I didn’t want to buy or read this book at first. That’s not my normal approach with Stephen King; the man has written approximately 5000 books, but I have damn near all of them. I can only bring two of his books to mind that I know exist and have not read yet: his novel about the Kennedy assassination, which rubbed me wrong from the beginning and which I never started, and the third of his three Finders Keepers books, which I cannot explain why I have not read yet. I’m gonna get to it eventually! I promise!
So, yeah: I’m a fan. I have been a fan since I was, I dunno, however old I was when Misery came out and I found my grandmother’s copy when staying the night at her house and managed to read most of it before she realized what I was doing. Honestly I don’t remember if anyone tried to stop me or not, but it wouldn’t have done any good if they had; nobody was ever any good at keeping books away from me.
But I didn’t want to read this book. The main reason? The premise, as explained by most of the pre-release stuff, is white dude is accused of heinous sexual assault, turns out to be innocent. And if I’m being honest, white dude turns out to not be a sexual abuser after all! is not really something I’m super interested in reading about too much right now. There are entirely too many white men getting away with sexual assault and rape right now– some of them being elected fucking president, no less– just put me off the book for several weeks. My wife read it in the meantime, and told me to go ahead and read it anyway, and I did.
Which was the right call, because once I started The Outsider I had the damn thing finished in two days– a hundred pages the first night, another hundred the second, and then I picked it up when I got home from work yesterday and didn’t put it down until I was done with it. And it’s a big damn book. Stephen King, after all. The reason I wrote such a short post last night? I got caught up in reading and didn’t want to put the book down to write a post.
So, a couple of things: this is King’s darkest work in years, if not in his career, to the point where I’m not even sure right now what I’d suggest its closest competition is. The book begins with a man being arrested for an absolutely heinous act of rape, sexual torture, and murder, and despite his innocence being such a plot point that I can’t even honestly call it a spoiler to mention it, the book keeps you wondering what the fuck is going on anyway, and then at about the 200-page mark it throws a massive curveball at you and runs off to be an entirely different book than the police procedural you thought you started with. And even before that curveball, King does an outstanding job of whipsawing you back and forth between this man is absolutely guilty and this man cannot possibly be guilty, sometimes in the same chapter, and the cops don’t always make great decisions on how to prosecute the case and when the book finally does tie everything together and explain what’s going on I feel like it earned its ending in a way a lot of books– including a handful of other King books– really don’t.
This is also his scariest book in a long, long time. I will admit that being the father of a young son didn’t exactly help me with that, and if you aren’t a parent your mileage may vary a bit.
One gripe, though: I have always thought that one of Stephen King’s greatest gifts as an author was his ear for voice and for dialogue, which makes it weird that this book has such really weak dialogue throughout. There are so, so many sentences in this book that no human being has ever uttered before and never will. He does this thing at the end where he sort of thanks the people of Oklahoma and says that if he got anything wrong, he’s sorry? And I feel like maybe he’s doing this weird thing where he’s trying to capture something he thinks is Oklahoma Folksy and instead he’s landing on Abraham Simpson:
This is especially bad in the earliest parts of the book, where a fair part of the text is interview transcripts, meaning that they’re nothing but dialogue and people telling stories. The various cops in the book generally aren’t prone to rambling, but any time someone else is talking– again, especially in that early part? God.
But yeah. If you can push past that one rather notable weakness, this is excellent King and a great recovery from Sleeping Beauties, which I didn’t really like much at first and has not climbed in my estimation since then.