This book is a mess. The prologue is a poorer version of the third’s final chapter. The rest of the book seems clumsily contrived to force out the truth of Roland’s past. And so we are left with 100 pages bookending both sides of an entirely different book. Sure there are two or three half-hearted intermissions to remind us that the main story, the original story, exists, but they ring poorly and contribute nothing.
I fear King has grown too many roots as a writer. I can feel everything about him I disliked initially in the tall tomes of Dream Catcher and The Cell. Plot aside, they are overwritten, reined too poorly to obey any sense of balance or rhythm. Were King a planner he could have dreamed, or carried away this story in pieces, thoughts scattered over the last two or three books and then had a palaver where the climax lands like a grenade and we are left properly emotionally manipulated and off to our next whirlwind adventure…but then that is not how King writes and it doesn’t always or necessarily end up hurting things, but with three books worth of history and narrative inertia the story being told here just doesn’t work. Instead of the high concept dystopian dream of the last three books, we have something closer to an invading force of just slightly-off high fantasy (with a western flair one supposes).
It is a misstep so large as to be baffling. Roland’s story is one of overwritten love. Susan and Roland. Youthful love that even King acknowledges in the very pages of the book means nothing to the outsider looking in, is used and reused constantly to the point of rage. Yes they are in love. Yes, they make love in clearings, cafeterias and closets, but this isn’t some whimsical summer love tale it is an intricate web of world and character. And yet he cannot break away and just as the plot moves we are dragged back to Susan and Roland’s love. Over and over and over again. The most interesting characters, Roland’s old ka-tet of Alain and Cuthbert work with Roland wonderfully, but they, as with all things, play second fiddle to the love story being hatched amidst conspiracy. I would love a separate trilogy to truly explore and love them both better. Alas I do not. I have this. This messy, clumsily, bumbling thing that works only so well as to not be embarrassing.
“Like the scorpion said to the maiden as she lay dying, ‘You knowed I was poison when you picked me up.’ ” ― Stephen King, Wizard and Glass