I confess I was skeptical when I saw my favorite author, Stephen King, had paired up with his son, Owen King, to write a book. I wondered if their writing would be similar, would they complement one another? I wasn’t prepared for the compelling story they provided; part fantasy, part science fiction, all thriller. As with many of the elder King’s books, there is a multitude of characters. The authors kindly provide a list of them, along with a one-line description of their part in the story, at the beginning of Sleeping Beauties. Once again, King shows his ability to create and breathe life into multiple characters. Some elicit more sympathy and others more distaste, but they all click into place.
The primary character is the story is Eve (Evie) Black. Although Evie is not present in most of the book, she is the catalyst that moves things along. She is noted in the list of characters as “a stranger” who appears to be about thirty years old. That description barely scratches the surface of who and what Evie is. Appearing at the beginning of the story she seems like something of a woodland sprite. By the end of that prologue of sorts, I developed a very different impression of her.
The main locations of the story are the town of Dooling, the Dooling Women’s Correctional Facility, and a dark, dystopian Dooling of some distant future or another dimension. The King men capture the atmosphere of a small Appalachian town with skill.
Blending the characters and settings, the authors develop a microcosm of a world that has become all too familiar. The “real” world versus a “dim” world and both have their good and ugly sides. In the real world, women are encased in cocoons, isolated from their friends and families. Alive, but in a type of sleep, they are defenseless against men. There are those who seek to protect them, and there are those who seek to destroy them forever. In the alternate world, they must find the way to survive. Technology as we know it no longer exists. Forced to rely on their skills and instincts they will live or die according to their abilities.
This book is as much a tribute to the tenacity of femaleness, as it is an observation of man’s propensity for violence. Even those who are more inclined to pacifism can be moved to physical retaliation given the proper provocation.
Much as women in today’s societies struggle to break the glass ceiling that oppresses them, the women of Dooling, both in the “real” world and the subtle, hidden world we are just beginning to acknowledge, must rise against the invisible barrier of cocoons that envelope them.
Taken as nothing more or less than a well-told story of fantasy/science fiction/thriller Sleeping Beauties is a good book. Taken as an observation of a world where women may provide the catalyst for positive change, the book becomes a treatise on human development.
I recommend it. I predict sometime in the future it may be required reading in colleges and universities, and not only in advanced English classes.
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Mr. Mercedes, winner of the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Novel, Revival, Finders Keepers, End of Watch, Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, which became a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
Owen King is a graduate of Vassar College and the MFA program at the Columbia University School of the Arts, he is the author of the novel Double Feature, We’re All in This Together: A Novella and Stories, and the co-editor of Who Can Save Us Now? Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories. His writing has appeared in Grantland, One Story, The New York Times Book Review, Prairie Schooner, and Subtropics, among other publications. Owen has also taught creative writing at Columbia University and Fordham University. He is married to the novelist Kelly Braffet.