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Book Review: Cell by Stephen King

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It used to be years ago I could pick up a new Stephen King novel and look forward to a thrilling escape for a week. King tended to write tomes at least 500 pages long, filled with complex back-stories, parallel plots, flawed and likeable characters, and wry social commentary. Not so with his latest release, Cell, which is as disappointing as a 45-second roller-coaster you wait in line two hours to ride.

Throughout the narrative, mostly told from the point of view of a comic-strip artist Clay Riddell, seeps an underlying cynicism and indifference, unlike most of King’s better works. Gratuitous violence and gore clutter up the already abbreviated storyline, as though King had surrendered to sound bites and podcasts for the short attention span of the audience he cautiously parodies.

The premise had potential: a “pulse” that reprograms people’s brains, compared to erasing the disk on a computer, is generated simultaneously to every person’s cell phone, creating a subhuman culture of cortex-driven animals who display various behavior, at one time of birds, at another of beasts. The reader is never certain of the origin of the pulse, who developed it, what its purpose was, or how many people were affected. These are just a few of the gaping holes in the storyline that beg explanation.

Departing from all good fiction, including his own, King completely omits a villain in this book. The reader has no idea who the bad guys are, what their agenda is, or whether they suffer any backlash or consequences because of the unpredictable behavior of mind-wiped humans. The “flock” (what the characters call the living dead) becomes the enemy: a sort of nameless, faceless horde of wraiths who were once their friends, spouses, neighbors, or children. It just doesn’t work well at all.

There is only a small ensemble of main characters. The reader follows them from the beginning to the end of the story, but none are well developed save, maybe, Riddell, and even then we are given but snapshots of his life before “the pulse”. If you ever read The Stand, you know King goes into great detail about the background and personality of all the characters, especially the most important participants. Where was that eye for detail in Cell? Where’s the flesh? There was already far too much blood.

I would not have been so disappointed in the ending had King given us more to care about, imagine, and hope for prior to cutting us off like a sudden break in wireless service. Cell left me with the sense of incompletion, disconnection, and frustration imagining what he could have done with this story if he had wanted to.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars, and that half star is only because the dialogue is, as usual, pretty good.

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About Loretta Dillon

Loretta Dillon began her writing career publishing a neighborhood newspaper and handwritten and illustrated books as a child in a Cleveland suburb. Her strongest literary influences were MAD magazine and Mark Twain. When introduced to the internet, Dillon created a blog to showcase her satire that evolved into a popular forum on relationships, recovery and true crime stories, specifically spousal murder. Selected entries were published as a book in 2005 that was honored as a finalist for a non-fiction "Blooker" award. Dillon's comedy play, "The Smoking Diary" was produced off-Broadway in 2009.
  • “Departing from all good fiction, …King completely omits a villain in this book.”

    Really? ALL good fiction has a villain?

    “Catcher in the Rye”, for example? “Breakfast of Champions”? “Romeo and Juliet”? 🙂

    I enjoyed Cell, I thought it was entertaining and it kept me guessing as to what would happen. I was expecting a more generic “zombie” type story, but the bizarre mass-consciousness of the phone people was an interesting twist.

    I also thought it was a nice touch not to identify or make clear how the pulse happened. Like in “Night of the Living Dead”, there are theories but nobody knows for sure.


  • Well i do agree that in the end i felt very abandoned and cut off, like completley cut off, but to me the rest of the story was very good, and im a regular person i dont get paid to jugde peoples books all day, IM A REGULAR PERSON, but all in all it was a great book until the end , oh and i do agree i would have liked to know who was causing the pulse and why were they doing it?? Other then a few errors it was a very decent book.