Readers of this column may have gathered that I am what’s called a fan of Stephen King, the novelist who lives in Bangor. What he does, he does exceptionally well. Usually. There are exceptions.

There was, for example, “Cell.” For me the call got dropped in the opening pages, which launch the book off a cliff into one gruesome, essentially contextless scene after another. Before that, when I was living in Unity, I got about halfway through “The Tommyknockers” before one day (apparently) forgetting about it and never picking it up again.

I guess you have an idea where this is going.

The clue to my experience of “Sleeping Beauties,” which the master co-wrote with his son Owen, is the four-page list of characters in the front of the book. You know you’re in for something when a characters list is included. It means some editor thought the readers would have trouble keeping them all straight. That hypothetical editor was correct, because this book is not the “War and Peace” of American horror fiction.

In the first 75 pages or so, character after character comes and goes, most of them to no discernible plot purpose. The sketches call attention in sometimes turgid prose to details of backstory, thoughts and farts, 90 percent of which the Average Reader is unlikely to remember later.

Along the way, an unnamed woman of preternatural presence enters a trailer and horrifically murders a man who appears to deserve it, in the general sense of men being hopelessly mean, ignorant morons. The woman is collared by the Dooling County cops, whose department is run by a no-nonsense female sheriff. In between more characters, the cops figure out something extremely weird is going on here. Meanwhile, the local prison psychiatrist’s life and interpersonal numbness are also detailed. Along with some of the prisoners.

Soon, women everywhere are falling asleep. The men, overall, start to lose their grip. Being a man, I too lost my grip on this book. Other reviews I’ve read indicate I’m not alone. But if your experience turns out to be that the planet-threatening overpopulation of characters in “Sleeping Beauties” coheres with anything like the grace of the array of characters in, say, “The Stand,” please let me know.


By coincidence I was reading, at the same time this winter, another book about women struggling with oppressive masculinity. “All Is Beauty Now” is Sarah Faber’s first novel, which she wrote while living in Surry.

This is a serious literary novel about a family near Rio de Janeiro who suffer the loss — or more accurately, the disappearance — of their promising, well-loved 19-year-old daughter, Luiza, in a swimming mishap. The story traces the struggles of each of Luiza’s parents and sisters to come to terms with her absence. The father, Hugo, has mental health issues which exacerbate everyone’s grief, and we learn in Virginia Woolf-like internal detail how those psychological turbulences play out.

Each chapter offers the point of view of one of the characters, including the lost Luiza. Social and family events, from seemingly incidental to life-changing, are depicted in close internal narrative that evokes what I call the insulated distance: The narration is so closely bound to the character’s internal world that the reader (or I, at least) feels distant and insulated, even isolated, from external events. You feel like you’re inhabiting enclosed spaces inside the character’s head, rather than in the physical scene. This effect transpires from microscopic exploration of the finest details and tissues of the characters’ emotional and intellectual realities. “All Is Beauty Now” should be an absorbing read for those who gravitate to this kind of subject matter and approach.

Sarah Faber now lives on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, with her family. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing and English from Concordia University.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.