Title/Author: Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Publisher/Year Published: 1998 by Simon & Schuster
How I got this book: Probably bought it at a train station...
Why I read this book: It's Stephen King, and he's awesome.
Four years after the untimely death of his beloved wife, Jo, from a brain aneurysm, novelist Mike Noonan is still in mourning—and suffering from writer’s block. He decides to leave his Derry, Maine home for Sara Laughs, the lakeside cabin his wife loved. In the unincorporated, rural part of Maine known as TR-90 (called “the TR” by the locals) that Sara Laughs is part of, Mike becomes involved in the plight of the young and beautiful but poor Mattie Devore, whose young daughter is in danger of being taken away by Mattie’s spiteful father-in-law.
In the meantime, Jo’s presence in Sara Laughs continues to haunt Mike—in more ways than one. Mysterious messages appear in magnetic letters on the fridge, and Mike hears screaming and crying in the night. He begins to poke into what Jo was doing during her last few months of life, and discovers some old secrets about the TR that the older residents of the town would prefer remained buried.
Bag of Bones is not really historical fiction, but King definitely shows his talent for it in this novel. While all the “history” in Bag of Bones is made up, the research that must have been involved in writing the segments about Sara and the Red Tops is considerable. Even the supernatural, ghostly elements seemed shockingly real because they were so cleanly interwoven with the more realistic, “historical” stuff.
It was really impressive that the ghostly interference in Mike’s life—both by Jo and later by Sara Tidwell—seemed totally, well, realistic. Also, King is always talented at character development, but his ability to develop Jo’s character almost entirely through her ghostly interludes is pretty amazing.
The most touching and tragic character in Bag of Bones, at least for me, was Mattie. Though only 21, already a widow, and nearly destitute and living in a trailer, she truly strives to rise above her situation in life. She loves her daughter, Kyra, with a fierceness borne not only of being a single mother but of defending her baby from the clutches of her greedy father-in-law, Max Devore. She belongs to a local book club and strives to enrich herself with literature and art. Mike’s initial judgments of Mattie and Kyra are proved completely wrong when he learns more about them, and he is understandably drawn to them—not only to their physical beauty (3-year-old Kyra is just as beautiful as her mother), but to their inner beauty: their joie de vivre, their intelligence, their kindness.
Bag of Bones was actually just recently made into a miniseries with Pierce Brosnan as Mike Noonan, but I haven’t seen it yet and probably won’t; as soon as I saw that James Bond was going to play Mike, I was immediately turned off. Mike Noonan is definitely not the James Bond type, and using Pierce Brosnan to play him just seems completely wrong. Not that Mike isn’t supposed to be handsome in his way, but not in the chiseled-cheekbones, brooding James Bond way. But if you do happen to see it, let me know how it is!
Anyway, I would definitely recommend Bag of Bones to any fans of the general thriller/horror/sci-fi/supernatural genre. It stands out from other Stephen King books for me because it seems different in a way that I can’t quite define—perhaps because it does fit into all of the above genres. It’s a book that I always find myself being drawn back to—the characters and the storyline are so engaging and well-developed. Definitely give this one a try.
Rating: 4 stars
PS: If you're a Stephen King fan, check out my Stephen King Project on my blog--I'm slowly making my way through all his published works!