In which humanity is now completely screwed over.
I have to make a note of the opening epitaphs to the novel itself, since this is one of King’s big trademarks. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is kinda obvious given the whole theme of the book, but I’d like to discuss one of the other songs mentioned. The first lyrics are from Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland,” which is a ten-minute epic about New York gang wars. And while you can argue that it’s only used here for the lines “They reach for their moment/And try to make an honest stand” oh I see what you did there, the song does really fit the bigger apocalyptic themes here. It’s a nice lead into the overall plot, and also makes me think that while we may see these events as big and epic, the larger reality is that the end of the world is nothing more than a petty dispute. (And also, “Jungleland” is ten minutes of pure eargasms. Trust me, I’ve seen it live. SOAWESOME.)
The other quote is the Fish Cheer from the original Woodstock, which leads into a nice little anti-war ditty. No points on guessing why that’s here.
The Circle Opens
I can’t really say if this is a better or worse way to kick off the book. We open with Harbinger of Doom, base soldier Charlie Campion running home in the middle of his shift, waking up his wife and telling her to pack up. Yeah, it seems like the obvious way out to explain what happens to these people, why they end up where they end up. But to me, it’s been done before.
“I looked up and saw the clock had gone from green to red.”
What I like about this passage is that it does give us more to Campion then being the Harbinger of Doom. He knows he’s fucked, but maybe, just maybe if he got out in time, he’d be okay. I think what really drives the humanity of all this is he says “I don’t know how long it was red before I looked up and noticed it.” There’s something about how simplistic that statement is that makes me feel sorry for the poor guy.
By dawn they were running east across Nevada and Charlie was coughing steadily.
Yeah, no, you’re all screwed.
Book One: Captain Trips
The thing that I have to point out here—and I’m not pointing out anything new, but since it’s a recurring element in his work—is how well King captures small-town, lower class America. If you go to any small town, you can probably find these guys knocking back drinks at the local garage/gas station (or insert watering hole of choice) and bitching about everything under the sun. I think under anyone else, it’d end up being an exaggerated stereotype, but King makes them regular people who you actually may have encountered at one point or another.
And what it also does is give a sorta discussion on the elements of end times. There’s this little town of Arnette, Texas, that still hasn’t quite recovered from the recession in the Eighties (and please, don’t go political on me, I’d like to keep the flame wars down), and the group of guys who know how to fix what’s wrong with the country. A lot of the discussion on why dystopia/post-apocalyptic media is because we live in a crapsack world right now. This is a perfect way to start the end of the world.
This is also when we meet the FIRST of many (many, many) characters, Stu Redman. From his backstory, it feels like he should be more nihilistic and bitter about the circumstances of his life—had to support his family, drop out of school, mother died, wife died, stuck in a small town—but he’s just quiet and withdrawn from the rest of the characters. So, while Bill Hapscomb is bitching about his mortgage payments, Stu’s the only one who notices the drunk driver headed towards the gas station.
The fluorescent bars over the pumps were reflecting off the Chevy’s dirt-streaked windshield so it was hard to see what was inside, but Stu saw the vague shape of the driver roll loosely with the bump…
“Better turn off your pumps, Hap.”
Like any good onlookers to an accident-in-progress, everyone watches the car come hurtling down the road like a group of deer who can’t seem to move out of the way. Since Stu is going to eventually play a larger role in this narrative, he’s the only one who does something and turns off of the switches to all of the pumps.
The car manages to do some pretty heavy damage to the gas station pumps and everyone rushes forward to see what’s wrong or how monumentally drunk the driver is. They get to the car and open it up, leading to a very detailed description of the smell that wafts out and at least one person vomits. NOT helping is the description of the car’s occupants. There’s a bit in Danse Macabre where King talks about gross-out horror—yeah, here’s a really good example of that.
Flies buzzed around them, lighting in the mucus, crawling in and out of their open mouths.
THANK YOU MR. KING.
We discover that the driver is none other than Charlie Campion, who is still alive to give out the final dying cough and mysterious proclamations. I don’t know how he’s still alive at this point, unless if there’s some kind of vaccinations that everyone at the army base were required to receive. The ambulance comes and everyone starts wondering what everyone’s died from.
“Because what?” Hank asked.
“Because otherwise it might be something catching.” Vic looked at them with troubled eyes. “I seen cholera back in 1958, down near Nogales, and it looked like something like this.”
Vic is clearly fulfilling the position of the town elder who’s seen it all. Which means that we should clearly be paying attention to whatever he says, and the characters will brush it off. As you do.
Campion’s loaded on to the ambulance, and everyone leaves Stu behind at the gas station.
The man from the Chevy died twenty miles from the hospital…It was ten after nine.
Clearly, the next chapter is going to go into the obvious fallout of everything that just happened, and there’s going to a be quarantine and inquiries, but it’s too late and an abortion discussion.
Again, if anyone else had written this book, I would have probably given up early on, as all of the interesting stuff periodically grinds to a halt in the first quarter of the book. After the whole thing in Arnette, with Campion’s death, we’re suddenly thrown to King’s natural habitat of Maine and the soap opera The End of Our Days.
Later on, I like Frannie. Chapter Two, not so much. I know that famously, King wanted to quit writing Carrie because he didn’t know anything about teenage girls. And while I love Carrie, I also have say that he can’t really write young women.
She walked slowly, trying her best to cope with the thought that she might have fallen out of love with him in the space of the eleven days that she had known she was “a little bit preggers,” in the words of Amy Lauder. Well, he had gotten her into that condition, hadn’t he?
Check your scorecards, we have plot point coming into play.
Frannie and Jesse go and get ice cream, because this is what you do when you’ve just admitted that you’re pregnant. Frannie details all the possible list of options for them to consider now, in a rather condescending manner. I mean, geez, you just told Jesse that you’re having a baby, does he really need to decide right now? The government hasn’t even found out what happened in Texas; as far as Fran knows, she has all the time in the world to decide about what to do.
I don’t care. Frannie’s a main character, and I don’t care about this relationship drama because the world’s ending and it’s not going to matter in the long run. Please go back to the death and conspiracy and panic. This is what I read the book for, not The End of Our Days.
Frannie leaves Jesse to give him some time to think over their situation and for a solution that doesn’t involve the two of them getting married. Are we going back to the doom and gloom in chapter 3? Yes. Yes we are.