Halloween Fright Reads: Deb Atwood reviews Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

reviewed by Deb Atwood
Was my insomnia the result of an inability to abandon Bag of Bones until the final sentence?
All I know is the night I started Stephen King’s novel, 2:53 AM found me munching cheddar cheese rice crackers and plowing through page after page of Bag of Bones.
I was in love with this story from the first, empathizing with a writer as he struggles to come to terms with his wife's untimely death. I could not help but root for widow Mattie, her precocious daughter, and the writer who falls in love with them and joins their battle against a heartless and powerful grandfather.
King's plot works on multiple levels. Mike doubts his late wife’s fidelity, and the new woman tests his ability to love again. The  grandfather’s evil past brings forth vengeful spirits and Mike’s dead wife also has a secret in her past. Then there are the owls, but you’ll have to read Bag of Bones to find out about them.
There's so much to like in Bag of Bones—pitch perfect pacing, meticulous characterization, expansive themes. Plus, anyone who can bring a discussion of Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" into a work of paranormal fiction deserves respect. And I was moved by the ghosts, both benevolent (Mike's beloved wife) and malevolent (an angry former inhabitant).
Regarding these malevolent forces, I have to say that two thirds of the way through the book, the narrative veered into dark territory, and I experienced shock. My mistake. This is, after all, Stephen King. What began as a sweet damsel in distress love story (I don't mean that in a pejorative sense as Mattie possesses plenty of spunk, courage and strength) of the good guy vs. bad guy variety morphed into GOOD vs. EVIL on a magnified scale. (I’m thinking of the Richter scale here, and yes, I was quaking.)
I have no one to blame but myself; the shock and awe, my fault. After all, I knew I was reading Stephen King. Plus, he gave me plenty of foreshadowing. The dark climax complements the story development and character arc, so no complaints.
No complaints, that is, aside from bitten fingernails and puffy eyes.   

I’m not alone in recommending this book. Bag of Bones won the Bram Stoker Award, the Locus Award, and the British Fantasy Award.

Follow Deb Atwood at her blog
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