reviews from the archive – Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Chances are you know the basics to the presented story of Fairy Tale, seeing as it’s a book by King and his work is promoted everywhere all the time. But I’ll throw this out there just in case: Charlie Reade is a high school athlete, and a popular one at that. His mother died when he was a kid, and his father is a recovering alcoholic nowadays. Charlie once made a promise to God to repay Him should his father give up alcohol. That’s important because he feels the need to seek out good deeds and look out for others. There’s an old man that lives in a strange house people avoid. He has a German Shephard that likes to scare people away from the property, or at least she used to when she was younger. Charlie hears her whining in alarm and decides to climb over the fence to make sure everything is alright. Basically, the old man has injured himself and Charlie starts taking care of his dog for him. Soon enough, he also becomes the old man’s caretaker. Fast forward a bit, skimp on some details, and it turns out the old man has access to a winding stairwell that leads deep into the earth and into another world. A fairy tale world. And when the old man passes, he provides this access (and everything else he has) to Charlie to take care of in his absence.

Now, the premise is a good one. The first third or so of this book is a drama in which we follow Charlie taking care of the dog and helping the old man. I understand some people will and have found this boring, but I enjoy this kind of King writing more than anything and always have. So, the first third of this book is probably my favorite. Where Fairy Tale begins to lose steam for me is when Charlie goes to the other world. A lot of the characters are forgettable or hardly mentioned (therefor their deaths mean nothing once they come). The potential for great adventure and action is practically ignored. For example, Charlie is captured for a time and forced to battle in a tournament called the Fair One. Only, that tournament is barely presented to us in the story and is cut short. What could have been a really exciting sequence of fights is reduced to one short face-off and that’s about it. Unfortunately, this disappointment comes up a lot during the final two-thirds of the novel. There is potential everywhere and King glides over almost all of it. For me, this became increasingly frustrating. I could point out all the other little things that added up to my annoyance — like Charlie frequently pointing out his speech being changed for others to understand (even though there are two moments near the end where this is contradicted) — but let’s just say Fairy Tale is the equivalent of Sleeping Beauties; everything you want is there, but the presentation and execution is jumbled. What you expect and want to happen doesn’t or comes with little flare. It’s not the best of signs when you’re 85% into a novel, working into its finale, and feel like leaving the book for something else.

Luckily, this is a King novel and I love King’s brand of writing. His storytelling is sometimes hit or miss with me, as are his choices in where to take characters and what to do with them, but his WRITING always shines through. As such, this novel lands somewhere in the middle for me. There was a lot to love and a lot to grumble over in post. ~ 3 out of 5

Published by Aiden Merchant

Aiden Merchant is the author more than forty stories, including those found within SICKNESS IS IN SEASON, HORRIFIC HOLIDAYS, and DOCUMENTING DREADFUL EXISTENCES. He is also the author of the crime-fic novella CROSSING RED, and the lead editor and publisher of BLACKBERRY BLOOD (an anthology edited alongside Julia C. Lewis), MILK TEETH (a novella by Andrew Post), and RISE ABOVE (a community sampler). His alter ego, Wesley Winters, leans more toward the extreme and absurd. His debut horror series is appropriately titled FUCKED, and will debut in 2023 with ARTIFACT OF THE EYE and later FEED THE SKY.

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