Desperation by Stephen King

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By now, if you have read my blog before, you will know that I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have been since a young age.  I have been meaning to reread Desperation for several years but not got round to it.  I have read Desperation once before when it was initially released in September 1996 – considering the amount of King’s novels I have reread over the years, a 19½ year gap is a long time.  I couldn’t remember much from when I first read Desperation – only that the story centred on a psychopathic policeman in a small mid-US town that a number of people stumble upon.  Because of this lack of recall, Desperation was like a new Stephen King book to me.

Desperation does feature a psychopathic cop, and although he is (very) important to the story, he is not who or what the story centres around.  The novel is about the small group of people that encounter the policeman or are drawn into the small township of Desperation.  The book opens with Peter and Mary Jackson driving a car (not theirs) across America when they are stopped on Highway 50 in Nevada by Collie Entragian (the cop); he finds some marijuana in the car and arrests them both.  Entragian takes them both into Desperation and on arrival at the local jail he shoots Peter before locking Mary up in one of the cells.  In the jail Mary meets the Carver family whom have met a similar fate.  As more characters are introduced to the reader, the group they become is made up of the usual eclectic crowd you would expect from a King novel, the main characters being David Carver and Johnny Marinville.  David is a young boy that has recently found God after making a deal with Him.  Johnny is a lauded writer, travelling across America on a motorcycle for a new book he has in mind.  These two characters must help everyone escape the tyrannical Entragian and lead the group to safety.

All of this occurs at the beginning of the story, so no major spoilers here, plus I have skimmed over some major details.  This is the set up and the plot spirals from there.  This is not King’s best book by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still rather good.  From the start of the book the reader is dragged through the novel at quite a pace with very little let up from action sequences.  The characters are all in mortal peril for much of the book which is slightly unusual.  The main characters are interesting and their back stories interesting and show how certain life events can change people completely.  Although the novel doesn’t begin with any seemingly supernatural elements, there is a definite switch in tone partway through towards it.  The other prominent theme within the story is Christianity – specifically God and hearing God’s voice.  This element of the book is interesting especially when it explores how people ‘find’ God and have faith – this contrast with the almost other worldly supernatural is strong within the story.

I do think that Desperation is too long though; within its pages is a trimmed down, neat and punchy novel I’m sure.  The novel also starts off very strongly and tails off slightly throughout; the ending isn’t bad but in comparison with the first 100 pages is a little rushed.  Desperation is action led, gory, and explosive; the book is strongest when concentrating on one character within the group overcoming particular adversity.

Interestingly, when Desperation was originally published, King released another novel called The Regulators by his pseudonym Richard Bachman on the same day as a companion piece.  It features many of the same character names in different circumstances.  I intend to reread The Regulators later in the year – this may even change my opinion of Desperation.  I also would like to explore how Desperation has links with the Dark Tower novels; even though I am not exactly sure, I think there is a strong link that comes through in the language, particularly that of Entragion (although I may be wrong).  However, I’m not quite ready to take on that series just yet (I read 3½ of the 7 books many years ago).

If you’re new to King, Desperation probably isn’t the place to start, some of his other novels are more accessible, and some are better (that saying, the better novels aren’t necessarily very accessible for a non-King constant reader).  If you’re a King fan, I’d say give it a go, Desperation is not one of his more famous books and its one you’ve probably forgotten about…

If you have read Desperation you may like:

  • The Regulators by Richard Bachman
  • The Dark Half by Stephen King
  • No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
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