Stephen King’s immense popularity--combined with his astounding output--has resulted in a domination of the best-seller lists that overlaps from one book to the next, in both hardcover and paperback. Four of King’s books topped the best-seller lists in 1987 alone: IT, THE EYES OF THE DRAGON, MISERY, and now THE TOMMYKNOCKERS. THE TOMMYKNOCKERS is not the best of the lot (MISERY is), but it is not the worst, either. It is an interesting combination of the good and bad in King’s writing style. The story starts when Bobbi Anderson, a reclusive novelist, uncovers the hull of a spaceship buried near her home in Maine. She calls upon her closest friend, alcoholic poet Jim Gardener, to come and take a look. Gardener arrives to find that Bobbi has somehow acquired the ability to build, out of household odds and ends, machines that will type out the manuscript of her next novel while she sleeps, power her entire house, and perform other mysterious functions. Bobbi herself is in no great shape; she has lost weight and her teeth are falling out. In the nearby town of Haven, the populace is suddenly seized by an evil “mass consciousness” referred to only as “The Becoming.” They, too, at the Tommyknockers’ behest, build strange machines, suffer from the symptoms of radiation poisoning, and prepare for the Tommyknockers’ arrival. Meanwhile, only a few brave souls dare to try to stop the madness that threatens to destroy them all. All of this is told in the rambling, expository style that so marred IT; characters and situations are all painted in broad strokes that are repeated again and again. As a result, the sense of encroaching evil that made SALEM’S LOT so captivating is diluted through overwriting. None of the main characters prove as enthralling as such previous King protagonists as Jack Torrance in THE SHINING or Johnny Smith in THE DEAD ZONE. There are some chilling scenes (including a child’s magic trick that goes horribly awry), but they are too far and few between.
With the high demand for King’s work, long-standing fans who have been with him from the beginning will unfortunately have to accept that the quality is going to fluctuate. All of this experimenting, however, may lead to something big; King may still be saving the best for last.