It’s been a year of big books — I started out 2022 with a Jonathan Franzen and am nearly closing it out with a Stephen King 600-pager, his most recent release, “Fairy Tale.” Quality over quantity, right?
As with just about any King novel, the author’s imagination does not disappoint. With Fairy Tale, readers are transported to a world within another world, as high school senior Charlie Reade takes an old man at his word when he says he can extend the life of his canine companion, Radar, by following his steps into a fantasy world.
Bearing in mind, though, this is a Stephen King fantasy world. So of course the path is inhabited by cockroaches the size of corgis. Oh, and bats. Lots of bats.
I would have never made it past the bugs.
Fairy Tale’s character set is a tortured one, for certain — each has a cross to bear. For Charlie’s dad, it’s the alcoholism that nearly left Charlie an orphan. For Charlie, it’s the guilt he carries from the heartless cruelty he doled out as a pre-pubescent boy grieving his mother’s death. For Howard Bowditch, it’s the secret he’s carried for decades and the loneliness that came with it.
And that’s just on this side of the path. Then you’ve got Empis and its denizens. Once there, Charlie becomes a de facto leader of a small band of “wholes” being kept alive only to kill each other as entertainment for the Flight Killer. It’s this cross that allows Charlie a path to redemption, if he chooses to take hold of it.
What would you do, and how far would you go, for love? For Charlie, what starts as a kinda sorta cautious adventure to save his dog becomes a life threatening quest to save a world. I’m sitting here already dreading the Thanksgiving drop off at the kennel for my demon dog (he’s a goooood boy, I swear. Just, for me and no one else) and I will miss him to pieces for the few days we’ll be apart, but yeah I’m not sure I’m ready to take on an actual demon as the price of admission to the Fountain of Youth.
As so often with King’s books, this one is engrossing and fast-paced and worth a read under a blanket on a couch with your beverage of choice. There’s a first, second and third act, which now that I’m finished and can look back on the book as a whole, feels intentional even if it’s not specified. And from the looks of it, the story is already optioned and will likely show up streaming somewhere soon, so hopefully I won’t have to wait too long to be visited by Charlie and Radar again.
If you like fantasy with a side of terror (and metaphors as the day is long), Fairy Tale is for you. Just look twice the next time you check out any abandoned sheds.