Richard Bachman was dead by this point in King’s career. Died around the time of Thinner. Cancer of the pseudonym. But are writers ever really dead if they’ve left their words behind? Maybe not.
The Regulators is Richard Bachman’s “last” book. Sure, Thinner was also his “last” book, but then The Regulators was discovered after his passing. So this is the last book. Or it will be until Blaze, which is also attributed to Richard Bachman. All of this finding of Richard Bachman’s lost novels does make me wonder what’s going to happen after King himself passes away. I mean, King is a far more prolific writer than his pseudonym ever was (I’m aware that sentence is ridiculous since they’re both King, but it serves to further prove the point since King wrote so much that he needed an alternate to handle some of the overflow.) So unless King publishes absolutely everything that he writes under his own name — which I doubt — there’s probably going to be some stuff to go through when it’s all over. Hell, I’m not entirely convinced we’re all done finding Bachman novels, either.
Anyway, the hook here is that The Regulators and Desperation were released on the same day, The Regulators under Bachman’s name and Desperation under King’s. They had cleverly designed covers that could be placed side by side to form a complete picture. They weren’t the same, but they had a lot of crossover — a Nevada mine connection, a monster of some sort called Tak, even the same cache of guns, more or less. The characters aren’t the same, but many of them are at the same time. Like, do you remember the Carver family from Desperation? Ralph and Ellie as the parents to Kirstie (also called Pie) and the devout David? Well, in The Regulators, David and Kirstie (also called Pie) are the parents to Ralph and Ellie, and the entire family is decidedly less important than they were in the other story, but they’re definitely there. Or Collie Entragian, who is the first antagonist of Desperation and turns out to be a cop possessed by Tak? In The Regulators, he’s a disgraced cop who is fired from the force for drug use, but it turns out he was set up, and he’s really a good guy… and also less important to the plot. Meanwhile, Audrey Wyler, who has a relatively minor role in Desperation, has a starring role here as the aunt and guardian to the little autistic boy currently housing Tak and running the show.
Even the characters who are the same here are funhouse mirror versions of themselves. Johnny Marinville is still a writer, but instead of novels, he writes children’s books about a feline detective. And, I might add, is a lot nicer. Steve and Cynthia are very much like themselves from Desperation, but Steve has a different backstory and Cynthia has almost no backstory at all (which kind of makes sense — I feel like she probably can’t be Cynthia from Rose Madder in both Desperation and The Regulators, unless the story is about her having fallen into a different dimension. So instead, she’s Cynthia from Rose Madder in Desperation, and alternate-universe Cynthia in The Regulators, where Rose Madder doesn’t factor in.) Some characters we hear of but never actually meet in Desperation (while they’re alive anyway) are given much more meaty roles here, too. Brad Josephson comes to mind.
It’s honestly confusing. Like, if you’re mentally trying to make them sequels or affiliated novels or something, you’re going to get turned around. That’s not how it is. Instead, think of the story elements like Scrabble tiles or something. Tak is a tile. Each character name is its own tile. Desperation, Nevada, and Columbus, Ohio are each tiles. A bunch of words are tiles. It’s like someone dropped identical batches of these tiles in front of Stephen King and Richard Bachman and said, “make a story” and the different stories are what each man’s brain came up with — the overlap is because they were working with the same tiles. Of course, it gets confusing again when you realize that King and Bachman aren’t actually separate men, so the same brain made both of these stories, but ignore that. Maybe King is able to channel Bachman like an alternate personality or something if it helps make the analogy work. Lord knows that man’s brain is different, because who does things like this? Anything’s possible. (I’m not complaining, whatever I think of the stories themselves, I find the whole concept of these paired novels kind of delightful.)
The only thing is that The Regulators doesn’t feel like a Bachman novel to me. It feels more like a King novel that was convenient to publish under Bachman’s name. I mean, since Bachman isn’t actually a different man, that’s a totally reasonable feeling, but former Bachman novels do feel more different from King novels than this one does. There are some things that feel Bachman-y to me — Kim Geller immediately jumping to shitty racist when things get hairy strikes me as a real Bachman kind of thing, for example. That channels Thinner to me — squeaky clean, outwardly pleasant suburbanites who are just ugly right underneath the surface. And there are other moments like that. The fact that Mary is killed while coming home panty-less from an adulterous tryst also feels like this. But overall, I feel like there’s too much love in this novel for a Bachman novel. Mostly from Audrey, toward her late husband, and toward Seth, but you also find it in less prominent places, like between Brad and Belinda. Stephen King places great importance on the power of love, all kinds of love — the romantic kind, the friendship kind, the parent-to-child and child-to-parent kinds, and other kinds as well. I mean, love doesn’t always conquer all the darkness in his books, but when anything does conquer the darkness, or even just beats it back a little, love usually factors into it somewhere. And when nothing conquers the darkness, love still factors into it somewhere. Bachman, on the other hand, is much more cynical about love. He’s more cynical on human nature, too — I feel like Bachman has more characters who are basically rotten under the surface or heading that way, while King is more likely to show us a character with a rotten surface who still has a spark of humanity underneath. And when King does have a rotten character, they’re clearly a bad guy — either an antagonist or someone we’re obviously supposed to dislike. Bachman’s rotten characters are just as likely to be random friends and neighbors of the protagonist who are obviously not the antagonist and maybe not even important enough for us to dislike. And his protagonist might like them fine. And actually, the protagonist might be kind of rotten too. Point is, I don’t think the Bachman side of King has a high opinion of people or love. But the ending of The Regulators feels like King to me. For what it’s worth, all the inserted articles, journal entries, and letters that break up the story in The Regulators also feel like King to me — like how he wrote Carrie.
I like King’s take on things better than Bachman’s, usually, so again, I’m not really complaining, but I do think this is the only book with Bachman on the byline that doesn’t really feel like Bachman to me — other than that it’s an AU of a King book in a way that only a different writer living in King’s head would be able to pull off, that is. Which is what this is, so it’s fine.
I don’t think The Regulators is the most amazing story or anything, but I actually like it a bit better than Desperation — I like that it doesn’t ever trot out religion as a cause or solution for anything. But really, the most fascinating thing about these stories to me is just their existence as funhouse mirror images of each other, released together, with different bylines, without any particular explanation or obvious connective tissue. They’re an experience, especially taken together, and I think when you read them back-to-back, they add up to more than either does on its own.