There's nothing like a Stephen King-induced nightmare. The last time I experienced one was over a quarter-century ago, during my first reading of THE SHINING. Jack Torrance, erstwhile writer and winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, thinks he's getting a little down-lo action with a siren he meets in the supposedly unoccupied hotel when she in fact is actually rotting away in his arms. I woke up screaming the night after I read that passage. This hasn't happened since, not until last night, after I finished reading SONG OF SUSANNAH.
SONG OF SUSANNAH is a Dark Tower book, and one expects gunplay and explosions and karate and people talking funny, but not out-and-out horror. Horror, my friends, it has. And the result was that my advanced age self woke up screaming early this morning, rousing Goodwife Hartlaub, our ungrateful and unappreciative six-year old daughter, and the world's cutest beagle, all of them wondering if the Lord of the Manor had gone bonkers. The answer, of course, was and is a resounding "Yes!" But he had help in reaching that stage, oh yes he did, in the form of SONG OF SUSANNAH.
SONG OF SUSANNAH is another brick-of-a-book from King, carefully baked and lobbed lovingly at his constant readers, 400-plus pages (with some beautifully disturbing illustrations by Darrel Anderson, and what are purported to be some of King's notes appended as a Coda) that proceed along three storylines while slowly but inevitably merging toward one. If you haven't read any of the previous Dark Tower novels, SONG OF SUSANNAH is not the place to jump on. You will be hopelessly lost, and while King writes well here, your enjoyment of the epic tale of Roland the Gunslinger and his quest to save the Tower and all that is will be enhanced one hundred-fold if you have some idea of what the heck is going on. This is a complex, rich tale of multiple worlds.
This installment contains no summary; there is simply an immediate jump into that fabled land of "(w)hen we last left off..." which, in WOLVES OF THE CALLA, was the victory of Roland and the People of Calla Bryn Sturgis over the Wolves. That joy of victory was tempered by the departure of a pregnant Susannah Dean through the Doorway Cave (I meant it when I said to read the previous books!). As SONG OF SUSANNAH commences, Roland and his band (or ka-tet), with the aid of Manni senders, are transported through the Doorway Cave to where they are most needed. Roland and Eddie Dean find themselves in rural Maine in 1977, while Father Callahan and Jake are transported to late 20th century New York City in pursuit of Susannah.
This tale, however, is primarily Susannah's. Her body has been usurped by Mia, a demon-made flesh, in pursuit of Susannah's unborn child. A good deal of SONG OF SUSANNAH consists of the internal dialogue between Susannah and Mia; Susannah, as a result, experiences several revelations regarding such topics as the true identity of the father of her child, as well as the prophetic purpose of his conception, and the unspeakably evil force that will stop at nothing to see that it is brought to birth.
Roland and Eddie, meanwhile, make an important side trip to force an encounter with a local writer who is rapidly gaining notoriety as the result of his recently published novel titled SALEM'S LOT and who may hold the key to their entire quest. The paths of Roland and Eddie, and Callahan and Jake, slowly converge toward Susannah as she gives birth to her child in most unpleasant circumstances. Be cautioned: the last (well, almost the last) 20 pages of SONG OF SUSANNAH are among the most nightmarish (heh heh) that King has ever written. These passages induced my forced insomnia. I hope they don't do the same to you.
The next, and final, volume of the Dark Tower series (titled, fittingly enough, THE DARK TOWER) is to be published in November 2004. It is a good thing that it comes so hard on the heels of SONG OF SUSANNAH, given that the ending --- dare I say it? --- kind of leaves things hanging. It's not as bad as the end of THE WASTE LANDS, where King left his band of intrepid adventurers and legion of faithful readers stranded on board a choo-choo that was heading toward oblivion, and then abandoned the story for several years. Let's just say that 1) SONG OF SUSANNAH has a "holy shoot with the o's dotted" ending and 2) we should give thanks that the commencement of the final installment of this tale is but a few months away. As Roland would put it, say thankya.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011