Desperation – Stephen King

For my fourth Stephen King book this year, I read Desperation. Thanks to Andrew’s parents, who gave me a very generous Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, it’s been sitting on my shelf since about January, and I finally took the time to read it!

Desperation begins with Peter and Mary Jackson, who are driving Peter’s sister’s car across the country. They are driving on Highway 50 (nicknamed “The Loneliest Highway in America”) when they are pulled over by a local police officer, ostensibly because of a missing rear license plate. He arrests them after discovering a bag of marijuana, belonging to Peter’s sister, in the trunk; and as he reads them their Miranda rights, he slips in a chilling non-sequitur: “…You have the right to an attorney. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you…” Thus begins a nightmarish journey to the town of Desperation, Nevada, where forces of evil the like of no other have been released.

Soon, they reach the Desperation Municipal Building where the deputy unceremoniously shoots Peter in the stomach and leaves his body in the foyer before dragging Mary upstairs—over the body of a dead girl—to lock her in a holding cell. There, she meets Ralph, Ellen, and David Carter (the dead girl on the stairs is Ralph and Ellen’s daughter, Kirsten) and Tom Billingsley, the town vet and the only other resident of Desperation present (the Carvers having been abducted from their annual trip to Lake Tahoe from Ohio). They are soon joined by Johnny Marinville, an aging author who had once been called “the writer Norman Mailer always wanted to be,” and who had been taking a cross-country trip on his Harley as inspiration for a new book.

Before the day is over, the six of them will have to face evil in its purest form—but among them is a young boy, David Carver, who might just have the extraordinary faith to do what it takes.

This was one of those books that I often had to make myself slow down and go back a page or two to make sure I was actually absorbing everything, because I was turning the pages so fast at times that it was hard to let everything sink in! Definitely an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Lots of gore, but that’s to be expected. And the Carver family was truly heart-wrenching, especially David, who is just a phenomenal character. Johnny Marinville, too—most of the time I want to punch him but he’s really a good guy at heart.

It was very interesting to me how much God featured into this one—I know that King believes in God, despite his deep suspicion of organized religion, but I was surprised to see this much. At its core, this book really seemed to be about David’s struggle with his belief in God—who, he believes, miraculously healed his friend Brian from a near-fatal accident—and the fact that God can be cruel enough to let Entragian kill his sister. After all the horrors David goes through in Desperation, though, the book ends on a good note:

“…First John, chapter 4, verse eight. ‘God is love.’”
She looked at him for a long time. “Is he, David? Is he love?”
“Oh, yes,” David said… “I guess he’s sort of…everything.” 

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7 thoughts on “Desperation – Stephen King

  1. I read this book a while back after watching the miniseries. Wasn’t there a scene in which David had a vision and saw a young John Marinville? If my memory is correct about that, what did you make of that scene? Why would David see a young John Marinville?

    • I think it was partially God’s way of showing David how everything is connected–the bar that Marinville and his Vietnam buddies are standing outside is called the Viet Cong Lookout, which is what David and his friend Brian named their treehouse. It was also just a fantastic dramatic device. Although I do have to admit I expected a “Sixth Sense”-ish twist–I expected Marinville to actually be dead, rather than David’s explanation that his soul had “died.”

  2. Wow, 4 King books already this year! I’ve never read anything by him but want to change that. Just not sure where to start. What was the first book you read by him? Any suggestions on a good King introductory book?

    • The first one I read was The Stand, I think–but I’d recommend starting with The Shining. It’s one of his earliest, but also one of his best. And if you haven’t yet, DON’T watch the Kubrick version of the movie. It’s terrible. But if you have, read the book anyway, because it’s tons better than the movie–it’s a lot more cohesive and makes a lot more sense, haha.

      It really depends what you want out of King as far as what you should choose to read–I’ve read a bunch of his books but probably not even close to half. Do you want a good gross-out? (Read Needful Things) Do you want a mainly psychological thriller? (Read Misery) Do you want an epically long, meticulously detailed and plotted story? (Read It, The Stand, or Bag of Bones) Do you want him to scare your pants off? (Pet Sematery) Do you want something more of a tragedy? (Firestarter, The Running Man)

      I’d still recommend starting with The Shining, but from there, take a look at what really interests you. King is a fantastic writer, and despite the common conception, doesn’t JUST write horror. Yes, many of his books fall in that genre–I’d even say most do–but most also overlap into other genres, like science fiction, historical fiction, etc.

      Happy reading!

      • Thanks for such a detailed response! I used to think King only wrote horror and that’s not really a genre I tend to read so I never picked up anything by him. But I’ve since learned there’s more to him and I want to keep an open mind and see what he’s about. Thanks for all the suggestions! 🙂

        • No problem!! I always get really excited (in case you couldn’t tell) when someone wants to start reading King 🙂 He’s one of my favorite authors and I hope he ends up being one of your favorites too!! If you’re not into “horror” per se, I’d suggest reading 11/22/63, which is almost entirely historical fiction (and a bit of science fiction) about a guy who goes back in time to attempt to stop the Kennedy assassination. It just came out in November and it was awesome! Not really “horror” at all, just a few kinda gory fight scenes.

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