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28 April 2012

The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King


Well, holy Hannah.

Or, hmm.

Not the King story I was expecting. A little bit of horror, but a whole lot of science fiction. Written in the late 1980s, the fear of nuclear power plants and technology taking over the world was certainly forefront of conspiracy theories at that time. Reading it now does make it a little dated, of course, but I don't know. It wasn't bad. I think it was a little bit good.

There are different degrees of good, such as "stellar-oh-my-gawd-holy-crap-that-was-amazing" (11/22/63 and 'Salem's Lot), to "ho-hum-but-not-bad" (The Colorado Kid). But I have yet to close a Stephen King book and think, "Wow, that was sufficiently horrible." I hope I don't ever experience that since I'm enjoying the journey so far.

The Tommyknockers is listed as #61 out of #62 out of all of Stephen King books. That's right, second to LAST on the rankings listed here (thanks to The New Dork Review of Books for posting it). I can't say if that ranking is nuts or not, but I can say that if this is considered almost *the* worst of Stephen King's books, then I've got nowhere to go but up in the Uncle Stevie world and it's going to be an incredibly fantastic ride since I sort of dug this book.

The 1980s experienced several frightening events, and one of them left a huge impression on history: Chernobyl. Those images from the horrible tragedy in Russia, nuclear radiation destroying lives painfully, will never be forgotten. The debate for nuclear power plants to be built in suburban neighborhoods caused intense arguments and in The Tommyknockers, Gard (James Eric Gardener) actively protests against it all. A struggling poet with an addiction to alcohol, it seems his only outlet and safe place is his best friend Bobbi Anderson. A fellow writer, she lives in the tiny town of Haven, Maine and lives on the land once owned by her uncle who passed away years before. When out walking with her dog one day, she discovers a piece of hard, unvarnished metal jutting out from the earth. While her dog, Peter, barks at her to leave it alone (why don't they ever listen to the dog??), Bobbi has a sudden urge to begin digging to see whatever is buried under the dirt.

As Bobbi begins to dig, the energy from the hidden object becomes stronger. A ship of some sort, a UFO ship of massive proportions is slowly unearthed and the power reverberating from it begins to overwhelm and control the town. True to King fashion, the town becomes its own character, isolated from other cities with just a few small roads through and out of it, with no major highway connecting it to anything else. It's a town somewhere in the middle of nowhere and the residents are slowly losing their minds and their bodies. Literally. They lose their teeth one by one as the power overtakes them, and I began to accept that the wasted bodies became similar to what might happen if nuclear radiation were to spill out into a neighborhood.

Not my favorite King story, but you know what? As ridiculous as some of the sections were, I still enjoyed it. Granted, there was the rise of a suped-up vacuum cleaner and a Coke machine, but I just got it. I totally understood King's disgust with society, technology becoming more advanced before we could keep up with it, and the fear of nuclear power plants right around the corner from schools and neighborhoods. (That is freaky, you know?) Apparently, King also wrote this at the peak of his addiction according to the article linked above, so it makes complete sense why all of his characters have some jacked up habit. The story meanders here and there, doing that awesome thing that King does which is to take a brand new character and tell their back story for a few pages, and it becomes so absorbing, you think that they're suddenly a new character to cheer on in the book. He tells a story and doesn't mince words. And I just love it when he does that.

Others said:
Let me know if you've reviewed this so I can link to your review here.

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: 1987
Pages: 558

FTC Disclosure: I checked out The Tommyknockers from my local Virginia Beach Public Library.

About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The StandThe Dark Tower series, ItThe Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know. So here you go, click here to visit this wicked cool author's official website.




The Stephen King Project. My education (and others') continues! The Tommyknockers is another selection for the challenge Kathleen and I are hosting. The site can be found (with other participants' reviews) here.



22 comments:

  1. I loved 11/22/63 but haven't taken the plunge into more of his work. I feel like I need to work up the nerve, if that makes sense.

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    1. I totally know what you mean. I will say that once you take the plunge, it is well worth it!

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    2. That has been my same thought, Kathy! But, I am going to change that this month! Now I've got to figure out which King novel won't give me the heebie jeebies - any suggestions, Natalie?

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  2. I never read this one, but do hope to get in more SK the later half of this year with plans for The Stand and Under the Dome.

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    1. I think I'm going to save The Stand and Under the Dome for the fall season. For some reason, they seem like the right sort to wait for the cooler weather. I can't wait to read them.

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  3. I didn't know about the list rating his work; I have to go check that out. I do want to get back to more SK after 11/22/63 though (and The Stand was last year for me). Maybe I'll pick one from high up on the ranking list! :--)

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    1. Ah, The Stand; I cannot wait to read it! I was initially considering the audio version, but I think I'm going to read it instead. I've heard it will blow me away!

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  4. I haven't read this one either so I can't say if it's good or bad. I took a look at the worst to best list and I do agree that Rose Madder and Gerald's Game belong at the bottom. As for the rest, ranking can be subjective and 11/22/63 would be higher on my list, as would Four Past Midnight.

