I haven’t read Stephen King probably since junior high when a neighborhood friend first turned me onto him. I read him all summer long for two or three years, and then I had abandoned him for other reading by high school. A recent trip down memory lane found me collecting King’s books again and Bag of Bones was his first book I’d read since way back when.
It’s the story of Michael Noonan, a fairly well known author, who is recently widowed. Noonan suffers from four years of writer’s block after his wife’s death, and he decides to go back to their lake house, called Sarah Laughs, to see if that will help. At the lake house, Noonan soon begins to hear bumps in the night, bells ringing, and children crying. He’s convinced it’s his wife’s ghost until the alphabet magnets on the fridge start to spell out messages.
All ghosts aside, Noonan befriends a three year old girl, Kyra, and her white trash widowed mother, Mattie, who are wrapped up in a custody battle thanks to the little girl’s millionaire grandfather who is from the lake town. Quite smitten with the mother, Noonan decides to put some of his money to work by hiring her a big New York lawyer. And suddenly, he finds himself writing again.
King excels (as he always does) at building a haunting ghost story with lots of mystery for you to unravel. The story grows from Noonan’s obsession with a female negro singer from years ago, who the lake house is named for, and the gossipy glaring neighbors of a small community who might be haunted by a town secret and suffering at the mercy of the millionaire grandpa.
In typical King fashion, he also dives deep into the psyche of each character, really drawing them out and giving them life. Unfortunately, this is also his downfall. With each ghostly cry and bump in the dark, King strings you along but then brings the story to a shuttering halt with pages filled with detailed dreams, long drawn out picnics, and other drivel. As a whole, King’s penchant for detail does serve a purpose but the monotony of it really slows the story down.
At times I stopped and wondered if King ever got bored with writing the details. True, this is not one of his longer books. It’s only 529 pages and he has many more that are closer to 1K. I can appreciate how well he draws each character out, and it is indeed the characters that you fall in love with here. Michael, Mattie, and Ki are brilliant and certainly characters I will remember; I feel like I know them as well as a neighbor. But it’s the spaces between where King falls short.
I give this one 3 out of 5 stars for its fear factor and stretched out storyline, but a generous 4 stars for its characterization.
By the way, many have sung praises for this book because they had not yet ruined it with a movie. Well, Pierce Brosnan is slated to play Noonan for a TV miniseries of it. While Brosnan is not the first person to come to mind when I picture Noon on screen, I haven’t decided yet if I’ll be watching.