Editors note: The following is rife with spoilers and may be wholly incomprehensible without background knowledge of the first five books in the Dark Tower series.
I’m normally not a Stephen King fan, but I got into the Dark Tower series after a friend absolutely insisted I read it.
This same friend warned me that the sixth installation is a very hard pill to swallow and after 12 “stanzas” I’m inclined to agree with him. My absolute number one beef with the Song of Susannah is the fact that King had the gall to add himself into the book. I’m sure he thought it lent to the whole mystic of the story with a life of its own, and maybe he even thought it would help readers suspend their belief. He was wrong. Inserting yourself into your own novel is possibly one of the most egotistical and alienating things an author can do. Especially in a third-person omniscient narrative. Once Roland and Eddie decided to head to Bridgton my respect for the book dropped faster than oranges in a mob hit.
I know what your thinking. I should have assumed King would make an appearance as soon as good old Mr. Tower fled to Maine. Fact is the thought of him putting himself in his own novel was so inconceivable I just couldn’t conceive it. It was bad enough when Pere Callahan found a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot.
Anyway, on with the show. As the series goes on we find more and more pop culture references. Another one of my pet peeves. These beguiled attempts to reach the audience should be reserved for the likes of Seth McFarland and kept far away from the printed word. Far, far away. The last thing I want is to read another Douglas Coupland novel. Does that guy think he’s clever or something? I would love to meet the editor of jPod someday just so I can ask him if he has recovered from his head wound. I will concede that I enjoyed running to youtube to listen to the songs referenced throughout Songs of Susannah while reading, but constantly stating that situations are “like something out of a such and such novel” is best done in some sort of memoir and never in the piece itself. King would have been less in the wrong to come out and say he merely cobbled together his favorite books and miraculously made a novel. He has already claimed he didn’t really write the novel, it merely “poured” out of him.
That being said, making reference to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and implying the buildings were useful in destroying black thirteen was a bit unnerving. I haven’t quit decided if I was offended, appalled, or simply annoyed by the reference.
Now, the prelude to the final Dark Tower book certainly has its redeeming qualities. I thought King’s comments on modern society while Susannah and Mia discuss the precariousness of their situation was clever and poignant. Of course the idea of society teetering on the brink has a special relevance in the year of our Lord 2010. Discordia could very well be a bankruptcy away.
Unfortunately the social commentary is limited to two short stanzas while the rest of the novel dances around in Maine and Manhattan.
As I plow through stanza 13, an ominous stanza to be sure, I find myself eagerly gobbling up page after page so I’m clearly still enjoying the book. I will be sure to fill you in on the rest once I have reached the end of what is promising to be another epic battle.
update: A cliff hanger ending. Something King says he hates to do yet cannot appease a dying woman with the ending before she enters the clearing at the end of the path herself. I was glad to see that Susannah was able to find some resolution no matter how minor, even if I did not get my satisfying end battle. As the series drags on, and after the Wizard and the Glass and Book VI it is most certainly dragging, King does a fantastic job of providing intricate detail and long meandering scenes without progressing the plot really at all. The most surprising element of his narrative is I find myself not noticing the lack of progress until I hold far fewer pages in my right and then my left. This is in stark contrast to the Lord of the Rings. By the time Frodo crossed The Great River I found myself begging him to find some magical horse that would fly right over the forge and drop the stupid ring so I could start re-reading the Hobbit. I can only take so much walking. Gunslinging and meeting new and rich characters on the other hand is what I look for in an epic novel.
I think I just said King’s opus surpasses Tolkien’s. But does it really? Does Saving Private Ryan surpass Schindler’s List?
The unique journal entries at the end lend credence to King’s self-insertion but I find myself questioning their authenticity. The irony does not escape me. I find myself more willing to accept “The Woman in the Room” as non-fiction than these journal entries.
In the end I find myself looking forward to the dramatic conclusion in The Dark Tower Book VII because King has made me care about these characters and I do want to know how the story ends.