Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Mrmercedes

Stephen King’s newest novel departs from his expected universe of supernatural Maine and plops the reader down into the depressed Midwest as unemployed people seeking a reprieve from their current situations line up during the early hours in hopes of finding something better at a huge job fair. As the queue grows with more and more people, the sad calm is broken by a madman — complete in clown mask reminiscent of the evil Pennywise from It – running them down with a stolen Mercedes.

The crime goes unsolved and it appears as if the perpetrator is entirely out of reach. That is, of course, until a recently retired police detective, who spends his days holding a handgun and considering whether he would look better without his cranium intact, receives a long and boisterous letter purporting to be from the insane driver. The novel continues with back and forth sections between the detective and the unhinged killer, who takes a playing card from the Norman Bates deck and then goes way beyond.

Mr. Mercedes is advertised as a game of cat and mouse rolling forward just as fast as that Mercedes at the commencement of the novel. Yet, if I hadn’t been determined to find out the ending and write about the novel as part of my more highly anticipated summer reads, I would have put it down and moved on. The novel felt sloppy and awkward. None of the characters were particularly appealing and the dialogue between them felt so completely forced, it was cringe worthy. There were parts that I liked: the beginning was indeed intriguing as the initial crime is laid out along with the potential for a new maniacal villain and the final chapters sped up as both sides were attempting to get what they wanted, but there was a huge chunk of the middle (and this being a Stephen King novel, a chunk is hundreds of pages) that floundered. I couldn’t help but think that this book would have been much better if an editor went in a cut out about half of it.

I rarely make such bold recommendations as this, but skip it. Skip it if you’re a fan of Stephen King; skip it if you’re just looking for an entertaining summer read. I’m glad I didn’t take it along with me as I travel this summer, because it would have immediately been chucked and a new full price book would’ve been purchased at an airport gift shop.

I don’t often read reviews of books before I read them, so when I went in search of what the critics had to say, I was baffled by the overwhelmingly positive reviews. I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re reading the same novel. Now that I have finished this 400+ page dud, I can move onto the growing pile of TBR books that I’ve had my eye on for the past weeks.

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12 comments

  1. I love Stephen King’s novellas, and I like many of his short stories. I’ve never been able to finish a single novel he’s written (though I might attempt Carrie; I hear it’s short). Novella is really his ideal length, though I guess it’s not traditionally a marketable one.

    1. Carrie was the first I read (and the first he published). I enjoyed it and it’s a good one to tackle. I liked Salem’s Lot, but I’ve really stayed with his shorter stuff just like you.

      It’s so coincidental that you mention the unmarketability of short works. This was something I was just thinking about this morning. I think it’s a particular trend in the American market, but not necessarily abroad.

      1. There’s definitely some feeling that writers must be novelists, sometimes to the detriment of their work. I loved Jennifer Egan’s short story “A Visit from the Goon Squad”; her novel of the same name had considerably less power (and I generally like short-story-cycle style novels). I don’t think the idea was broad enough to sustain a longer form, and it kind of got lost in the world that she spun around it.

        I wonder if ebooks might revive the novella. 99 or $1.50 for a story that’s a little longer than a short story, not quite the commitment of a novel — seems reasonable. It’s really one of my favorite forms to read, and there’s never been a market for them (even short story collections/anthologies tend to avoid them).

  2. Gah. The moment I typed that I realized that the short story I’m thinking of was called “Found Objects”. First chapter of Goon Squad. But hopefully you know what I’m trying to say.

    1. Of course! I definitely get it. I’ve been wondering the same thing about kindle singles. As someone who rides transit quite often, I’m particularly fond of them. They’re cheaply priced and perfect for a commute. You might also like The Paris Review Book for Planes, Trains, Elevators, and Waiting Rooms. Unfortunately, my copy is buried in my storage unit somewhere, but I often think of it.

      I do hope the short form comes back. I wish I could give more details, but the company is still in the beta stage. A friend of mine is the CEO of a company that hopes to shake up the short story. Here’s the website (but sadly it can’t be fully accessed). Just a teaser I suppose: https://www.storywoolf.com/

      1. Thanks for the tips! I’ll see if I can find The Paris Review collection you mentioned, and I’ll keep an eye on storywoolf (I expect you’ll post about it, when the time is appropriate).

  3. Thanks for the heads up on storywoolf. As a frequent short story blogger, I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

    As to Mr. King, I, personally, haven’t experienced the same schism of enjoyment level between his shorter works vs. his novels. I’ve liked pretty much all of his stuff. :-) I particularly enjoyed his four novella-length stories in “Just After Sunset” and – of his “full length” works – “Hearts in Atlantis” and “The Eyes of the Dragon”

      1. It could be entirely coincidental, but it could also be that the few longer works I’ve read, just carry on a little too much. This new one would have certainly benefited from an editor who sliced out maybe 50% of the final product. It started out promising but then just plummeted. He has so many works to choose from, of course there’ll be duds. I do hope Storywoolf pans out. They did have a sort of coming out party last year, so maybe that’s progress.

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