Monday, November 22, 2010
Got an Ambien?
Okay, let's start off with a positive observation or two about Stephen King's ambitious 1995 novel Insomnia, which I've finally gotten around to perusing: I really enjoyed the opening chapters of the book, primarily because it was interesting to see senior citizens used as major protagonists in a blockbuster-style story. I'm not sure that's been done since the Cocoon movies. I also liked the mysterious, often scary, way King depicted the intense insomnia, and its creepy hallucinogenic side effects, suffered by central character Ralph Roberts.
But soon we're given a concrete reason for Ralph's insomnia (well, a fantasy-type concrete reason, but a concrete reason nonetheless), so Ralph's strange suffering isn't strange anymore, and- get this- gives way to him becoming an action hero and a traveler between dimensions. His insomnia, you see, was induced by inter-dimensional beings as a first step to give Ralph and his allies the powers to pull off a task to save the multi-verse, a task the inter-dimensional beings can't undertake themselves.
So, as you can see, what starts off as a spooky, fairly intimate story about senior citizens and their various issues turns into this crazy epic about parallel plains of existence, different dimensions, and preventing an event that would be a small tragedy in our world, but whose ripple effect would tear down the fabric of the universe, that sort of thing. And, if I'm honest, I have to say it all sort of works, or at the very least, never completely not works. Also, if you're a fan of King's Dark Tower series, you might give this book an extra point or two, because there are strong connections with that series, to the point that Insomnia can even be called an extra, bonus book in that saga.
But as events piled up and things became more complicated, I found myself missing the simpler, more grounded situations in the book's early going (including a heartbreaking plot involving Ralph's friend Lois narrowly avoiding being shunted off to a retirement home by her son and daughter-in-law). The inter-dimensional stuff became too dominant, with the action set pieces becoming unnecessarily frequent and long.
Still, I'll say again that the fantasy/adventure plotline certainly isn't horrible, and there's an 11th hour return to a warmer, more realistic tone to the story, so in the end I liked Insomnia. Didn't love it, but liked it. Ultimately, I just didn't think the story fully justified its length.
But just to give you a final warning: I listened to the unabridged audiobook recording of Insomnia, read by the great Eli Wallach, via a download from Amazon's Audible subsidiary. That certainly made the going easier. So my criticisms may have been even more pointed if I had to make my way through the book via my eyeballs and attention span alone.
Strangely enough, Insomnia isn't available at the moment on Kindle, so you'll have to pick up an actual paper-and-ink edition or get the audio download like I did.