Review: “Insomnia,” Stephen King

Pros: Engaging plot and some good characters
Cons: Too many leaps of intuition; weird and a bit slow
Rating: 3 out of 5

 

An older man, Ralph, has been suffering from insomnia. Every morning he wakes up just a few minutes earlier than the previous night, and it’s taking its toll. He starts to suffer from apparent hallucinations: seeing auras around people and catching sight of two odd men whom no one else sees. Before long he finds out that he’s been unwittingly drafted into a battle over the disposition of souls–one in which he can’t really trust his recruiters, but the stakes are high enough that he doesn’t have much of a choice. His actions, after all, could save thousands of lives.

 

Stephen King’s Insomnia brilliantly conveys what it’s like to have severe insomnia. I had that problem for about half a year myself, and recognized so much of it in this book. Thoughts become disordered. Memories slide further and further out of reach. Everyone you talk to has a sure-thing remedy that they’re absolutely convinced will work for you, and which never does (and yet you try it anyway because you’re that desperate for relief). There are a lot of people apparently who find the book too slow to get into; I think the fact that the depiction of insomnia had so much resonance for me kept that material from seeming boring.

Some of the characters have nice depth to them. I love seeing attraction between older people; it sometimes seems like love is reserved for the young in popular media. Unfortunately some of the side characters are nearly caricatures, and certainly seem like stock Stephen King characters. (It’s been a couple of years since I read any King and yet I still recognize some of his standard characters, because they’re just that familiar.)

King is great at making things vivid through detail. Again, some people will find that slow, but I love the way it draws me in and paints a picture.

I did have a couple of problems with the book. For one, there are some spots later on in the book where a couple of side characters bring Ralph and Lois up to speed on what’s going on, and that’s largely done through an extended info-dump. It’s heavy-handed and really does slow things down, much more so than the slow-winding details. The second problem is that the characters make too many realizations through bald leaps of ‘intuition’–it sometimes feels like a cheat. The author wants the characters to realize something but can’t find a good way to make it happen, so the character magically intuits what they need to know in order to get the job done. Some of that is okay, but when it happens a lot or happens with respect to major plot revelations, that makes things all too convenient and takes away from the feeling of accomplishment as the characters achieve their goals.

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