I am not Stephen King's target audience. I have a hard time describing my reading tastes without being too vague — contemporary fiction — or too pretentious — literary fiction — and neither encompasses the spectrum of what I choose to read, which is often not contemporary, literary, or fiction. But in no possible description of my reading tastes do the words horror or suspense appear.
I would not have listened to the audiobook of King's Cell if I hadn't committed to writing a review. I would have stopped listening after the initial burst of carnage if it weren't for that commitment. But there's a reason Stephen King is so successful at what he does: he's creepily good at it. Once I got past the early gore, I was sucked into the story and spit out only after the final sentence.
Cell has a faintly ridiculous premise, but the execution is unridiculable (unlike my penchant for making up words). It's the cellular-less King's demonization of the technology, and it's almost laughable except it's truly creepy. With folksy and unique descriptions of scenes and objects, a light touch of occasional humour, and simple but telling observations about his characters, King doesn't rely solely on plot. But it's the plot that builds momentum, as characters and complications are introduced along the way that we know bode ill for our hero and the world as we know it, but we're not quite sure how or why.
When Cell opens, life is sweet for that everyday hero, Clayton Riddell. In Boston for a business meeting, he has just signed a deal to illustrate comic books, which he hopes will prove to his estranged wife that he's not a feckless dreamer. After buying a present for her and heading off to get something for his son, he suddenly notices the people around him are behaving … unusually. A man bites the ear off a dog, a woman tears out another's jugular, one bashes herself into a pole, some throw themselves off buildings.
Clay pieces together what happened — those who were using cell phones at that moment went viciously crazy. Those who wanted to find out what was happening or warn their loved ones picked up their cells and became one of the phone crazies. Only those like Clay, who didn't own a cell, or who didn't have one with them, or who figured out the cause and effect before pressing send, remained "normies."