You may skip ahead to Actual Review if you haven't a fuck to give about my experience while reading Stephen King's Insomnia and only want to hear about the book. Yes, I put personal shit in my reviews. I won't hold it against you if you want to get down to brass tax... tacks... screw it, you know what I mean.
Prefatory Matters: I lost a twenty-year-old book during this reread. Most of you have the seen the picture of my gutted hardcover copy of Insomnia. If you haven’t I’ll include it at the end of this post as well. Total loss of containment, folks. About thirty pages loosed themselves from the glue and became individual souls. I have a 284 page section, and another section of about 400 pages, and a little bit in the middle that just said “Fuck it” and struck out for the territories. All in all, a sad day. Luckily, I have another one. Same edition. Same year. All’s good. Oh, and a quick warning to owners of first edition Insomnias: the glue the printing press used back in 1994 is faulty. This separation is a common problem with this edition of the book. Keep your copy on a shelf. Do not touch. This has been a public service announcement brought to you in part by the letter E.
This reread brought back loads of memories concerning a tumultuous time in my life. I'll explain more in A Decade with King: 1985-1994. I'm planning to create something timeless out of the remains of my copy. I'll share what comes of it.
Actual Review: Insomnia is a difficult book to review without spoilers. Hell, the publisher didn’t even know what to do with the cover of this one so they just put King’s name on the front along with the title in alternating red and white. It’s even a difficult novel to categorize. I guess it’s horror. Maybe it’s speculative fiction… or perhaps lit fic… or maybe bizarro… Fuck if I know, dude. I will say this much, it’s a fun ride.
The only problem with this book is the requirement that you must have read the Dark Tower series to fully understand some of the plot. I mean, you can get through it without such knowledge, but it’s a bit confusing in places if you don’t have said knowledge. Roland Deschain is mentioned three times in this book. I tried to look at these sections as an outsider, as someone who has not read the DT books even though I have (numerous times), and I feel comfortable saying that the sections which mention Roland and the Tower would make zero sense to someone who is new to the King-verse. There is no context, nothing to draw off of. In fact, there is a paragraph toward the end of the book that says: “Worlds which had trembled in their orbits now steadied, and in one of those worlds, in a desert that was the apotheosis of all deserts, a man named Roland turned over in his bedroll and slept easily once again beneath the alien constellations.” Imagine, if you will, that you’ve never read a Dark Tower novel (or, shit, maybe you haven’t) and you just happened to pick up Insomnia because your buddy said, “Yo, kid, peep this thick-ass book. Looks legit good, right? I mean, who the fuck doesn’t love 800 pages cloaked in a sexy-as-fuck red and white jacket!?!?!?!?” If you’re that “kid”, that Roland fucker means absolutely nothing to you. It seems pointless. Sad panda.
But for me? Son, I live for that shit. I love the DT references, all of them. I dig that shit in my heart of hearts. I’m the asshole in the coffee shop that won’t shut up with the “Yeah, but did you catch this bit?” comments. I know, I know, I hate me too, but it’s the truth. As far as I am aware there is no other author who has created a vaster universe, one that crosses every genre line in the business. King has written it all, and everything he writes puzzle-pieces back together in some way. Dig it, man. Or, you know, don’t dig it. But I’m still going to nerd out whenever I stumble across the Beam.
Yes, this book is a little longwinded in spots, but what King book isn’t? (Dolores Claiborne) Yes, it references the Dark Tower, but what King novel doesn’t? (Mr. Mercedes … seriously, so far it’s the only novel of his that doesn’t reference Mid-World in some way.) But it’s also one of his most imaginative stories. I kinda feel that Insomnia is an 800-page wink-and-nod to the King-verse fans out there. Shit, dudettes, even the shoe Gage loses in Pet Semetery is in this book, not to mention entire ass-loads of It, Derry, and Pennywise references. Does all this bog down the story? No. Are there going to be parts you don’t understand if you haven’t read Roland’s quest or trip-trapped through the story of The Loser’s Club? Yes. Does any of this detract from the fun of this book? Nope. Not in the least. There is a well-plotted, expertly-honed story under all the referencing and fan service. This is King doing what King does best. Entertaining the people who bought tickets to see him in concert.
I will be skipping my normal Hidden Gems and Obvious Tie-Ins sections because I’m saving them for my A Decade with King: 1985-1994 post, which will be out April 1, 2015. There’s a lot this time around, and I don’t wanna type it twice. But I will leave you with this food for thought:
Spoilers for several King books. Click “view spoiler” at your own risk:(show spoiler)
In summation: A King novel for King fans. I don’t suggest anyone start with Insomnia, but I recommend it to all fans of the Dark Tower series and It. A mashup of everything fans love and hate about King rolled up in a Derry burrito and seasoned with Mid-World.
Final Judgment: Worth losing sleep over.