I had never heard of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers until I found a copy in a charity shop whilst I was feeling sick. I have had a few periods in my life where I have engulfed Stephen King books by the hand full, the most notable being when I worked at a very quiet in bound call centre where I was allowed to read in the hour or so between calls. King seems to favour two distinctive story patterns in general: A single character who is ‘special’ in some way and that struggles with this fact, or a collection of individuals who are pulled into a difficult or sinister environment. The Tommyknockers seems to fall into the first category in its initial stages, which focus on a woman named Bobbi but it soon becomes clear that her whole town of Haven is affected as she is by the events that unfold.
In the opening pages of The Tommyknockers a Haven writer named Bobbi Anderson (writer protagonists are common in King novels such as Misery and The Shining) is walking her dog and comes across an interesting piece of metal that is wedged in the ground. Her dog is immediately distressed and Bobbi experiences her own unsettling reactions from the find but a curiosity is also immediately opened up within her. Changes rapidly take place with her aged dog and Bobbi begins to wonder about what effect the artefact could be having before the perspective rapidly changes to her friend (who is also a writer) James Gardner.
In truth, Gardner is the protagonist of this book and a fair portion of the book focuses on his reactions and experiences relating to changes that slowly take place in Haven. Gardner is deeply suspicious of authority and is terrified of the nuclear holocaust, which he views as inevitable due to lack of government concern. Even in the wake of Fukishima, his rants and raves seem dated and almost antique, which can make him difficult to relate to. Gardner is also an alcoholic and spends a huge portion in the centre of the book drinking to escape what is happening around him.
The arc of this book is strange because a huge section in the middle pulls away from Gardner and Bobbi and instead takes in the whole town of Haven, which is deeply affected by the artefact and describe their changes as a ‘becoming’. King excels in introducing characters quickly but making them seem solid and real, though he also has no issue with killing them in tragic ways as is common in his other books. The middle of the book focuses on the struggle as some Haven residents give in to the ‘becoming’, some fight and some leave. A string of important characters set up the fate of Haven and through much of the story I found it impossible to guess what could possibly happen next.
A problem I had with The Tommyknockers would be that so much happens that must be ultimately resolved. Jane Austin once joked about all the tangled threads that she created in her characters and the difficulty with which she would create a happy ending. Stephen King is not famous for his happy endings and as the story gets more extreme and strange, I found that I was unable to suspend disbelief. There is a point in this novel where I started to feel things were getting silly and King doesn’t tie up loose ends rather than make them completely irrelevant. At the end of the day, this 80’s novel has dated worse than some of his others and, whilst it is enjoyable to read about a whole town slowly giving over to madness, it’s also a relief when the Gardner resumes as narrator to attempt to put things right.