At first, it sounded like a great idea. The master storyteller of weirdness, Stephen King, writing a novel based on one of the weirdest conditions a person can have – insomnia. However, the result is disappointing. Only long-time Stephen King fans familiar with his Dark Tower series will find any worthwhile bedtime reading with “Insomnia” (Viking Press; 1994.)
A bad book by Stephen King is still a much reader read than a good book by most other pop fiction writers. Characters are well-drawn to the point where you do not need to be told who is talking in order to know who is talking. The fictional town of Derry, Maine is also familiar territory for King fans and for anyone who has lived in a small suburb. The dogs in the book even become fully detailed characters in their own right.
Perhaps the best thing about “Insomnia” is that it does highlight the problems of domestic abuse without ramming it down the reader’s throat. Although other issues like abortion, putting parents in old-age homes and insomnia are mentioned, but with as much finesse as King can do on the subject of abuse. This is a major theme in King’s entire body of work, especially in “Dolores Claiborne” (1993) and “Rose Madder” (1995) where both protagonists are abused women. As always, King shows that not only supernatural creatures are monsters.
“Insomnia” is mostly made up of some good chunks stuck together with long expository passages. Mainly, it’s a minor book in the Dark Tower series, even though it was never marketed as part of the series. However, if the reader is not familiar with the Dark Tower series, then a lot of small, seemingly out of place details in “Insomnia” is going to be baffling.
The main struggle in the book between good human verses bad Otherworld Creature gets far too long and complicated for even a King fan like yours truly. When the main reason why our protagonists have insomnia is revealed, it’s an anticlimax. The answer is just not satisfying enough.
There are some incredibly vivid moments in “Insomnia” that are far more haunting than the actual plot. A dog licks the hand of the monster that immediately afterwards kills her. A mother is plotted against by her daughter-in-law to place her in a senior citizen’s home. A battered woman with a screaming baby on her hip stumbles into a grocery store.
But the weirdest image is that of a two-person airplane is flown into a building here a major speech is being held and many are killed. Remember, this book was published in 1994, which, on reflection, makes that particular scene even more bone-chilling.