There has been a lot of --- and I don't mean to be disrespectful to anyone here, but I don't know what else to call it --- a lot of blather about how Stephen King, with his last several works of fiction, has been trying to establish himself as a serious novelist, how he has lost his touch, that he should stick to what he knows, etc. I just finished reading the much-anticipated DREAMCATCHER. It should seal the coffin on all the nattering nabobs. It won't. But it should. King sticks to what he knows. He never lost his touch, but if we want to concede the (meaningless) point for argument's sake, he's got it back. And the rub about being a serious novelist...he always has been. DREAMCATCHER merely affirms it.
Let us get one thing out of the box at the get go, here. If you gave your mom THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON and she liked it, don't give her DREAMCATCHER just because both books are by Stephen King and both take place in the woods. DREAMCATCHER is going to do for walks in the woods and hunting lodges what IT did for clowns, CARRIE did for proms, MISERY did for nurses, and "The Raft" did for farm ponds. No, DREAMCATCHER doesn't happen in yo' momma's woods. It occurs in some woods up in Maine where four men --- Beaver, Jonesy, Pete, and Henry, who have been friends since they were kids --- are enjoying their annual, and last, hunting trip together. When a disoriented man stumbles into their campground, however, troubles begin. He is bringing with him an alien spawn too horrible to contemplate. King, of course, contemplates it, describes it, and shoves it right in your face and makes you love it.
I have been known to carry on at length about extraterrestrial visitations. My general attitude is that if a UFO should crash into the estates of Casa de Hartlaub, the pilot has about 30 seconds to demonstrate that it eats child molesters and pisses gasoline before I use a 12 gauge mop to sweep him into the landscape. And if it looks anything like Geraldo, he's only got 15 seconds. I have this attitude due to an extensive history of reading books like DREAMCATCHER. This is one nasty ET here, folks, and seven years of "The X-Files" won't prepare you for it. Your government, however, is prepared. Armed troops arrive, led by a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners psychopath named Kurtz. Now let's make one thing clear here. If we get invaded, I want a psychopath between Them and Me. I don't want Phil Donahue, I don't want Quietly Effective, I want Armed and Dangerous. This is what you get with Kurtz.
The woods, with Beaver and Company inside, are quarantined --- but not quite tightly enough. There is one hope, however. Some 30 years previously, four boys befriended and helped Duddits, a young man with Down's Syndrome who, it seems, helped them even more. And he, along with them, is now the only hope that the world has. There is one problem, though. Actually, there are two problems. One is The Alien. The other is Kurtz. And they both pose a terrible danger to Duddits and his friends --- not to mention the rest of the world.
Is this King's best book? No. Top 10? Yes. Top 5? Maybe. I might have to get back to you on that. But forget about its ranking; it'll keep you up, oh yes, it'll keep you up for a whole passel of nights and it'll make you sweat and laugh and stare at the guy with the vacant look in his eye who just sat down next to you on the bus. It'll also restore your faith in Stephen King, if you lost it to begin with. And it will definitely keep you out of the woods.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 20, 2001