Book Review : Stephen King & Peter Straub - The Talisman (1984)
This is Horror's resident reviewer Bob Pastorella and I decided to make a Peter Straub restrospective in 2017 because... because... I don't know what his reasons were, but mine were simple : he's a renowned horror writer I knew next to nothing about. The year was full of ups and downs in everything Straub-related, but it couldn't end in any other way than with a review of The Talisman, his first collaboration with Stephen King and arguably his most famous novel. I knew next to nothing about The Talisman before starting it and... a little more than two weeks after starting it, I would've liked to have remained blissfully ignorant about it.
The Talisman is the coming of age story of young Jack Sawyer, the twelve year old son of aging B movies actress Lily Cavanaugh, looking to save his mother from a mysterious form of cancer gnawing away at her from within. The way he ought to do it is by finding a crystal called... *dramatic chord* the talismaaan, which can only be found in an alternate universe referred to as "the territories". It gets awfully complicated from there. Turns out Lily is the alternate universe twin of the queen of the territories (because everyone has a "twinner" in the territories) and Jack becomes entangled with a pseudo-political plot that will require him to do a lot more than just save his mother.
So, let's talk about entertainment that's... fundamentally meant for kids, guys. The Talisman is a bizarre contradiction, because its audience is... maybe 12 to 21 years old males, but its form (a whopping 900 pages) is the most efficient repellent of young men. I know this book is important to many people I know, but it didn't prevent me from finding it inane and overblown. It's not the masterpiece it's been made out to be. Sorry to break your heart, guys. The Talisman is simple, life-affirming (maybe), but it's not subtle or sophisticated. It's a large, slow monolith that's scribbled with details that are beautiful maybe, but rather insignificant. If you've read a coming of age novel before, you'll know on page 50 what happens on page 900.
Now, I'm being unfair to The Talisman because I'm 35 years old and reading it for the first time. It would probably have been a destiny-altering masterpiece if I read it at 15. Back then, I dreamed of nothing, but meeting the people that would help me become than man I thought I deserved to be... and I'm sure The Talisman is empowering in that regard. Empowering like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and/or Percy Jackson and the Fuckwits were to subsequent generations, you see what I mean? You can connect only once or twice to lengthy, epic stories like this and all the others will seem superfluous. And pretty much everything about The Talisman (except the parts in the Black Hotel) seemed superfluous to me.
So, there you have it. My reading of The Talisman was long and arduous for reasons that are arguably mine, but I've experienced this sort of connection with coming of age novels with Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo and, to a certain extent, Batman comics, so The Talisman didn't move the needle at all. Coming of ages are emotional animals. They are fundamentally similar (boy goes through trial X/experiences doubt/becomes a man), so they need to strike an irrational chord within the reader in order to function and this one did not emit a single blip on the ol' emotional radar. Make of that what you will, internet, but don't read The Talisman for the first time at 35. It doesn't work.
Next year, Bob, Penboys Review's own Chris Novas and I will do a MOTHERFUCKIN' CLIVE BARKER RETROSPECTIVE. So stay tuned for that. It promises to get bloody.