I know, I know! Where the hell have I been?
Well, I’ve been busy traveling….and studying and working and all those other boring little real world things. In fact, I’m supposed to be studying for my Advanced Rudiments exam at this very moment. Instead, I chose to spend 3 hours on a blog post that will more than likely just be one long rant and make the Stephen King fandom stone me or egg my house.
****A minor disclaimer, this post has some cussin’ so if you’re offended by the occasional f-bomb, you might not want to continue****.
So, without further ado (Yes, it’s ado not adieu)…..
The first thing I must mention about Mr.Mercedes is that it’s not a horror story, at least not in traditional Stephen King fashion with aliens, ghosts or giant spiders. Instead, Mr.Mercedes starts off with a terrifying act that’s much more realistic. For me, having read many of King’s stuff recently, his openings tend to be very good or very bad. Either he sucks you in brilliantly after just a few pages or takes 10 chapters for anything interesting to happen. Thankfully, he gets right to the point, however the dialogue felt stilted and unrealistic.
The story starts in 2009, at the height of the recession. Hundreds of people are lined up outside of a civic center, waiting for a job fair to open. Most of them have been there for hours, chatting about how desperate they are for employment, how badly the economy hit yada yada. As relatable situations go, King can’t do much better than that.
And then, mercifully, the scary shit happens. A Mercedes comes hurtling out of the early morning fog and starts mowing people down. It’s scary because of how easy it is to visualize and potentially pull off. It’s the kind of senseless violence that we see more of all the time, and King, for the most part, plays into that perfectly.
Simply put, it’s something that could have happened in ’09 and definitely something that could happen tomorrow.
A year later, the man dubbed the Mercedes killer is still at large. Bill Hodges, the lead detective on the case, has just retired when he starts getting letters from the killer. He’s taunted and threatened, Mr. Mercedes daring Hodges to find him and close the unsolved case before more people die. It’s a cat and mouse game between cop and killer, so we’re hardly dealing with an original concept here.
As main players go, the killer himself is the most interesting. He’s got a Norman Bates thing going on with his mother, which is seriously creepy. More than that, he’s obsessed with killing for the sake of killing, while getting his name down in history. With all the recent shootings done by people who wanted to go out with a bang and get their slice of infamy, this is another thing that is more or less a real world possibility.
He was the book’s only redeeming quality.
One of my favourite things about King’s writing is (usually) his ability to bring a character to life and have readers identify with them. He has the uncanny ability of doing in 5 lines what lesser authors can’t manage in an entire novel; creating a convincing character.
But in Mr.Mercedes? Nope.
Not even close!
There was not a single fucking character that felt anywhere close to his usual standards of character writing. These were flat, cliched, chess pieces moved into position to progress from point A to C. Nothing more, though sometimes quite a bit less. Let’s take a quick look at the first two characters: Augie and Janice. They meet while camping out at the job fair. The logical assumption would be that both characters are unemployed and looking for work, right? Yet Augie feels the need to explain what the term downsized means- “the twenty-first-century way of saying I got canned.” This needless explanation and confirmation of the most obvious things was such a waste of paper! This book is about as subtle as a boot in the face- and not in the pull-no-punches way, but in a bond-villain-explains-it-all kind of way, where there’s no conversation to be had, nor was there any ambiguity about anything.
Then we meet Janice, who is supposed to be…. I have no idea. I think we as readers were meant to feel sorry for her, all young and naive and unemployed with a little baby and few prospects… but then I think about how ridiculous she sounds apologizing to and for the world and all of history. Was that honestly supposed to make her feel likable?
These are the first two cardboard chess pieces put into place, intended as sacrificial victims to tweak out empathy glands and start us getting all amped up for someone to take down this sadistic killer.
And then there are lines like this:
“Do you have a car?”
“Yup. It’s a 2004 Toyota Camry which is burgundy (a shade of red) and I recently drove it it after I started it with my key that I use to turn it on. Also recently saw a movie with Will Smith in it! It was at the drive-in which is two blocks down on the left past the Burger King where Annie works the night shift and makes the best Whoppers. Also on that block there is a movie theater (but that’s not where I saw the movie!), a pet store, three Starbucks locations, and a Yayogurt factory. 15 minutes from here. I like cheese. Kumquat.”
Seriously.What the actual fuck? Did Stephen King farm this book out to Dean Koontz, or the gardener, or the ice cream man?! It’s quite frankly the only explanation I have for how this makes any sense. And yes, it did occur to me that maybe I’ve misinterpreted the entire book and there’s some big obscure point that I missed. If your reading this and you disagree, please enlighten me because my poor brain cannot fathom why in the hell this is in print.
I love you Stephen King. Truly you are one of my absolute favourite authors but I really really HATED this book.