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Sleeping Beauties


Sleeping Beauties

Ironically, with the release of SLEEPING BEAUTIES, I feel like I woke up in the mid- to late-’80s. Stephen King not only has the #1 bestselling novel in the world, but also the #1 film with the record-setting adaptation of his classic work of horror, IT. I have to attribute the former to his son, Owen, with whom he co-wrote this terrific new book that is destined to be another supernatural classic.

I have to admit, as huge of a Stephen King fan as I am (yes, I was there from the start with the release of CARRIE), I was completely unfamiliar with the work of Owen King. King’s oldest son, who writes under the pen name Joe Hill, has already seen nice success with a more modern style of horror novels. Owen has had a novel, a short story collection and a graphic novel released under his name, but they somehow flew under the radar. All I can say is that SLEEPING BEAUTIES is on par with any of the classic work I loved from King back in the ’70s through the late ’90s. If working with Owen was the inspiration for that creative resurgence, I can only hope that they team up together more often.

"SLEEPING BEAUTIES is on par with any of the classic work I loved from King back in the ’70s through the late ’90s. If working with Owen was the inspiration for that creative resurgence, I can only hope that they team up together more often."

What King has always done best is take seemingly innocent, small-town settings and populate them with loads of colorful and very real characters. When these characters, who you cannot help but become attached to, come face to face with some form of evil, we find ourselves rooting until the sometimes bitter end. SLEEPING BEAUTIES has all of these elements and more. The premise of the novel is both simple and horrifying in its simplicity. Women around the world are going to sleep and not waking up. Their bodies become entombed by some lacey, spider-web-like mesh that appears to grow out of their own faces. The question for those left behind, mostly men, is why this has happened and, if they are not dead, where they have gone.

The cast of characters is so numerous that the Kings have added four pages of character names and identities at the start of the story to allow their faithful readers to keep score.  The sleeping disease, named by some the Aurora Flu in honor of the Disney princess Sleeping Beauty, is initially isolated to just a few areas but quickly becomes a widespread worldwide event. The location of the novel is a small Appalachian town --- a nice departure from King’s usual Maine setting --- and the one character who begins receiving the most attention is Eve Black, a strange young woman nicknamed by some the Avon Lady. Eve seems to be one of the few who falls asleep without issue and keeps on waking up. Residents begin to note that she may not be a mere mortal. But does she represent good or evil?

Eve is among a series of women at an all-female penitentiary --- prison is always a favorite setting of King's --- having been held there as a prime suspect in a multiple homicide case involving meth and some really bad men. In fact, many of the men here are bad, unlikable guys. This is the only attempt the Kings make at an explanation for the sleeping disease. Maybe the level of bad behavior men have exhibited throughout history brought on this extreme form of punishment by taking their women away from them. Fans of King's work will see the many Easter eggs included within, like the use of a prison and a strange man driving a Mercedes.

Some of the men begin to find out the hard way the danger of trying to wake up the women or cut them out of their cocoons. The result is usually an extremely feral version of the women they knew, ravaging them in a fit of blind rage. Meanwhile, many of the ladies introduced in the novel who have since succumbed to Aurora now find themselves residents of a surreal version of their own town. The only differences are that there are no men, and it has the odd feeling of paradise. For them, this world is ever so much better than the male-driven one they left behind. Will they ever want to wake up and return to the harsh, insensitive world from which they departed? Occasionally, a female resident of this all-female Eden will disappear suddenly, the result of their cocooned body being burnt up or vanquished in some manner. It is a primitive way some men have resorted to striking back at this strange epidemic that they consider to be evil.

There are far too many characters to cover here. Aside from Eve, we have the female town sheriff, Lila, who is married to Dr. Clinton Norcross, a psychiatrist assigned to the women's prison. This, of course, sets up a classic good vs. evil showdown --- Dr. Clint defending the prison along with a few other men and a handful of non-afflicted prisoners vs. a small mob of very bad men headed up by former animal control officer Frank Geary, who has commandeered the local police squad once Lila fell asleep. The bad men want Eve turned over to them, but Clint and company refuse to do so. The climactic battle is well worth the wait and is classic King.

I never would have thought Stephen King capable of a feminist horror/fantasy tale, but he has put one together here with SLEEPING BEAUTIES. Is Owen's hand responsible for this departure as well? Perhaps. In any event, this father/son pairing is a huge success, and even at over 700 pages, it’s a thrilling novel that never lets up, loses interest or intensity, and is exciting right up to the very satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 5, 2017

Sleeping Beauties
by Stephen King and Owen King