Apparently it’s suicide week here at Angry Angel Books. I didn’t do this on purpose, it just happened that way. Today we have the final book in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, and boy oh boy for those of you that might have issues with suicide or reading about suicide, tread lightly in the last few chapters of this one.
My reviews on the previous two books are linked here:
When we arrive in End of Watch, it is apparent that Brady Hartsfield a.k.a. the Mercedes Killer, has become something more. The drugs that his doctor has been using to experiment on him with and the knock upside the head from Holly Gibney have combined to create a telekinetic monster. When in close proximity to others he can attempt to enter their consciousness and take over their mind, and he has created a way to access the minds of others from a distance through the use of a Game Boy-esque device called a Zappit. As I was reading I kept picturing a touchscreen tablet but really it’s more like a buttons and directional handheld game console. At some point his consciousness leaves the body of Brady Hartsfield for good and takes over the body of another, and we’re off to the races.
This book was released in 2016, and I hear Mr. King sending several messages with this book. First, and perhaps most loudly, that engagement with technology is a double edged sword. He celebrates technological intelligence with his characters Holly and Jerome, showing how technology can be used for good or at least against evil. As we see Holly thwarting plans, we find children walking like zombies, guided by the voices within their screens, ready to commit suicide as a result of being seduced by the programs on their devices. The hypnotizing effects that have been well documented in video games are used as weapons. The very supernatural movement of Brady from consciousness to consciousness speaks not so subtly of the easy access bullies, predators, and other unsavory characters have to the internet and anyone connected to it. There is plenty of research that speaks to the harmful effects of social interaction online and the constant need to perform and be accepted; when you add people who are purposefully doing harm to that environment the results could be disastrous.
Secondly, that suicide resulting from interactions online is more dangerous than just the individual death. I learned about suicide clusters and how they are exacerbated by the internet and social networking sites, and I was thankful that King took the time to reveal these new aspects of suicide as they exist today as if to say “this isn’t just about being wary of technology or finding a balance in your life, this technology is a weapon of mass destruction.”
Finally, and to my own sensitivities most disturbingly, King lets his readers know that this can touch anyone. We read about a gay teenager dressing in drag and blowing his brains out in front of his terrible father. A fat woman who had been bullied and teased all her life (fat and rural). A Christian teen that takes out his entire family with a shotgun to get their reward in heaven. We fly through multiple suicides as a result of Brady’s website and device setup and we’re treated to a kaleidoscope of how devastating the internet can be with or without the presence of supernatural mind control. No one is safe, but we can be prepared.
The book is full of small joys. I love Holly Gibney and her desire to maintain her relationships with Jerome and Bill despite her battles with anxiety and mental illness. Jerome’s battles with his blackness in the face of his family’s success and separation from what he feels is traditional blackness. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I thought I saw a small nod to traditional Maine direction giving towards the end, which whether I saw it correctly or not, was enjoyable.
One large difference was that this book did not leave me with a sense of foreboding, as though the threat had been dealt with but it could return, but a sense of purpose. So many Stephen King novels end but then you’re still scared or on edge. This trilogy ended with a feeling that it was over, and a short epilogue by King says if you need help, call the hotline, get help, you are not alone. I think this is a major reason that this book has been included on many “best of 2016” lists. It is the first King book I have read where I felt hope at the end, and not nervousness. The plot attacked a very real, growing societal concern and offered hope and closure and growth.
From Mr. Mercedes, to Finders Keepers (which was my favorite of the three), to End of Watch, King takes us on a magnificent journey through human behavior and the dangers of getting lost in technology and our own psyches. If you’re looking for some books to keep you company this holiday season, seek out the Bill Hodges trilogy. You won’t be disappointed.