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Black House

Stephen King’s Latest Features Little Horror

By Freddy Funes

Written by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Published by Random house

$28.95 hardcover

Stephen King and Peter Straub collaborated on The Talisman, a story about the fantastic travels of a young boy named Jack Sawyer. In Black House, King and Straub tell the tale of the adult Jack. Unlike other Stephen King novels, which often have truly frightening villains, Black House is lackluster in the scare department. The novel is nothing more than a weak excuse for creating a sequel to The Talisman.

In Black House, as in most Stephen King novels, a destructive and malicious force horribly assaults a placid town. Black House’s town is Coulee County, Wisconsin, and its malicious force is a psychopathic killer who kidnaps, kills, and eats young children. Jack, who as a child traveled to another world and wielded the power of an arcane object called the Talisman, has grown to adulthood and retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. Through either destiny or random chance, he moves to Coulee County, where the local police recruit him to aid in capturing the killer. Jack discovers that the killer is not human, but a monster hosting an unearthly wicked force. The monster’s extraterrestrial origin triggers Jack’s suppressed memories of his childhood adventures in a world called the Territories. The link between Jack’s incredible past and the killer’s otherworldly origin somehow make Jack the only person who can stop the killer’s rampage.

Jack is an intriguing protagonist with a complex psyche and impressive past. He is intelligent, compassionate, and confused, relying on intuition and luck to resolve conflicts. Once he understands what he must do, he never waivers, exuding confidence and leadership qualities around his companions. Jack’s numerous memories from the Territories, though rarely complete, set him apart from other humans. His fearlessness is both exaggerated and inspiring, yet he is impatient at times, losing his temper and hiding his past.

The killer, an old man named Charles Burnside, is perverse, and not frightening at all. Burnside is more comical than ominous; his perverse thoughts read more like mischievous adolescent rage than crazy visions in a psychotic mind. The fact that Burnside is not in complete control of the evil occurring throughout the county also diminishes his character’s villainous power.

Most of the other characters in the novel are bland. Henry Layden, a blind man, possesses the uncanny ability to distinguish the undistinguishable with his heightened sense of hearing and smell. The authors let Henry and his amazing talent drag through the book without capturing the readers’ interest; Henry is nothing more than a useless sidekick to Jack. Similarly, they neglect the magical Judy Marshall, the intelligent and brawny motorcyclist Beezer, the stressful Dale Gilbertson, and Ty Marshall, the child prodigy. These and other characters have their moments of glory, but are never fleshed out by King or Straub. Only when they are around Jack are the supporting characters meaningful, but even then, they are nothing more than extensions of Jack. Unfortunately, Jack cannot carry the novel alone.

In addition to unmotivated, one-dimensional characters, Black House also suffers from a choppy narrative. Because the book was written by two different authors, the voice of the novel strayed from Stephen King’s recognizable style. As a result, the conflict between the different narrative styles disrupts the flow of the story. Whenever the narrative makes a blatant attempt to pull the reader into the story, it merely cripples the novel’s ability to surprise and captivate. At some points the story seems to move quickly, hitting all important points while neglecting superficial detail. At other times, especially when describing peripheral characters, the story moves languidly, telling the reader every dull and needless detail in the story. Although their appearances rarely comprise more than a chapter or two, the narrator unnecessarily reveals every trauma and secret in the secondary characters’ lives.

While Black House is a creative story, disruptive narration and a lack of believable characters hinders its readability and diminishes its value. The plot is predictable and the characters are clichÉd. The villain has neither the fear-factor of the clown from It, nor the sheer evil presence of Tak from Desperation. Black House is not much of a horror story, or even an adequate sequel to The Talisman; rather it degenerates into a pitiful B-movie.