Book Review: Fairy Tale

Author: Stephen King

Published: 2022

Rating: 3/5

Charlie Reade’s mother is killed in a horrific car accident. Afterward, his dad fails him by plunging into alcoholism and making career missteps. It would seem the odds are stacked against Charlie until he makes a plea to God, and miraculously his father enrolls in Alcoholics Anonymous and begins to reassemble their lives. 

Now in high school, the all-American Charlie is riding his bike one day when he hears a shrill barking coming from a large house on the corner with a mysterious neighbor, which is all too reminiscent of Boo Radley’s house in To Kill a Mockingbird. Summoning his courage, Charlie goes to investigate and finds the elderly gentleman who lives in the house injured on the lawn after taking a fall from a ladder. 

Charlie sees an opportunity in this man, named Howard Bowditch, not just to help a neighbor but to satisfy a debt owed to a Higher Power for answering his pleas to help his dad. Charlie charms a reluctant Bowditch into letting him be his caretaker during a long and difficult recovery, and the two quite predictably become close friends. 

Mr. Bowditch’s house has a shed in the back and strange noises come from it, piquing Charlie’s interest. More questions arise as Mr. Bowditch sends Charlie on an errand to exchange a large amount of gold for cash to pay his medical bills. But, Charlie finds no answers in a private and tight-lipped Bowditch.

Just as the reader begins to become charmed by Bowditch themselves, King kills him off. In keeping with a cliche trope, Charlie predictably inherits the entire estate of the curmudgeonly recluse. Bowditch’s German Shepherd, Radar, now belongs to him as well. 

Radar, once a man’s best friend and now a boy’s, is just as elderly as Bowditch was and her health begins to fail. Charlie discovers the shed behind what is now his house contains a deep well with a secret staircase, leading to a portal. According to a message left to him by Mr. Bowditch, the world beyond the portal contains a magic sundial that acts as a fountain of youth. 

Charlie then sets out into this magical and mysterious world to save his beloved Radar, a noble quest indeed. Of course, this would not be a King novel if the journey wasn’t filled with mysterious happenings and foreboding obstacles. Charlie sets out to conquer them all to save his best friend. 

What follows is an epic quest filled with strange lands, a castle with a dank dungeon, the living dead, giants, and even medieval battles spanning several hundred pages. Throughout the story King weaves in foreshadowing that hints at answers to some of the biggest questions the reader has along Charlie’s journey, enticing them to continue. Unfortunately, some questions never seem to get answered, and some of the answers were unsatisfactory. 

Once upon a time, Misery was the first King book (and the first “adult” book)  I ever read, and I have been a loyal reader of King’s ever since. Very few of all those books have left me feeling anything other than fully satisfied. However, this 598 page tale left me wanting. King’s prose is as melodic and interesting as ever, but the overall plot seemed excessively slow, quite predictable, and at times even trite. The battle between Charlie and the final villain left me asking, “That’s it?” after a build-up so long I felt that I needed to hop on the magic sundial to make me young again too. And, you’ll find this as no surprise given the title, everyone lives happily ever after. 

Fairy Tale was well-written and offers further proof King is a master storyteller and one of the best writers of our lifetimes in terms of creativity and style. However, when compared with his classics and some of his most recent works like The Outsider and The Institute, it was a let down. To paraphrase Annie Wilkes: I thought you would be good, but you are not good.

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