Title: Finders Keepers
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Pages: 384; Price: Rs 699
What would you do if your biggest literary idol “sold out”, became a slave to “commercial considerations” and left you feeling cheated?
What if you find a cache of diaries in a secret place behind your house, and you slowly become so hooked to the writing that it takes over your dreams?
In his latest novel, Finders Keepers, Stephen King returns to one of his most compelling scenarios, one that he laid out for us in his much older Misery: the raging, corrosive love of a fan, that can turn fatal if thwarted. King overlays it with an equally compelling theme, of how literature and books can become an alternative universe for some of us, and how we can feel more alive and “real” in that world than in ours.
King’s narrative, studded with the stylistic flourishes that makes his work so uniquely his own, switches back and forth between two obsessive young men, and two timelines — 1978 and 2014. Morris Bellamy, a huge fan of reclusive author John Rothstein, is furious that his idol has stopped writing, and that Johnny Gold (Rothstein’s fictional character) has been turned into a slave to advertising. Bellamy confronts Rothstein, leading to a shocking death, and the loss of several diaries written by the latter.
Years later, young Pete Saubers discovers what turns out to be a saving grace for his family struggling against recession: a trunk full of lovely lolly and a bundle of old diaries. Pete’s father was badly injured in an accident involving an-out-control Mercedes car (that story is to be read in King’s previous Mr Mercedes). His mother and younger sister are badly affected, and he sees his discovery as a tool to keep grinding poverty at bay.
What happens when the two obsessives, one graying and pale from decades in prison and the other a young man just-stepping-up-to-life — Morris and Pete — fight for what they think is theirs, is how the rest of it rolls. We are re-united with the Mr Mercedes trio: the ageing detective Bill Hodges, the damaged-but-slowly-healing Holly Gibney, and the bright Ivy Leaguer Jerome Robinson, as they must race towards keeping a deranged man from going on a killing rampage again.
King’s novels may be densely plotted, with a thread hanging here and a strand coming out there, but his over-riding principle when he is tying up everything is always simple, and always in view. We know our novelist is on our side, and that he will not suddenly slide into strange sleight-of-handedness, leaving us floundering. His skill lies in how he brings together good and evil, and how he makes us see how easy it is for one to become the other, and how no one is all black.
And that’s why his work captures our imagination so powerfully, because we also see how evil can take forms that we do not, and never will, completely understand. How perfectly decent men and women can get rolled over by a feeling, and can become completely different people.
The best part is how King is always relevant, always on top of stuff, and always fresh. That’s quite amazing for someone who’s been doing the writing gig for so many years. He’s written more than 50 books, novels, novellas, experienced near-death accidents, and has, over the years, acquired deeper insights into people and what makes them tick. Or not.
In hindsight, his “straight” horror novels, which put him on top of the bestseller heap are not as attractive or as pleasing as his forays into the human heart. Those are the stories, and characters, I return to all the time. And I can’t wait for the next installment.