Bag of Bones (Stephen King, 1999) – Plagued with unending nightmares and a writer’s block, widowed novelist Mike Noonan visits the western Maine summerhouse of his nightmares to confront secrets of an uncertain past.
Markedly orthodox for a King novel, Bag of Bones escapes the tedium of trite horror tropes by portraying sincere motifs.
Once a devoted husband and prolific writer, Mike Noonan is left hollow on the day that he lost his wife and muse. For four years, his chaotic mind brims with vivid nightmares as he finds himself no longer able to write. The grieving widower decides to revisit his summerhouse Sara Laughs, the settings of his frightful dreams. Mysterious apparitions point to buried secrets of an unknown past.
Of an antagonistic poltergeist and nightly whispers, Bag of Bones feels more conventional than the usual Stephen King fare. Neither the impressive sprawl of The Stand nor the outlandish fantasy of The Gunslinger series is apparent, in what initially appears as a garner of ghostly tropes.
But this is not a ghost story. Not entirely.
Paranormal activity would be scant for thrill seekers, who would be let down by gliding fridge magnets and at best, portentous clairvoyance.
Write enough stories and every shadow on the floor looks like a footprint; every line in the dirt like a secret message.
Rather, the moving read tells grounded stories of human indignation behind the motives of Sara Laughs’ hauntings, and serendipity in Noonan’s meeting with widow Mattie Devore. His eventual involvement in Devore’s custodial battle for her child drives a fork in the road, genre-wise, where an intimate familial affair distracts from the novel’s mild intent of ghostly trepidation.
This is by no means a negative critique. The callous cruelty of man often outdoes the terror of ghosts and makes for a shuddering read. Beyond that and unexplained sightings, fear exists in something much more real and veritable – the uncertainty of sudden loss and the guilt of moving on.
Ostensibly drawing inspiration from King’s own experiences as a writer, the novel proves invariably close to heart, portraying the relatable apprehension of losing passion in both life and love.