Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481
Several years after his wife, Jo, died suddenly, best-selling author Mike Noonan returns to Sara Laughs, their summer home in Maine, to try to defeat the writer’s block that he suffered soon after this tragedy. However, Sara Laughs seems to be haunted, as refrigerator magnets are mysteriously used to communicate to Noonan. The house is named after Sara Tidwell, a blues singer in a family of African American musicians from the turn of the twentieth century; the Tidwells had lived in the local community, known as the TR, but left under mysterious circumstances.
Noonan becomes involved with young widow Mattie Devore and her daughter, Kyra. Kyra’s paternal grandfather is millionaire Max Devore, who wishes to take her away from his poor daughter-in-law. Secrets unfold and connections are intimated, as a larger picture of the TR, Sara Laughs, and the Devore family emerges. After Max dies, Mattie is murdered by men still under the employ of Max’s personal assistant and daughter, Rogette Whitmore. Noonan discovers through Jo’s ghost the truth of the situation: A century earlier, Sara Tidwell was brutally raped and murdered by the young men of the TR, including Max Devore’s ancestor Jared. When Sara’s son, Kito, stumbled upon the scene, he was murdered as well. Since then, Sara has sought revenge on the men who raped and murdered her and her son, as well as on the families that followed. Sara was trying to use Noonan to murder Kyra; with Jo’s help, Noonan confronts both Sara’s murderers and Sara herself, saving Kyra.
As with many other King novels, evil may be a specific entity, but responsibility for that evil spreads across the community where it manifests. Thus, the evil done on Sara becomes a generational concern; lives are claimed long after the reasons are forgotten—or hidden by an unspoken community consensus.
The demands of the writing life, including the problems of writer’s block, is a theme that King has explored before. In Bag of Bones, Noonan decides to give up writing at the end—perhaps mirroring King’s own desire to slow down or even end his public writing career—and to care for Kyra instead, as he is in the midst of adopting her. Noonan is concerned with the consequences of writing, especially of the kind of violent, horrible stories for which he (and his author) are best known. Sara Tidwell’s ghostly revenge showed how violence begets violence, and Noonan is unsure if his own work is different. If this is not a repudiation of his career, King at least makes clear that he believes art should have a conscience, no matter how it chooses to manifest itself. The novel closes with an explicit reference to Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby the Scrivener”: “I’ve put down my scrivener’s pen. These days I prefer not to.”
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