Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets Howard Bowditch, a recluse with a big dog in a big house at the top of a big hill. In the backyard is a locked shed from which strange sounds emerge, as if some creature is trying to escape. When Mr. Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie the house, a massive amount of gold, a cassette tape telling a story that is impossible to believe, and a responsibility far too massive for a boy to shoulder.
Because within the shed is a portal to another world—one whose denizens are in peril and whose monstrous leaders may destroy their own world, and ours. In this parallel universe, where two moons race across the sky, and the grand towers of a sprawling palace pierce the clouds, there are exiled princesses and princes who suffer horrific punishments; there are dungeons; there are games in which men and women must fight each other to the death for the amusement of the “Fair One.” And there is a magic sundial that can turn back time.
A story as old as myth, and as startling and iconic as the rest of King’s work, Fairy Tale is about an ordinary guy forced into the hero’s role by circumstance, and it is both spectacularly suspenseful and satisfying.
Fairy Tale (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible) (AbeBooks) is the first book of Stephen King’s that I’ve read or listened to in about 20 years. The last was Storm of the Century, which I saw as a TV Miniseries and later read the book. I used to read and watch King’s work in high school and college, and my husband collected most of his books back when I was collecting Nancy Drews in the wild. I’m a casual fan.
I absolutely loved the first third of the book, getting to know Charlie and his world before and after he meets the hermit Howard Bowditch. It’s masterful storytelling and I really enjoyed listening to the audio version, especially when I recognized King himself voicing the cranky old recluse. Perfect casting!
The middle third of the book, when Charlie first enters the fairy tale world and his interactions with people, was interesting, but I found my attention wandering a little, wishing King would just get to the point already. That’s one of the reasons I don’t read King much anymore; he writes tomes, which, while interesting, tend to wander about a bit and I lose interest. I feel that way about many history books and biographies that I read, too. I much prefer shorter books.
The last third of the book, however, failed to ignite my interest. I found myself actually thinking of not finishing it, but I’d slogged through about 80% of the audiobook already and I was curious to find out the resolution. It was sort of meandering and meaningless and when I got to the end, I was happy to have it over with.
Do I think Stephen King is a great writer? Absolutely. Is Fairy Tale one of his best books? Despite a great premise, it falls flat. Oh, well, you can’t win them all, Stephen.
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