Aside from Gwendy's Button Box earlier this year, it's been quite a few years since I've read anything from Stephen King. Although I count him as among my all-time favorite authors, and consider myself a fan, I regret that I've become something of a lapsed Constant Reader. Nevertheless, I had been looking forward to Sleeping Beauties for quite some time and when it finally released I had worked myself up into a good old solid hankering for an epic horror tome.
Unfortunately, Stephen and his son, Owen King, just didn't live up to my expectations and hopes. While the premise is incredible, I found the execution to be sorely lacking. This book is a slog. It's slow, and the majority of its 700 pages present an awful lot of leaves to be bored by. This sucker is jam-packed with characters, most of them one-note and forgettable, while others are simply uninteresting. Dr. Norcross, for instance - one of the lead male figures and prison psychologist (an Appalachian women's correctional facility is the main locale for the majority of Sleeping Beauties), Norcross has a heck of a backstory with his youth spent in the foster care system. The events that have shaped and built his life are wildly intriguing, but the adult we're presented with is pretty damn dull, and his marriage is on the rocks thanks to some half-baked and cliched marital melodrama the Kings tossed in. I might have found to reason to care about the slippery slope the Norcross's marriage was sliding down, but frankly I didn't much care for his wife, Lila, the town sheriff, either.
King (Stephen, at least; I haven't read any of Owen's work previously) is a master at building memorable characters, and yet I struggled to find any reason to sympathize or care about any of the what felt like hundreds of names dropped into this sucker. Even the central antagonist, Evie Black, with her cell phone video game obsession, penchant for sleeping above the covers, and Biblical fantasy roots, is a pale threat. If you're looking for personalities like Stuttering Bill, Roland, Pennywise, or Leeland Gaunt, you'll be sorely disappointed. I doubt Sleeping Beauties will be making its way to the top of legendary King titles anytime soon. Instead, it's more redolent of lesser King works, particularly Under the Dome, which I hated. But while Dome felt an awful lot like a remix of better, more memorable King hits, Sleeping Beauties merely feels redundant, hitting on a lot of the same derivative elements. It's a better book than Under the Dome to be sure, but once the women of the world start falling asleep and chaos ensues, Appalachia feels almost identical to Chester's Mill.
It's not all bad, thankfully. There are a few moments, here and there, that impressed me and convinced to stick with this book (and honestly, if it were anybody other than King, I would have quit this book pretty damn early on). Without spoiling too much, the polar opposites between Appalachia and Our Place were really well done; as one world burns, another is built, and those moments were intriguing as all get out. The nature of the cocoons enshrouding the sleeping women, and what happens when their sleep is disturbed, presented some fantastic moments of horror. And the last hundred pages or so showed the Kings hadn't forgotten to put some gas in the tank after all, giving us some pretty solid action to wrap everything up.
I've seen other reviewers comment on this novels' political nature and how the Kings were standing up on a soapbox. It's not an impression I walked away with, but this is a book about the sexes and what happens when the balance between men and women is significantly altered. The disparity between sexes is inherently political, but I never found this book to be extreme in its presentation of political ideas one way or another. Frankly, if Stephen and Owen had been more polemic Sleeping Beauties might have been way more interesting for it. As it stands, it's merely tepid at best.
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