told terribly well here. This in itself is fairly unusual for Stephen King. Although he frequently takes us through too much back story than is necessary, he does usually have a pretty good eye of the way a story should be told. Here, he somehow seems to miss that mark, and the effect is one of boredom and a lack of interest in how things are going to pan out.
If you’re not a Stephen King fan, this certainly isn’t going to change your mind, and I can’t recommend you buy this. If you are a Stephen King fan, I can’t really recommend you buy this either. Chances are, you already have a copy of “The Stand”, and you’d be far better placed to re-read that instead. The basic idea is the same, and it’s more engagingly told. There’s a very good reason that it was that novel and not this one that made the BBC Good Read lists – “The Stand” is a heck of a lot better.
However, if like I am, you’re a big enough Stephen King fan to be a completist and be missing this from your collection, you’ll want to buy regardless, just don't be expecting too much from it.
This review may also appear under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
on 30 May 2013
I have read a significant percentage of Stephen King's work, but this novel has none of the qualities found in his other books. If it didn't have 'King' on the front page I wouldn't believe it was written by him. It is shallow and senseless, with no plot or any characters of interest. In most King books the reader becomes almost enthralled with the fate of the main protagonists, but in this book I just didn't care. I tried two or three times to complete the book, but just got fed-up with the holier-than-thou David, his wailing father Ralph, the clichéd, hard-bitten former alcoholic author Johnny and the rest of the vacuous bunch. Being a loyal King-reader, I kept going back to it, convinced that it would improve, but it just got worse! A section of the story takes place in an abandoned movie theatre, and it became so boring and repetitive that I finally abandoned the book and disposed of it so that I couldn't waste any more of life's valuable minutes trying to find some literary merit or even a scintilla of entertainment within its pages. Was this really written by the same person who wrote The Stand, Dark Tower, Green Mile?? He must have been having an off-day.
on 10 March 2016
I'm a big Stephen King and although this one had its moments, it wasn't one of his best.
That said, it was 700 pages long and held my attention throughout so it was enjoyable enough thanks to King's accessible prose. I also felt a real sense of place; the Nevada desert and ghost town were well described and realised, and King's descriptions of the beasts that dwell there were also very good. In fact, the book is at its best when the protagonists find an abandoned movie theatre and hunker down to avoid a raging storm; there was a intimacy and atmosphere to the novel at this point and I really enjoyed it.
Conversely, the characters here are stock King creations; wunderkind (David), alcoholic writer (Johnny), the solid guy (Steve) and a few others, none of them were particularly likeable or memorable; Johnny is almost unbearable and David is so earnest and both are very grating. The main bad guy (or thing) terrorising them is Tak; a evil spirit disturbed whilst mining the Nevada hills that can enter the body of people and control them; compared to King's other bad guys like Flagg and Pennywise (Shudder!) it isn't great and the novel suffers for it.
King is always a easy read but he's usually a lot more fun and clever than this.
on 2 March 2011
At the beginning of the novel I was conscious of King's less-than-perfect writing style. However, once the story gets going (which it does very quickly), the plot is gripping: the sinister cop is brilliantly frightening and gets things off to an exciting start. Unfortunately, things soon begin to slow down. Although I enjoyed the rest of the book, I found it far, far too long and rather repetitive. A lot of the gore is slightly disgusting without being either frightening or particularly helpful to the plot, and at times it is dull. The characters are for the most part two-dimensional and the female characters barely even that. The story of David's friend's accident and his meeting with God is well written, moving, and opens up the possibility of a really exciting direction for the plot, but I felt that once having established David's connection with God, King wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Everything that is scary at first is repeated until it becomes almost boring. In the early scenes, King succeeds in creating a genuinely chilling atmosphere that he then allows to disappear and never recaptures, and for me that was the biggest disappointment. Having said all that, I had no problem staying interested in the story and found this a pretty enjoyable, though totally unchallenging, read.