Gwendy’s Final Task by Richard Chizmar & Stephen King

Gwendy’s Final Task by Richard Chizmar & Stephen King

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 43. Author who’s published in more than one genre

Other Possible Prompts: 14. A character with superhuman ability, 15. A five-syllable title, 23. Author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 25. A wealthy character, 52. Published in 2022

Plenty of prompt options, but I’m going to leave this one in my bonus category for right now! I think I only still need to fill 43 and 52 of those, so I’m just going to leave it off for the time being. 🙂 This review and synopsis won’t make a ton of sense unless you’ve read Gwendy’s Button Box and Gwendy’s Magic Feather, both of which I highly recommend.

This final installment of the the story of the button box takes our heroine all the way to outer space. When Mr. Farris returns one last time and asks Gwendy for the biggest favor at all, she complies, but at a great cost: it’s time to get rid of the button box, but there are people after its power. People who will stop at nothing to take it away from Gwendy…

This story, of course, hits with the same nostalgic, small-towny note as the first two, and I thoroughly enjoyed the vibe and the atmosphere these books created. The button box, and all of its buttons spelling certain doom, remain just as real and horrifying in this book. The Jonestown incident from Gwendy’s Button Box really got me and stuck with me long after reading, but I think the parallels King and Chizmar draw between a post-pandemic world will shake you even more so. It’s such an interesting concept, that makes for a really interesting tale.

Gwendy is wonderful as always, but I felt her narration was even more authentic this time as we live inside her brain with early onset Alzheimer’s. Memory is key to completing her “final task”, but as she slips away, she has to guard the secret that she can’t recall names, codes, or key instructions. We live the narrative the way she’s existing in it, forgetting names or things we just learned moments ago in the novel. It’s very intriguing and definitely makes the story that much more nerve-wracking!

I was duly surprised by the gore and drama of this book. There are some crazy parts encompassing the good ol’ town of Derry, Maine, that disturbed me if only because they were so wildly unexpected. Much of the button box series isn’t terribly violent (I say much of it – there are certainly times), but this one amps it up a bit. I loved the weaving in of King’s other tales, too. Both The Dark Tower and It made minor appearances in our storyline this time (and I’m just now realizing, if “the clown did it” in 2024, does that mean nothing the Losers Club did even worked?? I have questions).

The writing duo that is King and Chizmar is a damn good one. I really enjoyed Chizmar’s writing all on its own in Gwendy’s Magic Feather, but it needed the horror… it needed King back. And I don’t usually say that. King, in turn, is incapable of writing a short and to-the-point novel all on his own, and Chizmar provides that perfect balance. The length and level of detail in Gwendy’s Final Task hits that perfect sweet spot between the two.

While this book is full of twists and turns I wasn’t expecting, I did kind of think we were in for one more big one that just never showed. The book shows its cards a little too quickly for my taste. I was expecting more because there was still so much to go when it got a little hairy, but things play out just about as you expect them to in the last 75-100 pages.

Have you read this series? I’m curious to hear your own thoughts on this ending!

Have an awesome weekend, pals.

Cujo by Stephen King

Cujo by Stephen King

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What a major disappointment! I’ve had Cujo on my list for quite a while – I love Castle Rock, and I had heard good things about this one, but I did not dig it. It had some classic Stephen King problems, alongside the classic Stephen King vibes.

After a 200-pound Saint Bernard is scratched by a bat, he goes rabid and torments a poor side of Castle Rock and a small cast of characters. All of them seem to feel personally attacked by said dog; they each have reasons they think they’ve been targeted by Cujo’s wrath, almost as if Cujo is more than just a rabid dog…

Before I say anything else constructive, I absolutely need to say that Tad is one of the most annoying characters, maybe ever. While I own the physical copy, I elected to listen to it from my local library (Libby for the win, friends!) and the narrator gave him this shrill voice reminiscent of the kid in The Babadook. If you know, you know. So maybe his incessant whining and cries for mommy are less annoying if you read them off the page, but if I heard him say “I want Daddy!” one more time, I was going to get to him long before Cujo was.

Moving on, this book had some of that classic King rambling. I think of Pet Sematary and how the guy went on about a deadfall for like 100 pages. There are a lot of storylines in here that I actually don’t feel are crucial or helpful to telling the story, like the Sharp food company problem with Raspberry Zingers. It doesn’t actually do anything for the problem or the resolution, but it sure as hell takes up a lot of page space, and the only logical reason I can see for King doing that is to further expose the misery and current backstories of his characters. But it’s just done in so, so much detail.

