Free Press Journal

The Outsider by Stephen King: Review


Book: Outsider
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 475; Price: Rs 699

Stephen King is indefatigable. Every year he comes out with at least one book – at least – while working on his movie scripts or lecture notes and what not. He’s written more than 50 novels, all of which are voluminous and very popular. And I may be the one lured by the popularity, I generally stay away from thick books-I have friends who would call even a 200-pager an epic! So I was surprised with myself when I was able to finish King’s latest Outsider in a week’s time (yes, I know people who would have finished it in a day’s time, but looking at my track record, I would say seven days is a good enough duration to win me an award). Needless to say that this is the first book by King, which I really sat down and read, and I am happy I did that. Outsider is compelling, thrilling, spooky and even dramatic at places, but most of all, it lets you know why Stephen King is one of the most loved and bestselling writers in the contemporary world.

The story starts with a murder investigation whose trail leads to the past so gory and spooky that makes us remember some of the stories we had heard as children. The murder takes place in Flint City, a sleepy little town one would visit only out of compulsion, where everybody knows everybody, a town which loves baseball and adores its coaches. But when the ‘loving family-man’ coach Terry Maitland is arrested in full glare for the heinous murder of an 11-year-old boy by detective Ralph Anderson, this small sleepy town wakes up with a jolt. Could an honest man like Terry rape and murder his student? The heart doesn’t agree but the mind believes it when Anderson finds Terry’s fingerprints and DNA at murder spot. Despite being sure that Terry is the real culprit, Anderson can’t deny the fact that Terry has a tight alibi. But if he was not at the spot of the crime – with his DNA and fingerprints matching – who was? And can one person be at two places at the same time? The story gets warped when even Terry is killed while the police takes him to the courthouse negotiating an angry crowd. Anderson keeps fighting with himself over the last statement by Terry denying his part in the crime. If he didn’t do it, who did? And herein lies the whole concept of the novel.

Outsider compels us to think about folk-tales we heard during our childhood. Do ghosts exist? What about devils? Is there any truth to the fact that castles and forts were built for vampires and witches? The touch of paranormal is King’s speciality, and he plays it to the hilt here. The book is well researched when it talk ons about the Spanish and Mexican folk tales of the desert.

Elders, even today, spook children by narrating stories of a shadowy figure, which could kidnap them if they don’t listen to their parents. Is there any truth in these stories or are these innocent figments of imaginations to keep our children from being naughty? King believes in ‘no smoke without fire’ and goes on to tell several stories about many paranormal creatures from different cultures which the mind may not agree to, but the eyes can’t deny their existence. What we can’t see doesn’t exist but is it right to believe everything that we see at its face value? Outsider raises many such questions, whose answers mostly rely on faith and beliefs.

King knows the art of developing a character, he also knows that a new character needs to be woven and not introduced. His introduction of Holly in later half of the book makes the story, both interesting and scary. He doesn’t dwell much on her past story, but he keeps us engaged to her with enough narrative of what she’s gone through, and why she should be the other protagonist. Anderson and Holly are two ends of the spectrum.

One believes only what he sees, what can be proven while the other says there is no end to the universe, that there are worlds beyond our realm – worlds, which can be seen only when we believe they exist. You will be amazed to know how these two ends of the spectrum come together to fight for their individual beliefs. Go for Outsider, if you are a Stephen King fan, or not.