The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.
I read this one while I was still in high school and I thought it was quite dark and (in parts) extremely troubling. This was an amazing book then and I wondered whether it would have aged well like wine. And I re-read it again over the span of two days, skipping over parts I knew well and cared little about, spending a lot more time on the parts that were interesting.
Set in the Maine territory King has made mythic, Bag of Bones recounts the plight of forty-year-old bestselling novelist Mike Noonan, who is unable to stop grieving following the sudden death of his wife Jo, and who can no longer bear to face the blank screen of his computer.
This is how we go on: one day at a time, one meal at a time, one pain at a time, one breath at a time. Dentists go on one root-canal at a time; boat-builders go on one hull at a time. If you write books, you go on one page at a time. We turn from all we know and all we fear. We study catalogues, watch football games, choose Sprint over AT&T.
We count the birds in the sky and will not turn from the window when we hear the footsteps behind us as something comes up the hall; we say yes, I agree that clouds often look like other things – fish and unicorns and men on horseback – but they are really only clouds. Even when the lightening flashes inside them we say they are only clouds and turn our attention to the next meal, the next pain, the next breath, the next page. This is how we go on.
First published in 1998, Bag of Bones was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. It was lauded at its publication as “hands down, Stephen King’s most narratively subversive fiction” (Entertainment Weekly) and his “most ambitious novel”
I think reality is thin, you know, thin as lake ice after a thaw, and we fill our lives with noise and light and motion to hide that thinness from ourselves.
Bag of Bones recounts the plight of bestselling novelist Mike Noonan, who is unable to stop grieving even four years after the sudden death of his wife. His nights are plagued by vivid nightmares of their house by the lake. Despite these dreams, or perhaps because of them, Mike finally returns to Sara Laughs, the Noonan’s isolated summer home.
He finds his beloved Yankee town familiar on its surface, but much changed underneath — held in the grip of a powerful millionaire, who seeks to take his three-year-old granddaughter away from her widowed young mother.
As Mike is drawn into their struggle, as he falls in love with both of them, he is drawn into the mystery of Sara Laughs, now the site of ghostly visitations, ever — escalating nightmares, and the sudden recovery of his writing ability.
Things conceived by minds and made by hands can never be quite the same, even if they try their best to be identical, because they’re never the same from day to day or even moment to moment.
Critics have said that Bag of Bones represents a more mature Stephen King. Real King fans know that he has been writing some of literature’s most mature works since publishing The Dead Zone, but it’s true that in this novel he displays a heightened emotional sensibility — which undoubtedly widens his appeal to an even larger audience. Die-hard King fans should rest assured that Bag of Bones doesn’t skimp on the fear; quite the contrary. It offers up a horror that’s very much in the tradition of The Green Mile: it’s a softly dazzling, beautiful, almost quiet sort of horror that that creeps in a little more slowly but then takes a lot longer to leave your system.
On a very hot day in August of 1994, my wife told me she was going down to the Derry Rite Aid to pick up a refill on her sinus medicine prescription — this is stuff you can buy over the counter these days, I believe. I’d finished my writing for the day and offered to pick it up for her. She said thanks, but she wanted to get a piece of fish at the supermarket next door anyway; two birds with one stone and all of that. She blew a kiss at me off the palm of her hand and went out. The next time I saw her, she was on TV. That’s how you identify the dead here in Derry — no walking down a subterranean corridor with green tiles on the walls and long fluorescent bars overhead, no naked body rolling out of a chilly drawer on casters; you just go into an office marked ‘Private’ and look at a TV screen and say yep or nope.
As Mike starts writing again and his block is gone, he finds himself visited by the ghost of his dead wife. He also learns that Jo frequently returned to the town in the year before her death, without telling him. Mike starts seeing a pattern when local inhabitants have names that begin with “K” or “C” and learns how relatives of townspeople have drowned in childhood. Several families whose origin lay within the town had firstborn children with “K” names who were all murdered—Kyra, as a descendant of Max Devore, is scheduled to be the next to die. The genealogy also shows that Mike and Jo’s child would have been the next firstborn child with a “K” name in the family line.
Mike realizes this must be Sara Tidwell’s curse for something that had been done to her. He leaves and searches for Sara’s grave, stopped by the ghosts of several members of the old families. He learns in a vision that these men had viciously raped and killed Sara, and drowned her son Kito in the lake; all the “K” children who died were descendants of those men. Mike reaches Sara’s grave and succeeds in destroying her bones, ending the curse.
There were quite a few moments during my reading, that I actually laughed out loud by one of Noonan’s quick, jarringly wry comments-one time in which I had to close the book until I could gather myself enough to open the book and move on. Mike Noonan is a real person, and despite Mike Noonan’s intelligence, and highly successful life, in his mind, he’s an everyman.
Mike Noonan is an incredibly round character, bursting with life. So much so, that you literally feel what he feels, as he’s feeling it. Mike is real, and he feels alive, as do all the other characters in the book-no matter how small their role. Everyone is believable, and almost nothing is left to the imagination-right down to mannerisms, gait, and accents.
Everything is fleshed out ad nauseum, at times, and the book is better for it.
To me, the third act, or whatever you want to call it, suffers the way most Stephen King’s stories suffer. And it makes sense, I guess, when you think about it, considering his stories do follow a certain formula.
When an imaginative person gets into mental trouble, the line between seeming and being has a way of disappearing
Stephen is one of the best at setting up a story, and leaving tension. It’s when King tries to resolve it, that we run into trouble.
But then, the epilogue seems to bring things back home, and all is right again with a story that you’ll have grown to love.
I think houses live their own lives along a time-stream that’s different from the ones upon which their owners float, one that’s slower. In a house, especially an old one, the past is closer.
What I liked: The novel feelsis his most personal as well, revealing through Mike’s broodings the intimacies of the creative writing process: a passionate gift from a veteran author to all who care about the art and craft of storytelling
What I didn’t like: I just don’t think he’s very good at writing action-or at least I’m not fond of the way he writes action. Maybe it’s because of the fact that he is so formulaic, that he’s just naturally better at telling what could be there, instead of telling you what is there. The ending to Bag of Bones is a stupid lumbering mess, and really isn’t that scary … just weird.