Finders Keepers by Stephen King (Scribner, 2015)
Stephen King and His Ten Bears
In 1973, before Carrie exploded onto the literary scene, Stephen King published an article in Writers Digest Magazine entitled “The Horror Market and the Ten Bears.” This simple piece explained the modus operandi of all horror writers by identifying the ten major fears (“bears” as King named them) employed in writing enduringly scarey stuff.
In a nutshell, here are the ten “bears” that King identifies, and once you are aware of them as a reader, you will never look at a horror story the same way again. The ten bears are: fear of the dark, fear of squishy things, fear of deformity, fear of snakes, fear of rats, fear of closed in places, fear of insects (especially spiders, flies, beetles), fear of death, fear of others (paranoia), and fear for someone else.
I read the King article when it was first published, and it has provided the framework by which I measure all horror fiction, but particularly King's. It's my check-off list, “Yeah, guy got an axe in the face, that's fear of deformity, fear of death, fear of others, check.” Of course, the ten bears can apply to the writing of hordes of other authors as well, particularly J.K. Rowlings in the Harry Potter series.
But here's the thing, for me it's always about how King uses the “bears” to create novels that are suspenseful and horrific. A lot of people don't care for the supernatural aspect of King's work and don't bother to read him. That's okay, King, I admit, is not for everyone.
However, if you are a fan, read Finders Keepers as soon as you can. It's unputdownable. It's the Stephen King of old (The Shining, The Stand, The Firestarter). The novel begins with the despicable murder of a reclusive author (think J.D Salinger), who wrote the definitive trilogy about an adolescent struggling to find himself and then retreated from the world and refused to revisit the filthy chaos of publishing, reviewers, fans, and (shudder) film. For years rumors had circulated that John Rothstein, creator of Jimmy Gold, (think Holden Caufield) wrote prolifically in private and also kept a stash of cash hidden in his New England hideaway. That's an invitation for truly bad guys to come and visit one's home in the middle of the night.
And that is exactly how Finders Keepers opens in 1978. Three thieves invade Rothstein's home, two of them particularly piqued by the smell of money, but one of them, Morris Bellamy. is driven by the need to know what had become of Jimmy Gold. The robbery takes a very nasty turn and Morris is left to fend for himself, along with the goods from Rothstein's house, which he ultimately buries in a trunk near his childhood home.
The novel then jumps to 2009 with another horrific event, which is quite familiar to King devotees. It is actually the opening scene of King's Mr. Mercedes, published a year ago. A long line of hopeless hopefuls are waiting for an opportunity at a job fair. Tom Sauber, father of two, a boy named Pete and a daughter, Tina, stands for hours in line with his friend, Todd. Suddenly a car appears. King writes, “For a moment the car with the yellow fog-lamps stayed where it was. Then it shot forward. Not to the left, toward the now full-to-overflowing parking lot, but directly at the people penned within the maze of tape and posts.” (p.23) The car smashes into Tom, changing the course of his life and the existence of his wife and children forever. They are now on course to end in an horrific collision in the future with Morris Bellamy. Obviously, there is plot and character crossover between Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers that is reminiscent of the way King wrote about his old favorite, Castle Rock.
Stephen King's novel Misery is about a disgruntled fan (Annie Wilkes) who by an accident of fate becomes the host of the writer of her favorite bodess buster novels by Paul Sheldon. The things that Annie does to Paul (hint: fear of dismemberment) caused me a few sleepless nights. In the climax of Finders Keepers when Bellamy and young Paul are dead-locked in a powerful confrontation. Paul knows where the Rothstein notebooks, including two unpublished novels in the Jimmy Gold saga, are hidden, and is using every dastardly trick to force Paul into revealing the location of the “gold.”
Bellamy shouts, “He (Rothstein) sent Jimmmy Gold to hell and called it advertsising! And by the way, who are you to be so high and mighty? You tried to sell the notebooks yourself! I didn't want to sell them. Maybe once, when I was young and stupid, but not anymore. I want to read them. They're mine. I want to run my hand over the ink and feel the words he set down in his own hand.” (p.350), Bellamy's passion about Rothstein feeds his motivation to do the most awful things, just as Annie Wilkes had done to Paul Sheldon. There is not playing here; Stephen King is making his case for the power that good writing has over adoring and driven fans. (Did I not stand in line for hours with my teenage daughter, wearing a wristband that identified us as having purchased Harry Potter Book 7 weeks in advance, and then stay up all night reading the tome together?)
As the situation becomes more grave for Paul he has an epiphany, with which he tantalizes his rival, Bellamy. “Rothstein dared to follow a character who went in a direction Red Lips (Bellamy) didn't like. Yes, that was it. He did it out of his own core belief: that the writing was somehow more important than the writer.” (p.403) This important line could truly be what Stephen King would want carved as the epitaph on his tombstone. It is the writing that endures, long after the author is buried and gone. It is the writing that is important, not the author. Succumbing to that idea, the reader understands why Finders Keepers is peppered with quotes from classic works of literature and references to many of the great writers (particularly Harper Lee who has been the greatest recluse since Salinger and King is clearly paying homage to).
I haven't even touched on the other characters who round out this story, but they're all alive and ready to be discovered by those who choose to meander into the dark side of Stephen King. And although Finders Keepers appears to be straight out horror, at the tale-end (pun intended), there is a flicker of homage to Carrie and the King take on tele-kinesis. Let me leave you with this little teaser.
Read Finders Keepers.