I also fail to see too many “horror” moments in this book. Cujo is a good problem, I’ll give him that, but relatively speaking he doesn’t get a lot of screen time (or page time?). I think this novel could’ve been infinitely better if we had expanded on that. Every time we were actually following or facing Cujo, the story improved tenfold. And in particular, it could’ve been better if he had expanded on the connection to Frank Dodd. Frank Dodd was a deputy in Castle Rock who was actually strangling women years prior to Cujo’s reign in town, and at the beginning and at some point near the end, they almost allude that he has possessed Cujo, not that he is rabid (though he does test positively for rabies…?). I’m not doing outside research on this piece of the puzzle prior to writing this expressly because I want to relay it as I interpreted it, which is to say that it was not included much at all, to my disappointment. If that was his aim, it misses its mark.

Cujo feels merely like a fill-in story to further express the misery that grips Castle Rock. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, and it’s far from what I would consider good horror unfortunately. I’m curious about others’ thoughts, if you’ve read it!

Have a great weekend, friends!

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

With this, my last review of the year, I was really feeling some Stephen King vibes. I have a love/hate relationship with King’s writing that almost entirely centers on him being a genius, but one who must not have met a real woman in his whole life. Every time I read his books I am struck with just how badly he writes women – but Sleeping Beauties is the anomaly. With the addition of Owen King as a writer, I was absolutely struck by the brilliance and beauty of this work as a horror fantasy novel.

Sleeping Beauties follows the town of Dooling, a small town containing a women’s prison, and the lives of the people within it as a virus named Aurora spreads through the nation. Aurora afflicts only women, spinning them into cocoons they can’t wake up from as soon as they fall asleep. Dooling struggles to stay awake and deal with the aftermath of losing an entire town (and an entire world) of women in just a few days…but meanwhile, the men’s search for the solution grows dangerous.

This is easily one of my favorite King novels now. It’s right up there with The Mist, which for sure hits different in the middle of a pandemic (for real, read it and tell me that wasn’t the entire United States locked in that grocery store). But Sleeping Beauties taps into a different fear, I think of both men and women, of losing the other sex. I was fascinated by the responses of each, of the drama that unfolds, and the sacrifices they make. Because this story is so focused on women, I think it absolutely could have flopped with King. When I read things like Carrie, I’m disturbed by how poorly he understands girls and women, what motivates them, and how they act in real life. Carrie almost certainly would have been a very different story if it was written by a woman, if you think about it. I had the same fear for Sleeping Beauties – but it is truly evolved from his original works, and I tend to wonder if that’s Owen’s magic.

As incredible as the action and drama of this book is, what really had me invested by the end was these personal relationships and bonds formed between characters. When it comes down to the climax, the turning point, and the ultimate choice for our characters, I was bawling. You come to respect the positions and reactions of each character to this cataclysmic event, even if you don’t like them all that much. Even characters I disliked (and there are so, so many…but incredibly, by the time your halfway through or so, you know them all like the back of your hand) felt redeemed to me in their search for justice, or their search for the women lost in their lives.

I think the premise of this book, and the lesson it teaches through the horror it’s driving at, is extremely important – and it was especially important when this book came out, in 2017. I’ve had it on my shelves since that time, but I wish I had read it then (even though, reading it now, I have much more perspective on this). These women were abused, ignored, continuously beat down physically or emotionally by men, or were in their current situations (like a women’s prison) because of men. The heart of this story is that many of these women felt a relief from Aurora – and that’s a terrifying prospect, to wish to sleep permanently over continuing down your current path. If you think back to 2017 or even 2016 when this book was coming to fruition, I think you can see where this fear of losing the backbone of our society really stemmed from. And just like Carrie, I think this story would look very different if it was written – or even just finished – by a woman. And that, my friends, is why I was really crying at the end of this book.

Overall, this is what I have always craved from a Stephen King work: complex women. They’re the crucial missing piece for me when people claim King is a master of the craft. I don’t disagree, and I never have. His words on the page are absolutely art… but art can still be problematic. Our favorite artists, too, can still be problematic. But Sleeping Beauties is a redemption. Sleeping Beauties has shown me that the master understands his shortcomings and is prepared to grapple with them. And for that reason, I’m highly recommending Sleeping Beauties to anyone who will listen these days.

And so marks my very last book review of 2021! This was an awesome note to end on. It takes me awhile to work up to committing to a King novel, but I’m never disappointed when I do. He captures a vibe that not other author on my radar ever can.

I can’t wait to share with you my 2022 reads and work through The 52 Book Club challenge with you!! Enjoy the new year, and stay safe friends!