THE TALISMAN by Stephen King


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The quasi-cosmic, picaresque journey of twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer--across America on foot, "flipping" in and out of a parallel universe called the "Territories"--in quest of a magical talisman that will save his widowed mother (a former B-movie star) from dying of cancer. Jack's trek begins on the Atlantic coast, where an old black man at a seedy "Funworld" tells him about the Territories, The Talisman, and the "Twinners" (parallel-universe doppelgangers); and these first chapters recall the murky hoo-hah of Straub's opaque Shadowland--as Jack learns that his nemesis is his dead father's evil business partner Morgan Sloat, known in the Territories as "Morgan of Orris." Still, Jack plunges ahead--walking west but flipping into the Territories whenever Morgan's pursuit becomes lethal. . . and vice versa. In the real world his ordeals include: slave-labor at an upstate N.Y. tavern; harassment from pederasts; dreadful days in a neo-Diekensian "Home" for delinquent boys. In the semi-medieval Territories, he faces tree-monsters and assorted "thing" attackers--but also acquires a devoted, brave sidekick: a werewolf named Wolf, who travels with Jack into the real world. (This 150-page section, midway through, is prime alien-fiction à la King--funny, touching, complete with a Carrie-like outburst of retaliation from poor, sweet Wolf.) And eventually, after Wolf's noble demise, lack reaches the midwestern prep school of chum Richard Sloat (son of Morgan)--who'll reluctantly accompany him the rest of the paranoid-peril way: across the radioactive Blasted Lands on a magical train, then flipping into real-world California. . . where The Talisman awaits ("COME TO ME! COME NOW!") in a black hotel. Fans of King's horror, then, will probably be irritated by the pretentious, verbose, psycho-gothic/philosophical fantasy here--which involves coming-of-age, the Twinner gestalt, the sinful secrets of Jack's dead dad, and heavy good-vs.-evil breathing. (See King's The Stand as well as lesser Straub.) At the other extreme is a lot of King-style sentimentality and jokey vulgarity--with Jack's mind implausibly embracing four decades of pop-culture allusions. But, with some gripping sequences along the way and the double-whammy byline, this grandiose, meandering saga--echoing Oz, Alice, and Huck Finn--is sure to reach a massive audience. . . and satisfy about half of it.
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0345444884
Page count: 774pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1984


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