Five stars for the first half. One star for the last 200 pages, wherein King drags his ass like a dog infested with roundworms.
Cell is a five-star read all the way up to the halfway mark. You got crazies running around, nom nom nomming on tender bits, and a likable crew of misfits trying to stay alive. Underneath it all, King is stoking the fires of 9/11, trying to keep the fear alive a full five years after the towers fell in a half-ass attempt to scare you with real-world issues. The Phonies (I do not type that word with a straight face) speak in a garbled, almost-arabic language. Slap turbans on King's version of zombies and you have a strong argument for racist propaganda. Did King do this on purpose? Mayhap he did. Mayhap he didn't. Either way, 'MURICA!
There's this climax that takes place around midway through the book. King shits the bed after that. What action you do find on the downhill side of this novel is tired, rehashed bullshit from the first half of the book. It's honestly like reading two different books. King even repeats the big scene in the middle further down the road, but by then, the cool factor has disappeared. You can't have barbecue every night, friends and neighbors. It's fucking great on Friday, especially when beer's involved, but more of a pain in the ass on Saturday because you're still hungover from the night before and that goddamn grill is making you sweat pure ethanol.
This is either my second or third read through of Cell. Can't remember, but it's certainly not my first. Because of this, I let Campbell Scott read it to me. He does a fine job at the narration, but the production quality is iffy at times. Sounds levels are fucked. He'll be really low one minute (not whispering, just low) and then he'll be loud (not yelling, just loud). Sometimes, the tone of his narration changes, as if he's started reading as another character. I still don't think this is his fault. I think it's the quality of the recording, which, in my honest opinion, is utter dogshit.
Before we hit the Conspiracy Theory section of our program, I must say that I firmly believe King got in way over his head with this book. There's a reason why The Stand is 1200-pages long and Cell is only 450. Maybe Cell started as a short story or a novella and it just kept on going, or maybe he always meant for it to end the way it did. Either way, the final product makes it seem as if King just got tired of writing this particular book and stopped. I can dig open endings, but to follow Clay on his hunt only to receive the ending we get here... I don't know, man, that's kind of a dick move. Oh well, it's Uncle Stevie. Whatcha gon' do, right?
Here there be spoilers for all of King's books. Only click on "view spoiler" if you've read through King's entire catalog. I take no responsibility for your sadness and despair at having something spoiled because you can't take instruction, ya muppet.
Obvious Tie Ins:
Charlie the Choo Choo (the Dark Tower series)
The Dark Wanderer comic (obvious nods to the Dark Tower universe, especially since they are graphic novels and this came out around the time MARVEL started working on their DT comics)
Conspiracy theory: I believe this version of the King-verse is another beam altogether from the beam of the Bear and Turtle.The Stand happens on one beam, as witnessed in Wizard and Glass, and Cell on another. This is how you can have two end-of-the-world scenarios in one universe.
In summation: I was hoping the sudden stop at the end would be eased by the knowledge of what was to come, but it didn't happen. Cell is still a three-star read and I'm sure it will remain that way for all my days. Especially since I see no reason for me to ever read this again. This one is fine for a first read through, as the ending can be a little shocking in a "Wait... what???" kind of way, but the novel definitely doesn't withstand the test of time, nor does it withstand a second read through.
Final Judgment: Only slightly better than AT&T.