The monster in Stephen King’s new novel The Outsider, could be you.
In reality, it’s not you. Those who’ve read a good doppelgänger or evil twin novel, might think that they have The Outsider all figured out just a few chapters in. But also, whoever has read Stephen King knows that things usually aren’t that simple.
Let’s start from the beginning. Terry Maitland, a much-loved Little League coach and all-around perfect father, husband and neighbor is accused of committing a heinous and unspeakable crime. An eleven year old boy has been found murdered and violated in a local town park, and all evidence in form of fingerprints and eyewitnesses point to Maitland as the murderer.
But there’s one catch: Maitland was out of town that day and security cameras confirm his presence in a massively attended event outside of town. How could he be in two places at once? Has Maitland found a way to commit the perfect murder? Or could he be innocent and the real murderer still remains walking the streets?
In Joyce Carol Oates’ Lives of the Twins, a troubled woman falls in love with her therapist and they begin a somewhat comfortable relationship. One day, she sees him in the street talking to another woman, but he denies this when she questions him about it. She makes up her mind to follow him, and rapidly learns that her lover has a twin brother he’s told her nothing about. Things get more complicated when she begins having an affair with him also. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, fraternal twins Viola and Sebastian are separated during a shipwreck and their tragedy becomes an amusing tale of confused identities and love triangles.
But in The Outsider, there’s neither psychological suspense or debauched comedy. Detective Ralph Anderson is King’s new justicer, desperate for answers he can’t seem to find. Anderson wants the death penalty for Maitland, but too many things nag at him which he can’t ignore, making him in a sense both prosecutor and unwilling defense council for Maitland. He refers to the case as “a damn cantaloupe that’s full of maggots,” and the imagery lingers strongly as a foreshadow of what is to come.
King starts this one at a very languid pace, as many of his longer novels do, this one with detailed police statements and autopsy reports, but when it picks up The Outsider becomes dangerously addictive. As the truth of Maitland’s guilt or innocence becomes blurred by the impossible and the improbable, a charismatic and esteemed character from King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy makes an important appearance, turning the case and all the characters in The Outsider in a whole different direction which is not totally or completely unexpected.
It’s not uncommon for King to do location crossovers between his novels or character cameos. Derry and Castle Rock are frequent settings. The cook Dick Halloran appears in both The Shining and It, and an ominous solar eclipse shows up in Gerald’s Game and Dolores Clairborne.
Seven is a magic number, too. There are many more examples of King’s multiverses grazing each other, so it’s not surprising when in The Outsider we get the same interconnections. If anything, King’s constant readers have come to await spotting elements from his previous works as pieces of a much bigger puzzle.
There most definitely exists a boogeyman in The Outsider, but King makes it difficult to unveil. By mixing a pastiche of frightening old wives’ tales and word-of-mouth legends from different cultures and civilizations, King has giving us the ultimate monster for these very frightening times. One that digs into subconscious fears and well-kept secrets, which makes everything much too real.