Bag of Bones
Series: Magill's Literary Annual 1999 © 1999 Salem Press, Inc.
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons (New York)
First published: 1998
This story, like pretty much all of Stephen King’s stories, takes place mostly in Maine. This one takes place specifically in Derry, Maine, and Sarah Laughs, Maine during the mid-to-late 1990s. It is about a novelist who must come to terms with both his wife’s death and his writer’s block while becoming involved in a young woman’s fight to retain custody of her daughter. This is a long suspenseful novel that revolves around themes of death, ghosts, marriage, murder, parenthood, the creative process and writing.
The story is told from the point of view of Mike Noonan who is a recently widowed gothic romance novelist. His wife’s name was Jo. Mattie Devore is another main character. She is a young widow with whom Mike falls in love with. Mattie has a daughter named Kyra. Mattie’s tyrannical father-in-law is the wealthy Max Devore. Another important person in the story is the blues singer from the 1900s named Sarah Tidwell.
King was quoted as calling Bag of Bones a “haunted love story.” This proves to be a fitting description. The novel opens with Mike recounting the death of his wife who died after she collapsed outside a Rite Aid pharmacy from a brain aneurysm. Her death is especially devastating because they are both relatively young, with him just barely turning 40 and then he finds out that she was pregnant at the time of her death. Mike finds himself questioning if the child was his because of his medical problem that makes having children difficult for him.
Mike slowly adjusts to life without Jo he is forced to make another adjustment. He soon discovers that he has writers block so severe that Mike feels that he is choking to death and at one point almost literally suffocates while trying to bring himself to turn on his word processor. He had a stock of unpublished manauscripts locked away, but when he runs out of “new” material to give his publisher, he decides to return to the vacation cabin called Sarah Laughs that Jo and he purchased with the first good money he made as a successful gothic romance novel, in hopes of breaking the writers block. Sarah Laughs is often referred to as TR or TR-90. The place is named after a southern blues singer, Sarah Tidwell who had passed through the TR with her son and fellow accompanists. Mike quickly learns it is haunted by Sarah Tidwell among others.
A neighbor, Mattie Devor is a mother of a young girl named Kyra. Mattie is also a widow. Her father-in-law is a withered old man who is used to getting anything he wants because he is very wealthy. Kyra is rescued by Mike. He finds her walking down the middle of Route 68. He quickly becomes friends with Kyra and her mother. Mike and Mattie (who is half of Mike’s age) eventually begin to fall in love with each other. The father-in-law has never liked Mattie, so much in fact that he had attempted to bribe her into not marrying his son, Lance. Max Devore is now trying to take Kyra away, and will do anything to accomplish this. Mike makes it his mission to help Mattie keep her daughter.
There are at least three separate entities haunting Sara Laughs. One of these Mike is sure is Jo, and another is Sarah Tidwell. The third only manifests itself as a crying child. The ghosts communicate by rearranging magnetic letters on the refrigerator, both at Kyra’s home and at Mike’s. Mike and Kyra are able to share dreams. At one point, Mike and Kyra share a dream where they are both at a turn-of-the-century fair where Sarah Tidwell is playing.
Bag of Bones has all the usual King trademarks that the fans come looking for. Stephen King creates a sense of literary history that ties all his novels together. He references other novels within this book, as he has done in other books.
This book has a couple awkward transitions but is an overall good read. This has horror and suspense but is not overly gruesome. It is as much a love story as a horror book.