Review of Stephen King’s “Later”
When we think of Stephen King, images of elevators full of blood, clowns luring children towards sewer drains, and a prom queen drenched in blood come to mind. He has become a cultural icon in the world of literature and movies through his contribution to horror. But it isn’t just the horror that has captured the hearts of people, for some of his other popular works include “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.”
King has claimed that his strict work ethic involves writing 2,000 words every single day, so a new book of his appears almost every year.
His most recent novel, published by Hard Case Crime in March, is entitled “Later.” This is King’s third novel with the publisher, succeeding “The Colorado Kid” in 2005 and “Joyland” in 2013. It centers around a boy named Jamie, who can communicate with the dead. With this power, he has to solve a mystery before it's too late or risk the dire consequences.
Child protagonists are nothing new in King novels, such as “It,” “Stand By Me,” and “The Institute.” But what King does so well with these kinds of characters is help bring the reader back to that age. Through his words, he is able to capture the feeling of helplessness that comes when no adults believe you, while also capturing the fears that children have of what lies in the dark. Once again, he is able to capture this with the character of Jamie. While there are elements that fit into the horror/crime genre, this works more so as a coming-of-age story as it becomes clear that it’s less about solving the crime and more about Jamie overcoming his fears.
There has been a criticism of sorts when it comes to the basic premise. Many have compared it to “The Sixth Sense.” Both stories involve children with the extraordinary ability of talking to the dead, but this book is very different from that 1999 film.
While there are enjoyable elements, this isn’t a great display of King’s talents. It doesn’t offer up any deep metaphors or memorable moments. Instead, it feels like light pulp that can be enjoyed over the course of a day or two. And with the company of Hard Case Crimes being about publishing novels in the style of 50s pulp, this probably is what King was going for.
The characterization can be minimal, but King is still capable of having readers connect with the characters, allowing us to feel like we are in the pages with them.
If there’s a problem with the novel, it’s found in the last 30 pages. Some criticize King for not sticking the landing when it comes to the endings of his stories, but that’s not the case here. The first two-thirds of this 245 page novel serve up a fun adventure with a light-hearted mother-son relationship, but the last thirty pages manage to come off as anti-climatic, rushed, and even unnecessary. Perhaps King had a deadline to make, but the story would have improved upon another draft.
But, in the end King is still a master storyteller, one of the greats of his craft. We are living in a world where one of these greats is still pumping out books every year (he has another one coming out in August). Someone who hasn’t read any of King’s books shouldn’t start here, but King fans should still find the tale enjoyable.