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    1. I agree that 11/22/63 would be much higher on the list; I was surprised to see it where they put it. I have my eye on Four Past Midnight for this year as well.

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  5. I have read most of his stuff that he wrote, and I did read this, and I don't remember being all that impressed. But like you said, even his worst stuff isn't all that bad. At the very minimum it is entertaining. I remember I started "The Cell" and did not get past page 50. I will have to go look at that list and see if that is the worst! I actually didn't mind his "crimes against women" phase with Gerald's Game and Rose Madder. t think this book had a TV mini-series adaptation, and I think it was pretty lame.

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    1. You know, I met someone at the airport last month who read Cell and actually really enjoyed it. I'm up in the air on ever reading that one, but I might take a gander at some of the other ones that are lower on the list since I didn't think The Tommyknockers was horrible either, yet they listed that so low. I think when it's all said and done, I think I'm going to make my own list! :)

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  6. I've seen this one around but have never gotten to it. King is kinda like cold pizza -- even when it's not at its best, it's still pretty good.

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    1. Ha! I love it. Yes, he is like cold pizza, perfect after a hangover, perfect as a late night snack. Satisfies every time.

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  7. I didn't like "The Tommyknockers" the first time I read it, in high school twenty years ago. I reread it last year, though, and loved it. It has problems: the structure is a little strange, and some of the sci-fi elements get silly (in a "Maximum Overdrive" sort of way) toward the end. Overall, though, I think it's kinda great.

    The love story is interesting. It's a kind of love story I've not encountered very often: a story of a romance that just ... stalled out. The two characters involved were romantically linked at one point, and seem to still love each other, but their individual failings combine to produce a relationship that ought to be deeper and more significant, but just ... isn't.

    That element is one of the two things that is powering this book. The other is that it's another of King's numerous tales about the dangers of addiction. The poet, Jim, is obviously an alcoholic of "Leaving Las Vegas" proportions, but he's managing -- barely -- to hang on. This is juxtaposed with the more metaphorical -- bot somehow no less real -- addictions that Bobbi has. I don't think this all works 100%, but it works probably 85-90%, and that equals pretty good stuff.

    And yes, those statistics are pulled straight out of a butt. They sound nice, though, and I stand by them!

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    1. I cannot tell you how much I love your comment! Thank you for stopping by. Yes, the love story was wicked interesting, drifting together, apart, together. An enabler and an addict. On and off. But perfectly conveyed and realistic, and I totally got it. There was a wee part of me that was hoping for all things to work out, but sheesh, it's a King novel, it never gets to work out, it's authentically insane.

      "Maximum Overdrive" is spot on. I couldn't remember which movie it was that the appliances, etc., started to take over the world. Man, that was a silly movie.

      I love the stats; I totally buy it. And by the way, dig your profile picture, perfect It!

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  8. When you finish this King project, I would love it if you would do your own rating thing, and list them in order of favorites. That way I would know which one to start with. This was a great review, by the way. Very comprehensive and insightful, especially since you spoke a little bit about what King was going through when he wrote the book. Great job today!

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  9. I was going to ask you the same thing Zibilee just asked! I'd love to know your opinion of how the SK books you read should rank! (And I love how you described 'degrees of good' in your review above) I want to read some of Stephen King's books such as 11/22/63 and The Sand but there's a long list of SK books I'm not familiar with. I don't think they'll give me nightmares like they once did when I was a young teenager and read 3 or 4 in a row!
    I'm going to try to read one of SK's best in September...by then I hope I'll be finished with review books! (I must learn to say NO!)

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  10. Didja ever notice how horror writers, like Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, have faces as scary as their novels? Just sayin' after seeing his photograph here, and not having one intelligent thing to say about his book because basically? I loathe them. Too scary, too evil, too dark for this girl. Or, as with The Dome, just too many poorly constructed sentences.

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  11. I have to say I find it kind of surprising that it ranked so low, but I read it years ago in high school; who knows what I would think of it today? Your review really makes me want to re-read it though.
    I want to read more of SK, it's been years since I have.

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  12. Thank you for the review :)

    I haven't read this one yet but I have heard people not really liking it...but even so, I will still read it one day.

    Every good authors have that moment where his works weren't as good as usual.

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  13. I read this one in my twenties, maybe early thirties and remember really liking it and turning those pages at a fast rate to see how it would all end. I've got to kick my whole Stephen King reading project into high gear here. I've loaded The Stand (next in the chronological order) onto my Nook and am hoping to read it on my long flight over to Europe in a few weeks.

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  14. Just a small note - Chernobyl is in Ukraine, not Russia.

    Now on-topic, the thing I liked most about this particular King novel is the portrayal of Gard's hypocrisy regarding nuclear power plants highlighted by his afterward involvement in digging up the ship and consciously trying to ignore the changes he sees in the people around him.

    ...I also loved how he mentions Jack Nicholson's iconic scene in Kubrick's "Shining", knowing how he felt about the movie.

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