Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King could be tighter and livelier

NEW YORK • It is frightfully hard to avoid Stephen King these days, with the many adaptations of his novels into movies and TV shows.

Now, he will command even more attention with the rollout of his latest novel Sleeping Beauties (right) - co-written with his son Owen.

Is it another work of beauty from the horror King?

There is a plot similarity to King's Under The Dome (2009), which depicts a small Maine town suddenly covered by an invisible, impermeable dome.

That sprawling book has a big cast of characters, but the drama of the crisis brings everyone into sharp focus. It is one of his best books, drawing its terror from human nature, not from a voyage into fantasyland.

In Sleeping Beauties, there is again a small town and the strange situation is this: Women who fall asleep do not wake up.

Like Under The Dome, the new novel is straightforwardly written. There are no long, dreamy passages in italics. That is the good news.

The less happy news is that this book is sleepy in its own right.

It, too, has a lot of characters, but very few of them spring to life and many of them seem repetitive.

Without speculating on what the father-son writing process was like, it feels as though some kind of politesse has kept this 700-page book from being usefully tightened.

The main setting is a female prison. The reader meets everyone at this place, from the warden to the insomniac inmate.

You will also meet the town's sheriff, Lila Norcross, who is the closest thing the crowded book has to a main character.

And you meet the beautiful, mysterious, witchy Eve Black.

Whatever she is, she calls the shots here. She mocks all men, has supernatural powers and commands the armies of moths that provide the book's only real fright.

And she is important during the many, many scenes in which women start falling asleep.

While they become violent when they are awakened, Eve is not a victim of this curse.

And that brings out the worst in the men who are curious - and suspicious - of her immunity.

"In a terrified world, false news was king," the authors write.

Sleeping Beauties will inevitably wind up on the screen. But whoever adapts it will have to beef up the characters and deflect attention from the non-thrilling main theme.

What you may well come away thinking is this: For a book about resetting gender stereotypes, this one clings surprisingly tightly to them.

Women are healers (though there are some tough customers here, thanks to the cast of law enforcers and prison inmates); men are either warriors or bad guys who deserve to die.

Everyone who survives this story is a little nicer by the time it is over, but the basics still apply.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Kings' Sleeping Beauties could be tighter and livelier'. Subscribe