The Black House * Stephen King And Peter Straub

Let me tell you why I love this book and I hate it at the same time. I love it because it’s a sequel of my favourite book ever (The Talisman), it’s got Jack Sawyer, Travellin’ Jack, in it and there are Gunslingers, and there’s the Territories, and there’s Twinners and so much more. Black House looks back at the twelve year old Jack Sawyer and his quest across America, while creating a whole new chapter in the process. 

The King is in his Tower, eating bread and honey. The Breakers in the basement, making all the money.

PeterStraub
Peter Straub, master of padding

I hate it because it’s padded like an eighties suit. It’s got at least 250 pages of bulk in it which could have been taken out without impacting the story. It’s got that all-seeing raven from Game of Thrones, circling about the scenes, zooming in on people, zooming out, talking all the way like it knows what’s going to happen. I HATE AN OMNISCIENT AUTHOR! It gives stuff away that could have been given away through narration and setting and dialog. I’m looking at Peter Straub here.

 

One example of padding:

“The lobby of the Nelson Hotel always smells of the river — it’s in the pores of the place — but this evening the smell is heavier than usual. It’s a smell that makes us think of bad ideas, blown investments, forged checks, deteriorating health, stolen office supplies, unpaid alimony, empty promises, skin tumors, lost ambition, abandoned sample cases filled with cheap novelties, dead hope, dead skin, and fallen arches.

This is the kind of place you don’t come to unless you’ve been here before and all your other options are pretty much foreclosed. It’s a place where men who left their families two decades before now lie on narrow beds with pee-stained mattresses, coughing and smoking cigarettes.” 

If you’ve ever watched that movie about Hemingway, his editor told him to always reduce his writing to the most impact-filled sentence you can find. So this bulk above could have been easily compacted down into an eerie setting without going overboard on the descriptions.

This is a dark book. It’s a slow burn of a book. It’s a character study book. It’s a police-procedural-in-hell book. It’s a Dark Tower book. 

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The Story

Do you see this heart-stopping beauty? Look closely, because in a moment your heart will stop.

1110670-130The storytelling dream team behind the haunting 1984 bestseller The Talisman has returned with a haunting sequel that is more daring and much more twisted than its predecessor. In Black House, Jack Sawyer, the sensitive boy-hero who journeyed to an alternate reality in search of a magical talisman to save his dying mother, has grown up. Now in his 30s, Jack remembers nothing of his strange adventures in the Oz-like world known as the Territories, until a series of strange events forces him to confront the snarling horrors of the past.

Someone is murdering children and dismembering their bodies in the cold shadows of Tamarack, Wisconsin. Locals call the madman the Fisherman. Some believe he is the reincarnation of an early-20th-century serial killer named Albert Fish. Others believe he is just a crazed copycat. A burned-out L.A. homicide detective, Jack has retired to this once-quiet town to get away from such insanity. He wants absolutely nothing to do with the case. Even his friend, local police chief Dale Gilbertson, can’t convince him to join the investigation. But soon after the first murder, bizarre waking dreams start scratching at Jack’s mind like a murderer tapping at a kitchen window — dreams of a dead man and of red feathers and robins’ eggs. The dreams eventually grab Jack by the neck and lead him to an abandoned house on the outskirts of town — a black house that holds unspeakable evil….

c29cd6ab8275b2a741f1d60f46a169f3.jpgLike fine tailors, King and Straub weave their distinct voices together to create an almost seamless (there are some threads that need clipping, and the legs could be taken up an inch or two) tale of suspense. Though Black House takes some time to warm up, the narrative eventually builds with a slow, seductive momentum that explodes like firecrackers in a beer can when Jack finds himself back in the Territories. Rich in detail (sometimes to a fault), cinematic in its scope, and populated with a wide array of freaky and endearing characters, Black House, though perhaps not King and Straub’s best work, is a wild, fantastical romp with the macabre. Just don’t turn off the lights. (Stephen Bloom)

The Best Parts

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I loved to see the return of Jack back to the spotlight. He’s all grown up and pretty much a loner. He has Henry – the blind DJ as a friend and Dale – the local “coppiceman” to help out.

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I loved how well rounded the characters were. I could almost imagine Henry looking like Morgan Freeman in a stylish suit. The well-read motorcycle gang members looked like something taken out of Sons of Anarchy and Jack, well Jack like The Accountant:

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For those of us who are not members of a biker gang or the Marine Corps, solidarity means little more than the compassionate impulse that leads us to comfort a bereft friend; for Beezer and his merry band, solidarity is the assurance that someone’s always got your back.

  • I loved the references to The Dark Tower. Speedy was a black gunslinger but he does not want to be called one (even though his aim is true) and he is talking about another one on the way to the tower (Roland). They are talking about the beams and how the breakers are working day and night to destroy the remaining beams and how Ty (the last child taken by the Fisherman) could shine so bright that the beams would come off too easily.
  • The Little Sisters of Eluria got mentioned too! The vampire nuns who never healed their sick. The Crimson King was mentioned – his court self and his body imprisoned in the tower. His minions all over the place. Like Gorg, the crow.
  • I liked how Gorg the crow pushed the people in town into a lynch mob by whispering in the right ear and how the media (represented by Wendell Green) was always trying to get sensationalist reports while disregarding people’s private affairs and their loss.
  • Wendell Green and Charles Burnside, – human evils in human bodies. Charles is what he is, – a pedophile and a murderer and possibly a cannibal – and he does what he does and there’s no punishment harsh enough for that. But for some reason, my disgust and rage really homed in on Green, and I felt like he was the most shitty person in this whole book. All of the other evils were evil, pure and simple. They wanted to kill and destroy and tear down the walls of the universe because that’s what evil does. But fucking Wendell Green is just a shitty human who thinks way too highly of himself and is out for blood because he thinks that he’s King Shit of Turd Hill – only nobody else recognizes that yet. He’s the Rita Skeeter of French Landing. The shitty fucker. Shoulda been left for the Sisters. Just sayin’.

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  • Additionally, I think I probably would have been more impacted if our killer Mr. Burnside, had been less supernatural and more human.
    Why do I emphasize this point? Because, as of late, I’ve come to realize that villains who are more less fantastical (Rose Madder‘s Norman Daniels or The Shining‘s Jack Torrance, to name a few) have a much larger affect on me.
  • I cheered when Ty killed the Fisherman by literally disemboweling him and then using his intestines to break free of his cuffs.

The Worst Parts

While I absolutely enjoyed Jack jumping between territories and the palaver and meeting Sarah (Ty Marshall’s Mother’s Twinner) – I hated how timelines sometimes seem to unfurl too slowly or too fast. While Jack was visiting Judy in the mental asylum, the motorcycle gang went to the Black house (despite Jack’s instructions to wait for him) and got ambushed by hell hounds and Mouse died quite quickly after an infected bite. Jack – when hearing that Mouse has been bitten, instead of rushing to his friends, he takes a long route, stops by Henry’s house, leaves a tape, talks to the maid, and then laaater, he arrives at the death bed. Even then – it feels like Mouse’s sacrifice was in vain as Jack already knew what Mouse wanted to tell him. It felt like he was itching to get out of there.

Also, from the 617 pages, 580 deal with the party going to the Black House. The final chapters briefly condense what should have been the bulk of the story: navigating the labyrinth inside the house (2 pages) (this could have been expanded like they did in House of Leaves), killing Mr. Munshun (1 page), freeing the captive children who were slaving at the tower (1 page). These were all very important points in the story and they were just skimmed over.

Solid 3/5

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