Stephen King fans, rejoice! The bodysnatching-aliens tale Dreamcatcher is his first book in years that slakes our hunger for horror the way he used to. A throwback to It, The Stand, and The Tommyknockers, Dreamcatcher is also an interesting new wrinkle in his fiction.
Four boyhood pals in Derry, Maine, get together for a pilgrimage to their favorite deep-woods cabin, Hole in the Wall. The four have been telepathically linked since childhood, thanks to a searing experience involving a Down syndrome neighbor--a human dreamcatcher. They've all got midlife crises: clownish Beav has love problems; the intellectual shrink, Henry, is slowly succumbing to the siren song of suicide; Pete is losing a war with beer; Jonesy has had weird premonitions ever since he got hit by a car.
Then comes worse trouble: an old man named McCarthy (a nod to the star of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers) turns up at Hole in the Wall. His body is erupting with space aliens resembling furry moray eels: their mouths open to reveal nests of hatpin-like teeth. Poor Pete tries to remove one that just bit his ankle: "Blood flew in splattery fans as Pete tried to shake it off, stippling the snow and the sawdusty tarp and the dead woman's parka. Droplets flew into the fire and hissed like fat in a hot skillet."
For all its nicely described mayhem, Dreamcatcher is mostly a psychological drama. Typically, body snatchers turn humans into zombies, but these aliens must share their host's mind, fighting for control. Jonesy is especially vulnerable to invasion, thanks to his hospital bed near-death transformation, but he's also great at messing with the alien's head. While his invading alien, Mr. Gray, is distracted by puppeteering Jonesy's body as he's driving an Arctic Cat through a Maine snowstorm, Jonesy constructs a mental warehouse along the lines of The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. Jonesy physically feels as if he's inside a warehouse, locked behind a door with the alien rattling the doorknob and trying to trick him into letting him in. It's creepy from the alien's view, too. As he infiltrates Jonesy, experiencing sugar buzz, endorphins, and emotions for the first time, Jonesy's influence is seeping into the alien: "A terrible thought occurred to Mr. Gray: what if it was his concepts that had no meaning?"
King renders the mental fight marvelously, and telepathy is a handy way to make cutting back and forth between the campers' various alien battlefronts crisp and cinematic. The physical naturalism of the Maine setting is matched by the psychological realism of the interior struggle. Deftly, King incorporates the real-life mental horrors of his own near-fatal accident and dramatizes the way drugs tug at your consciousness. Like the Tommyknockers, the aliens are partly symbols of King's (vanquished) cocaine and alcohol addiction. Mainly, though, they're just plain scary. Dreamcatcher is a comeback and an infusion of rich new blood into King's body of work. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
In an author's note to this novel, the first he's written since his near-fatal accident, King allows that he wrote the first draft of the book by hand. So much for the theory that it's word-processing alone that leads to logorrhea. Yet despite its excessive length, the novel one of the most complex thematically and structurally in King's vast output dazzles and grips, if fitfully. In its suspenseful depiction of an alien invasion, it superficially harkens back to King's early work (e.g., the 1980 novella "The Mist"), but it also features the psychological penetration, word-magic and ripe imagination of his recent stuff (particularly Bag of Bones). The action shuttles between present and past, following primarily the tribulations of a band of five males four regular guys from Derry, Maine (setting of King's It and Insomnia), and their special friend, Duddits, a Down's child (then man) with telepathic abilities. The first chunk of the text offers a tour de force of terror bound in darkest humor, depicting the arrival at the four guys' remote hunting cabin of a man who's fatally ill because he harbors in his bowels an alien invader. Yet the ferocious needle-toothed "shit-weasel" that escapes from him is only one of three varieties of invader the protagonists, and eventually a black-ops containment force, face: the others are Grays, classic humanoid aliens, and byrus, a parasitical growth that threatens to overtake life on Earth. The presence of the aliens makes humans telepathic, which leads to various inspired plot complications, but also to an occasional, perhaps necessary, vagueness of narration is there anything more difficult to dramatize than mind-to-mind communication? Numerous flashbacks reveal the roots of the connections among the four guys (one of whom is hit by a car and nearly dies), Duddits and even the aliens, while the last part of the book details a race/chase to save the world a chase that goes on and on and that's further marred by the cartoonlike presence of the head of the black ops force, who's as close to a caricature as King has strayed in several novels. The book has flaws, then, and each of them cries "runaway author." Is anyone editing King these days? But, then, who edited, say, Mahler at his most excessive? The genius shines through in any case, in the images and conceits that blind with brilliance, in the magnificent architecture, in the wide swaths of flat-out riveting reading and, most of all, in the wellsprings of emotions King taps as he plumbs the ties that bind his characters and, by extension, all of us to one another. (One-day laydown, Mar. 20) Forecast: As King's first book-length fiction since the accident, this novel originally titled Cancer will generate particular interest commercially and critically. It may be nominated for awards; it certainly will top the charts. Film rights optioned by Castle Rock.
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