“Finders Keepers: A Novel”
By Stephen King
Scribner, New York, N.Y.
June 2015; 448 pages
Stephen King’s latest monster is a book freak.
Avid reader Morris Bellamy grew up in a highly literate home surrounded by a Pultizer-nominated mother. But somehow, his advantages did not lead to the successes predicted by sociologists — who have not yet tumbled to the fact that the devil is an expert at using our own strengths as weapons against us.
Morrie, as “Finders Keepers” opens, is hyper-irrationally enraged with the novelist John Rothstein because of Rothstein’s treatment of his character Jimmy Gold in a (fictive) trilogy of novels wildly popular in the 1950s and ’60s. Morrie is outraged because Rothstein turned Gold from a romantic postwar Kerouackian anti-hero into a suburban couch potato. So one fateful day in 1978 he sets out for upstate New Hampshire with two ne’er-do-well companions to collect, from the reclusive Rothstein, a toll for his anger.
Hmm. If this reminds you of Annie Wilkes, of “Misery,” I think you’re on the right track. Throughout “Finders Keepers” is the clear and present danger of multiple metafictional associations – intimations of the author’s own works not excluded. For “Finders Keepers,” while it’s a straightforward thriller that, like many of Stephen King’s recent books, could be turned into a movie script with minimal work, seems also to be a catalog of the author’s literary influences.
There are scores of references — many passing, some elucidated – to books and authors commonly read in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s by college English majors, among whom were me and Steve King. All the standard literary idols are mentioned: Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor, Tolkien, Camus, Frost, Eliot, Ginsberg, Roth, Welty, Vonnegut, Sherwood Anderson, Steinbeck, Harper Lee, D.H. Lawrence, Brautigan(!), and canonic oldies such as Melville, Hawthorne, Zola, Twain. Poe sneaks in early disguised as “The Gold Bug” — a story about buried treasure.
The titles of Rothstein’s novels “The Runner,” “The Runner Sees Action” and “The Runner Slows Down” sound suspiciously similar to “Rabbit, Run,” “Rabbit Redux,” “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest” by John Updike, whose protagonist, like Jimmy Gold, can be, well, disheartening. (Note that Updike’s series consists of four books — actually five — not three.) A short story of Rothstein’s, “The Perfect Banana Pie,” appears to have more in common with another widely read story of the 1950s — “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” — than just their authors hiding out in New Hampshire. And there is the fascinating recurrent reference to Leslie Fiedler’s book “Love and Death in the American Novel,” which was hot reading among English professors in the 1960s and ’70s, before the poststructuralist catastrophes drowned literary studies.
Anyway, Morrie gets up to some pretty nasty stuff in New Hampshire and garners a literary gold mine that it turns out he’s, well, unable to enjoy right away. This book is nicknamed the second novel in the “Bill Hodges Trilogy,” so we fast-forward three-plus decades to the years after the City Center Massacre in Ohio, of which we heard a heart-wrenching account in “Mr. Mercedes.”
One of the families afflicted by that mad rampage has nurtured a young book freak of its own, Pete Saubers, who is the diametric moral opposite of Bellamy. He too gets hypnotized, disappointed and motivated by the Rothstein trilogy. And like Bellamy, his own strengths work diabolically against him.
This all sets itself up in rather a leisurely way, for a King novel. About midway through, ex-cop Bill Hodges (along with his sidekicks from Hodges No. 1) finds himself scrambling between Morrie, Pete and Rothstein’s legacy — all accelerating toward a classic Kingian confluence.
Supernatural element: absent (well, mostly), as in “Mr. Mercedes.” Characterization: vintage King. Plot: prototypical Kinglike twists, turns and tumbles. Literary value: This is a book about and for book lovers; whether it is in part an aerial bombardment of people who love money more than they love books, I have no idea. I hope so.
I do know that Stephen King, as I have observed here and other places, is extremely good at what he does. What just about any book freak hopes for.
Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].