The last novel of Stephen King’s that I read was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – the book which preceded Dreamcatcher. I’ve also seen the Dreamcatcher movie but thankfully have no memory of that apparent travesty, so I read the book with virtually a clean slate.
Anyway, useless trivia aside, let me tell you a bit about the plot, and then I’ll fill you in on what I thought of the book.
In their early adolescence, four boys do a brave thing and stand up for a young handicapped boy who is being bullied by some larger boys. They form a tight friendship with Douglas ‘Duddits’ Cavell and due to this shared bond, they all discover that to some extent they have telepathic or extrasensory powers.
Unable to do anything life-changing with these powers, the four grow up, and loose touch with their childhood friend. The four meet up annually for a hunting trip in the woods. On the last of these trips, the four find themselves in the middle of a military quarantine area just following an actual, honest to goodness alien invasion.
The aliens themselves are a curious construct of your standard ‘gray man’ and a creature called a ‘byrum’ which grows inside the bellies of its human hosts and eventually launches itself out of the host’s ass, killing said host instantly. There’s gratitude for you.
The military operation is being overseen by a not so charming psychopath by the name of Abe Kurtz. Ruthlessly efficient, Kurtz is busy concealing and mopping up the aftermath of the alien landing, attacking the remaining alien survivors and planning how to get rid of the potentially infected human eyewitnesses.
Early on in hunting trip, two of the friends are killed, leaving Henry and Jonesy to save the world, Jonesy having the added burden of having the last remaining alien consciousness slowly taking over his mind and body.
Henry manages to enlist a disenchanted soldier to help them, and they set off in persuit of Jonesy and his brain roommate who is about to pollute the local water supply with the byrus which could have devastating effects on the population.
All this attracts the attention of Kurtz (whose name is clearly a hat tip to Dean Koontz), who chases them to the reservoir for a final showdown.
The thing that needs to be remarked on here is that King is a superior author, despite what some of the naysayers have written. I found myself drawn into the characters and their quirks and their lives. Four men, rolling toward middle age with formidable psychic powers and still all messed up in their own particular way. From Beaver helping a realtor find her lost keys (and freaking her out completely) to Henry and Jonesy to Kurtz and Underhill, King gives you the background you need, making it blend seamlessly into the fabric of the narrative.
The next thing I need to get off my chest is that King really has thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this one. Telepathy, alien invasion, psycho army operatives, complex mental constructs, and even a tense cross-state car chase toward the end. And let’s not forget those delicately-named ‘shit-weasels’ gestating in the bellies of their victims, eh?
Despite all of this action, it’s actually well spread out across the length of the 700-odd page novel. I enjoyed the writing, and the story, although I’m personally far too jaded to be actually terrified by the concept of alien invasion anymore. The backstory of the main characters was intriguing throughout, and King cunningly drip-feeds parts of the story until you have the complete picture only at the end.
I must give him kudos for Jonesy messing with his host’s head, turning the cold Mr Gray into a bacon-addicted killing machine. Some very funny moments were created there.
Throughout Dreamcatcher, I thought the concept of the aliens was very unoriginal and relied too heavily on popular culture stereotypes, especially the War Of The Worlds. However, when King reveals that Mr Gray is a construct of Jonesy’s imagination, all is forgiven. Or is it? I’m not sure, it still seems slightly lazy.
And at the end, I found the close of the novel frustratingly confusing. The concept of Duddits as the dreamcatcher binding them all together, and Jonesy finally reclaiming control of his mind. I’m sure there was a point to the whole thing, but after a seemingly endless car chase, my mind just wanted closure. The byrum-impregnated dog didn’t end up in the water supply, Duddits, Kurtz and Underhill died, and everybody else went home.
I was disappointed that things seemed to fall apart toward the end, and I fully accept that I was becoming detached as the story drew to a close. Maybe you guys have some thoughts on that?