Friday, September 23, 2011

What the…? A Review of Stephen King’s ‘Mile 81’

By Chip Schrader
Book Reviewer
Stephen King continues his experiment with publishing with “Mile 81,” a story that is published strictly as an eBook to be downloaded to a Nook, iPad, Kindle or any of the other e-readers edging their way into the market. King is known to play with publishing formats: electronic, serial (“The Green Mile”), and comic and graphic novel re-releases (“The Dark Tower”), to name a few. With this eBook, it is evident that King is still having fun writing and publishing his stories, and he is taking his fans with him for the joyride.
As any Maine resident knows, Exit 81, under the new exit naming system, stands at 81 miles north of the Maine border on I-95. The whole story takes place at the abandoned rest area on this exit.
Long-time readers will be taken back a few years with this story. King’s main character is a ten-year-old boy, Pete Simmons, who wants to prove he is rough enough to hang out with his brother’s gang. With a half-full bottle of vodka and his favorite magnifying glass packed in his bag, he decides to hide out in the abandoned shack at this exit. For a ten-year-old, Pete has a precocious knowledge of the female anatomy, and a sense of mischief that is almost impossible to believe.
The chapters of this novella, clocking in at the equivalent of 80 print pages, are divided into the characters that will meet their untimely demise at this exit, and the make of their car. For example, Chapter 3 is named “Julianne Vernon (’05 Dodge Ram).” Known as the horse lady, Julianne stops at the exit curious about a Prius parked with a mucky station wagon. As time moves along, she gets eaten by that muddy wagon. Yes, she is eaten by a car.
The story is strange, not unlike “Christine,” which he references in this story, but it works. “Mile 81” is gruesome, bizarre, and silly, but also inventive and fun. King has an imagination that makes most of his contemporaries scoff in envy, perhaps the reason for the literary snobbery that he has been the target of in the past. Sometimes King goes out to the edge – a car eating people isn’t exactly in our realm of believability – but he weaves the campiest concepts into the kind of fun storytelling that hearkens back to old Americana.
Moreover, as he did in “Under the Dome,” he doesn’t just mercilessly slaughter character after character without a care. The characters in each segment are believable, and the reader pities their demise. In each character’s backstory, King reminds us these are loved ones with real souls who have reached out to others in their lifetimes. There is a sense of tragedy in their passing, this is where King’s genius as a horror writer shines through. He never forgets these people are human. The grisly horrific occurrences are actually episodes of high drama that ends these everyday lives.
The narration is quirky, preadolescent, filthy and very funny. At times the pop culture references and youthful tone seem a little forced, but still attention grabbing. To figure out why in the world (and how) this car is eating people is the driving force to finish reading the story, the answer is pure campy delight, and possibly predictable to select King fans. The style of storytelling and bizarre plot are classic Stephen King that references to the early short stories, novellas and novels that put him and the state of Maine on the modern literary map. Not his best work to date, but highly recommended!
File Size: 213 KB. Print Length: 80 pages. Publisher: Scribner (September 1, 2011).
Photo caption: (Courtesy e-book cover image of Stephen King’s “Mile 81”)