Recently I read The Talisman by Peter Straub and Stephen King.
We know I’m a King fan. I am not as big a fan of Straub just because I haven’t read enough of his work.
Short version: not bad. I enjoyed the Mythos, loved the wee hero. I loved a lot of the details of the worlds and the way King and Straub’s work mixed together.
Oh I had issues.
The one Black character spoke in this shuck and jive patois through the whole book that just grated on me. We find Speedy quickly and he is the Magical Negro of Magical Negroes.
Folks, I can stand a little shuck and jive but not to the point of distraction. It was distracting and detracted from the rest. Even characters from the other world in this book The Territories, didn’t rely so heavily on approximations of AAVE.
The breaks for Speedy to burst into song along with the butchered AAVE was exhausting.
I love characters with their own flavor, just not that one.
Now some good things.
I loved the Wolfboy/man Wolf and the explanation of those people. One of the things I really enjoyed about this book (contrasted with Game of Thrones) is that the other (as in not average White folks) are written as lovingly and carefully as everyone else.
I was also very into the explanations/reasons for why a lot of things like distance and Twinners exist in the Territories. This is also why I loved the Dark Tower series (magical Negro Susannah included mostly, we’ll talk about that another day) is the way this world and that world overlap, intersect and differentiate. Some of the differences are subtle, some not so much and I dig it.
I read the second book in this series years ago but plan on going back to reread now that I understand the origin of it.
Also I have to mention how much I love the way King writes kids. These aren’t super kids, they are scared shitless and sometimes do selfish child things and I love that. If you’re going to put a child character in a horrifying situation, I’d prefer to see them be a kid rather than be tiny Superman.
Being that this was written in 1984 I think I can cut both authors some slack about the Magical Negro thing. Fact is, of all the horror novels I read as a kid, King books at least tried. So daps for that.
As a consequence of me reading more genre fiction than I have in the last few years, I find myself frequently at a loss and just kind of shaking my head.
Here’s the thing. If you have written a novel in the last decade and you come from America, you have probably seen various sorts of Black folks. You can put them in your stories and the world won’t end. Yes it can be hard work and yes you will come across readers like me who might raise an eyebrow at your gun toting, pants sagging Yo MTV raps caricature if that’s what you’re doing. but you might do it well.
Give it a shot it’s not that hard.
What else did I like?
I like how King and Straub built a vernacular for The Territories. I am a huge fan of authors who can do this and not have it come across as silly or otherwise unbelievable. The reader learns as the hero Jack learns and I appreciate it. Some things go unexplained but it’s not hard to figure out.
I will say that most of the women in this book are not that interesting by themselves. The part they play in the plot is interesting but as standalone characters they aren’t great. You have your Mommies, your sad bar slut type and a few others none very interesting.
Other good things.
The pacing is fantastic. Yes it goes on a lot, if you’re a fan of getting to the point you will probably not like it. If you don’t mind detours into other places that don’t necessary need to be there to move the plot along, you’ll dig it. I dig it. I love that.
Also, as with most King books I do love how there are bits and pieces that call to his other work. Let me say AGAIN how much I would love to look back in 30 years and see some of that in my own work. It’s like an Easter Egg for hardcore long time fans.
So at the bottom of it, it’s a good book. It’s a nice yarn with some surprises and excellent world building. Some of it is really annoying if you have my sensibilities but, I’m not mad.