I am enjoying what I think is perhaps Stephen King’s best novel, ever.
The opinion on Stephen King’s best work differs depending on who you talk to; but for me, it will always be Bag of Bones.
It’s the one novel of Kings that I’ve read more than any other (nine times) and each time it’s just as wonderful and beautiful and engaging as it was the first time I opened up my hardcover copy ten years ago.
I think it was the beginning of King moving away from horror and toward a more literary style of writing. Hearts in Atlantis, Lisey’s Story and Duma Key (his most literary works) would come later, but Bag of Bones was the beginning of something, the capturing of time in the pages of a book.
I remember when I first read Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. I was on welfare at the time and living in a boarding house with nine other people. It was this big sprawling Victorian house that still had the servants quarters in the attic and the servants stairs to the kitchen. I remember going to the bookstore early in the morning and spending more money than I had on the book.
Even though it was fall, I sat outside on the front porch of the big old house and opened my book to the first page. I remember smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee; but I don’t remember much else except the words.
It was the words, the language that transported me.
I had thought that I was going to read a story of a writer haunted by ghosts. In a sense, that’s what the book was about. But in reality, Bag of Bones was and is about a man haunted by himself, haunted by the past.
It was the most beautiful book by King that I had ever read. I felt for and ached for Mike Noonan, newly widowed writer of thriller novels. Newly struggling with a writers block so intense that he could not write a word.
I remember thinking when I brought that book home that it was so big, that it was huge. That it would take me forever to finish it (and thus worth the fourty some dollars I had spent on it).
The book lasted me three days.
Three glorious days where I was held spellbound, enraptured, in rapture. Bag of Bones for me was more than a novel. It was a gift. While reading Bag of Bones, I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to see if I could write something as good as Bag of Boens.
I’m still trying.
That hardcover copy was lent out, only to be lent out to someone else. It was lost to me, never to be seen again. And so, when the book came out in paperback, I bought a copy. I read that copy twice a year for many years, always saving it for a dark, rainy day. It somehow seemed appropriate, reading Bag of Bones when the rain was falling down around me.
It would call to me on my shelf, begging to be read. I swear I could hear the book sigh with contentment when I took it off the shelf and held it in my hands.
Not learning my lesson the first time, I lent it out to someone who either lost it or lent it out to someone else. It was never clear what happened to the book. Suffice it to say that I felt like I had lost a part of me. After all, it was Bag of Bones that showed me what I wanted to do with my life.
It’s been a couple years since I’ve read Bag of Bones. So imagine my surprise when I saw a trade paperback edition on the shelves in the bookstore yesterday.
I had no reason being in the bookstore. I had little money but, when I saw Bag of Bones, sitting there nestled in between other paperbacks, I thought again of when I had first read the novel. I looked at the cover: 10th Anniversary Edition.
Ten years? That couldn’t be right, I thought. It can’t have been ten years. But I counted back and indeed it has been. Time flies when you’re having fun. I picked up the book and stroked the cover lightly, letting the memories flood back into my consciousness.
It was not lost on me that I found myself in much the same situation as I did ten years ago: Staring at the gorgeous white cover with little money to my name but knowing that I would leave the store a few dollars poorer but all the more richer with that book under my arm.
And what a book it is. Bag of Bones reads as fresh ten years later as it did ten years past. What I love most about the novel, I think, is its gothic nature. Mike Noonan, trying to find the power to write again by delving into his past. As a writer myself, I identify with Mike, with his struggle. With his search for peace.
There is some bonus material enclosed: we get to read an interview about why Stephen King wrote Bag of Bones and learn a bit more about what he thinks of the novel. We also get a short story, The Cat From Hell, from Kings upcoming collection of short stories Just After Sunset which will hit the shelves on November 11th.
But for me, it’s not the bonus material (though great it is) that makes the new edition of Bag of Bones so incredible. For me, then and now, it’s about the story, the language, the power of words and redemption from the ghosts of your past.
For, in the end, we are all bags of bones.