King calls in a hit with new thriller

Robert Taylor


Credit: Carl Schierhorn

For the first 150 pages, Cell had the potential to be a masterpiece. Since Dreamcatcher, Stephen King’s work has slowly but surely become less and less enjoyable – so, to not be able to put down the book for the first few acts was a delightful change of pace.

But then it begins to unravel; slowly at first, then faster and faster until you can’t even tell you are reading a book by the same author. Gone are the witticisms and terrifying situations of the first half of the book, and in its place is preachy, overdramatic dreck.

Clayton Riddell is visiting New York and has just sold his first graphic novel for an obscene amount of money, and he can’t wait to get home to tell his wife and son about it. He’s been having marital problems lately and hopes the influx of cash with help to heal some of the wounds.

But then something happens. People who are talking on cell phones just appear to go crazy, attacking one another and anyone who gets in their way. New York is reduced to a symphony of explosions and screams in moments, and things are only going to get worse.

The description of the book seemed a little too much like The Stand, but Cell is different in both tone and style. King doesn’t pull a From A Buick 8 here, for you King aficionados out there.


By Stephen King

Published by Scribner

Pages 384

Stater rating (out of five): ***½

King’s description of the “pulse” that causes people to go mad is some of the best work of his career. Jumping between hilarity and terror, sometimes within the same sentence, I would rank the opening acts right up there with The Shining and Needful Things.

In fact, if King would have written this story as a novella, I would rank it with those works. But then the narrative shifts to Riddell’s attempt to get back to his home in Maine and find his wife and son, who may or may not have been using a cell phone when the “pulse” took place, and the story falls apart.

The second half of the book isn’t all bad, there are still some of King’s trademark wit and nail-biting sequences to be found, but next to the quality of the first half, it’s just dead in the water.

Readers don’t need King to pound more symbolism and imagery about pop culture, the information age and cell phones into their minds when they are already reading a book that is one big overblown metaphor about cell phone users being zombies, but that’s what we got.

Despite Cell‘s shortcomings, there are still images that won’t easily leave me, such as a young woman repeatedly throwing herself into a telephone pole and King’s description of what her face looked like after.

Unlike most of King’s work, Cell probably won’t translate well into film. No movie can capture the first acts of the book as well as King can describe them.

King does a good job of making the ringing of a cell phone unnerving to readers, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear one without shaking in my boots. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take this call .

Contact ALL reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].