#Horror Review: The Outsider by Stephen King (@StephenKing)

Although I think some other reviewers have over-hyped it as a creature-feature reminiscent of It (let's be honest, that epic masterpiece, for all its uncomfortable flaws, will never be duplicated), I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King's The Outsider. Not surprisingly, it is more reminiscent of later books like the Bill Hodges Trilogy (minor spoiler, it is connected) than any of the Derry or Castle Rock stories, but the supernatural element is an interesting one.

The first 200 pages of The Outsider are, far and away, some of the best fiction I have read this year. The idea of a man seemingly in two places at once, with irrefutable evidence of his guilt AND equally irrefutable evidence of his alibi, is so perfectly played, you almost want to read it over again as soon as you're done. It is a police procedural like only King can write - in his language, with his narrative style - and far better than anything you'll find on prime-time TV. The deeper the mystery gets, and the more impossible the situation seems, the stronger the story gets. There is just enough doubt to hope Coach Maitland is innocent but, at the same time, enough evidence against him that you can't fault Detective Anderson for his overzealousness.

Where the book faltered for me was in the second act, where we get that Bill Hodges connection, and where the story seems to lose its way. After such a tightly plotted first act, the story seems to wander, dabbling in too much speculation as it tries to establish its supernatural merits and set up the final antagonist. It really felt like King was struggling with how to bridge the first and final acts, as if he lacked confidence in the story, which isn't something I've really seen before. There have been King novels I felt ended softly, failing to deliver on the premise, but it's always felt like he marched boldly into this finales. As for the third act, it goes by far too quickly, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. By not dwelling on the nature of evil, and skipping the grandiose speeches, King keeps the final confrontation tight, suspenseful, and effective. He finds the perfect setting for that confrontation as well, weaving a story behind it, giving it significance, and really playing to my own fascination with abandoned natural ruins. Despite the dangers, I wanted to get in there and explore myself.

Thematically, The Outsider has a lot to say about contemporary society, where social opinion so often trumps the facts, and where putting on a good show is often more important than doing the right thing. Trust and belief are keys to the story as well, particularly in the way Detective Anderson is played against his wife, the two of them capturing the reader's conflict perfectly. Even if the middle act did steal some momentum for me, causing me to doubt the book, the final act more than redeemed it. Well worth a read.

Hardcover, 561 pages
Published May 22nd 2018 by Scribner

Comments

  1. It was my favourite ever King book. I haven't been as keen on his more up to date stuff and haven't read the last couple. I'll be checking out reviews of this one before I decide on reading it.

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