Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

I was tempted to write this review in a parodistic version of the folksy dialogue that makes up quite a lot of this very short novel, but I finally decided otherwise. (I hope you'll appreciate that.)

The Colorado Kid was the first novel King published after the end of the "Dark Tower" series -- which was also the point at which he declared that he was retiring from writing novels -- and it's a very odd piece. It's odd for King and it's odd for Hard Case, but King does often get more experimental and interesting when he writes at shorter lengths.

Colorado Kid is a twice-told tale; we're hearing it along with Stephanie McCann, a young reporter learning her trade at the Weekly Islander of Maine's Moose-Lookit Island. It's told to her by David Bowie and Vince Teague, two much older and more experienced reporters, after a long lunch with a reporter from the Boston Globe. (The Globe reporter wanted some unsolved mysteries for a series he's doing; the two old islanders didn't tell him the oddest, juiciest one -- but they will tell it to Stephanie and us.)

Colorado Kid grinds its gears for more than twenty of its hundred and seventy pages, setting the Maine island scene and indulging in a lot of pseudo-witty banter between the two old farts. (If it had been by anyone less famous than King, it would have worn out its welcome by then, but we indulge the storytellers we trust.) Finally, David and Vince get down to the story of the "Colorado Kid."

A man was found dead on the beach of Moose-Lookit, with no identification, twenty-five years before, in 1980. He was wearing a dress shirt and suit pants, but no jacket or coat -- unusual for the weather. And, once he was identified, it was as a Colorado man who walked out the door of his office for a coffee about five hours before he had a Maine fish dinner.

It's only just possible for him to have covered that distance in that time, and much of Colorado Kid is taken up with back-and-forth dialogue about how he could have traveled so quickly, how he must have had a car ready here and a charter plane there, and so on.

That's all on the surface: beneath it, Colorado Kid is a direct assault on that old Sherlock Holmes diktat: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." King does not provide any examples of impossible explanations; the reader has to think them up himself. But they're likely to be more plausible than the merely improbable explanation that the reporters have cobbled together.

So, in its sly way, The Colorado Kid is a plea for the imaginative genres -- horror, fantasy, science fiction -- against and from within the mystery genre. What is the truth? asks The Colorado Kid. The truth is whatever makes the best story -- and this story is left a bit misshapen and lopsided on purpose, since what would have made it the best story -- that impossible explanation -- is left out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This novel is an interesting experiment, but it's hard not to feel ripped off by it, especially given the implied promise of King writing a pulp/noir novel, which he in no way did here.

Interestingly, BLAZE, which King wrote afterward under the Richard Bachman pseudonym, is a terrific little crime novel, and King almost submitted it to HCC. It's a shame he didn't, it would have been a much better fit.

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