I read The Tommyknockers a while back and, initially, wasn’t going to write a book review of it. It was only until I read Desperation that I noticed some similarities between the two novels and I wanted to tackle both books in a dual review.
The plot of The Tommyknockers is as follows:
Bobbi Anderson, a writer living in the town of Haven, becomes obsessed with digging up something she’s found buried in the woods near her home. With the help of her friend, Jim Gardener, she uncovers an alien spaceship. Increasing exposure to the ship and the “Tommyknockers” begins to have malignant and detrimental effects on the residents of not just Bobbi, but the entire town.
Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolated Highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the mining town Desperation. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive.
When I was first writing notes on The Tommyknockers, I jotted down the phrase “weird sci fi”.
This is a science-fiction novel, which isn’t really my “go to” genre and I’ve only ever read horrors and thrillers by King. I was initially unsure about the premise of an alien spaceship and an alien invasion – it seemed too cheesy for the usual levels of realism King conveys through his novels.
Speaking of science, a theme clearly underpinned in The Tommyknockers is the debate surrounding the use of nuclear power. Jim Gardener is firmly against nuclear power, whereas other minor characters are more easily swayed on the matter. I assume that at the time, nuclear power was a provoking topic of discussion. Thus, I think the illnesses, physical mutations and deteriorating mental capacity brought about by exposure to the Tommyknockers could be paralleled with the feared side effects of exposure to radiation.
However, despite my lack of zeal for science and science-fiction, I quickly began to overlook the inclusion of supernatural powers, alien life-forms and alien technology because it still had the essence of a King novel; the ability to generate suspense and well-executed thrills.
The idea of Haven’s hive mentality worked really well within the book because of King’s good characterisation. I felt like I knew most of the characters in the town, which then added to the eeriness created by the residents increasingly being taken over by the Tommyknockers – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) springs to mind.
In a similar way, Desperation is a story that contains multiple characters brought together through violent circumstances and learn of the possession Tak has over the land. There are some fun references to Tak as a Tommyknocker, or being described as It, while the characters are trying to work out what exactly Tak is. Subsequently, an assortment of the characters become pawns of Tak, communicating with him and following his orders as part of a de facto cult. This again, is a similar idea to the hive mentality of The Tommyknockers – an idea I still think is fascinating.
Despite this, I didn’t feel Tak’s possessions was executed as well, and I was almost disappointed that Collie Entragian wasn’t really the main antagonist (apologies for this minor spoiler) – just one of many. The premise of a scary killer posing as a policeman to pick innocent victims off a highway sounds brilliant for a horror, and I was sad this wasn’t the direction Desperation took.
Having said that, I really enjoyed the theme of religion King highlighted. My only other experience of religion in King’s writing is the warped pseudo-Christian beliefs expressed by Carrie’s mother in Carrie.
In Desperation, David – who is by far, the best and most fleshed out character in the book – is a young boy who has recently become a Christian, to the surprise of his parents. He is fascinated by the Bible, displays a remarkable faith in God and regularly prays. His time in Desperation becomes a test of his faith – increasingly so due to the horrors he witnesses and the near demonic presence of Tak. King handled the character of David and his religious beliefs with care and respect, as well as the opposing views of other characters, without condemnation of either side, which I admire.
Death – violent and cruel death – is another prevalent theme in both Desperation and The Tommyknockers; King certainly spares no expenses when it comes to the inclusion of gore – especially in Desperation. At some scenes, I screwed my face up in anguish!
Overall, I enjoyed both Stephen King novels – I think I preferred The Tommyknockers to Desperation, mainly because Desperation didn’t do what I thought it was going to.