Book Review: The Talisman
By Stephen King and Peter Straub
Lily Cavanaugh, the Queen of the Bs, is dead. Her body is eating itself and her son, Jack Sawyer, is helpless to stop it. The two of them flee to New Hampshire during Lily’s last days. Held up in a lonely hotel room, Lily smokes pack after pack of filter-less cigarette, poisoning her rotting lungs. Jack wanders the boardwalk before the hotel, not wanting to watch his mother die. He meets an old African-American Maintenance man in the shadow of a wooden Ferris wheel. This man claims that Jack can, indeed, save his mother. There’s a world beyond this one that has magic like we have physics. A magical talisman from that world can burn the cancer out of his mother’s body. This man, Speedy, sends Jack on a journey across America on this side and the Territories on that one. Jack’s Uncle Morgan seeks this Talisman as well. Uncle Morgan may have killed before and may kill again in his such for this powerful artifact.
The Talisman has the flavors of one of my favorite series, The Dark Tower. In Black House, they adopt the Dark Tower openly. I wondered if this novel qualified as a Young Adult novel, considering that Jack, the protagonist, is twelve-years-old. On his journey across America, Jack encounters things that the YA genre would run, screaming, from. Although Jack is in danger of being murdered a number of times in the novel, it pales in comparison to the fact that he was almost raped by what could only be described as a crazed Were-goat. This novel takes place in the 1980’s and to be honest, it does feel a little dated and possibly offensive. While hitch-hiking, Jack encounters a number of adult, homosexual men who inevitably offer Jack money for sexual favors. It’s presented as more of an annoyance than something truly horrific. Possibly, it was common for homosexual men to proposition twelve-year-old boys in 1981, but it reads truly strange to my 2013 eyes. I also had a problem with the characterization of Speedy Parker, Jack’s mentor. I think they were going for an old Blues singer feel to Speedy, but it read a little like a Southern Black cartoon. I still feel that this remains a good novel in spite of these flaws. When the novel is good, it’s really good and when it stumbles, it hits the ground hard.