In September, I suggested a reading order for the extended universe of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a series I loved, but hadn't read any of since Volume 7: The Dark Tower came out in 2004. I realized that I missed the characters from the series, and wondered if the reading order I suggested would really hold someone's interest all the way through. I scoured some local bookstores, and then the internet for the hardcovers of the books, and prepared for my quest to read a Super Long series of books.
When I constructed the original Stephen King roundup, I placed The Drawing Of The Three as my third favorite Stephen King book of all time, with The Gunslinger in the number one spot. I was wrong. This is my favorite Stephen King book. With any luck, this will be a problem I'll have again a couple of times during the chronology: feeling like the book I just finished was the best.
1. The Prisoner
Maybe everything you know about addiction is sterile. Maybe, like me, you grew up with addicts whose drug or vice of choice later killed them. Maybe you've read articles or books, or seen two-dimensional movies about "junkies". Maybe you think Robert Palmer was correct in announcing he was "addicted to love", and you've written your own stories about how being in love is like being addicted to heroin.
We're all wrong sometimes.
After a terrifying prologue where Roland, the protagonist from The Gunslinger, has The Worst Day At The Beach Ever, Stephen King brings the story to 1980s New York, and begins one of the greatest fictional works on addiction that I've read. It's neither romanticized, nor condemned. It's just a story about crime and addiction.
While the mob, and the police portions of the story are intriguing, and probably thoroughly researched (or else he just pilfered from the best crime movies and tv shows), there is no doubt that he Knows addiction.
If you can read The Prisoner part of the book, and honestly believe you are "addicted to playing Candy Crush", please Never Talk To Me.
Can you love a person who saved you if you know that the act of saving you was necessary for them to save themselves?
Can you love a person who takes you away from everything you've ever known, even if everything you've ever known was toxic?
Should you try and save a person you don't love merely because they once saved you?
2. THE LADY OF THE SHADOWS
This section shouldn't work. Stephen King has proven repeatedly that he doesn't understand how to write women or people of color. The idea of a white dude in the 1980s writing about a woman of color having Dissociative Identity Disorder in such a way that part of her is a rich, refined political activist, and the other is an angry delusional woman who speaks like a racist parody of a Black Woman is troubling. It will probably bother you right up to the point where her speech is explained. It may still bother you after that point. I don't know your life. But I was relieved and satisfied by the way the story explained it, in a manner that Stephen King books do not always relieve or satisfy me with their justifications.
This section, too, is a story of addiction and crime, but told in a very different fashion,from a very different perspective. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
Can you love someone you can never trust?
Can you love someone who seems to be two different people?
Is there love at first sight?
Can you love two people who hate each other?
What if they are in the same body?
If you need another person to feel whole, are you a person worth loving?
3. THE PUSHER
A friend of several of my friends has a tragic addiction story. After a particular trauma, they ended up in the hospital with a not so promising chance of survival. The family came for support. The friends who had tried to keep them clean came for support. The acquaintances who wished they'd been better at seeing the impending trauma came for support. It was a community effort of people supporting the victim and each other.
Then the person who supplied the instruments of trauma came for support, and a wise friend of the victim chased them out of the hospital before the family of the victim murdered him.
It takes a strong person to protect The Pusher, be it a drug dealer, a loanshark, a domestic abuser. The Pusher is the person who sets someone else on a path of ruin. Be it someone who knowingly destroys the life of someone who loves them, or a complete stranger who just enjoys hurting people. Often, the person who does this is given a tragic backstory to explain their behavior. I appreciate that King does not waste time on The Pusher in this book. He is not to be pitied, or explained. He is a terrible part of life who has repeatedly hurt people Roland cares about. And he is dealt with.
--Much like in The Gunslinger, we arrive at a point where we don't feel cheated having to leave the story. This could be the end, and that would be fine.
--It's our first meta-reference, as Eddie Dean watches Roland through the door and mentions how it looks like a scene from The Shining, that was the last book in the chronology! And, sure, he's referencing the movie, and not the book, but this is the beginning of a trend where Stephen King is Very Aware that Stephen King is an important part of this universe.
--I remembered pretty much every portion of this book better than any previous book in the chronology.
--We are 3,033 pages into the Dark Tower Journey now. Does the end seem any closer?