So, I know I’ve read Dreamcatcher once before. I think I saw the movie as well. None of it stuck, though — I remembered so little of it that I may as well have been coming to it with only the knowledge that this is the book with the shit-weasels — something that even a person who had never read or watched Dreamcatcher might have known just through it being out there in the culture. Maybe the shit-weasels threw me off so much on first read that I just didn’t absorb anything else? I don’t know. Anyway, this was really like discovering a new book for me, and that’s always fun.
This is one of Stephen King’s less popular novels, I’m pretty certain, and King himself has been quoted as not liking it much — and also noting that it was written under the influence of pain meds. I’m not positive, but this may be the first book that was entirely conceived and written post-accident for him. I agree it’s not his best, but it’s actually not bad. You might expect a book that contains shit-weasels to be really bad, but it’s like… not great for an author who’s a top performer at what he does, so still better than a lot of random non-King books you might pull off a shelf.
Dreamcatcher has a lot of body horror — the last book that sticks out to me that has anywhere near this level of it is Thinner. And I think this one probably has more. That’s all right — or it is if you aren’t super sensitive to that, anyway — but it would be difficult not to notice that you’re reading a book written by someone recovering from a terrible accident. Stephen King’s books always feel personal in some way or another, but in this book, the body horror feels personal. Very, very personal. And it’s hard not to notice that one of his main characters is… recovering from a horrible accident that involves being a pedestrian struck by a car. He broke his hip, even. I mean.
I have a series of notes in the book trying to figure out which president it is that he’s referring to as the one who’s trying to calm the country down about being invaded by the fungus/shit-weasel aliens. Based on the book’s publishing date, W. Bush is an obvious option. The characters refer to or think of him as narrowly-elected, the reference the mess in Florida that everyone of voting age probably remembers happening in 2000 (“can’t they count down there?” one character asks) the irregularities in the election cause one character to think of the president as Mr. Okefenokee, and it’s stated that it’s too early to tell how this narrowly elected president will do. All of this adds up with the book’s publishing date — February 20th, 2001. At that point, W. had only recently been inaugurated, so it was much too soon to tell how he’d do. The Supreme Court had decided Bush vs. Gore on December 12th.
But is that right? Because the notation at the bottom of the final page of the story, and King’s Author’s Note at the back, suggest that he finished the book in May of 2000. In May of 2000, the election hadn’t even happened yet — King wouldn’t have known who the president was going to be in 2001 yet, nor would he have known there was going to be a contested election and trouble counting ballots in Florida. But these facts don’t match with what I recall of Clinton. Did he add those parts after the fact, some kind of final draft right before publishing? I don’t know. I’m not exactly positive how long it takes to publish a book either, but given that the trouble with that election started in November of 2000, was decided in December, and this book was published in February of 2001, that feels like it’s cutting it a little close to be adding details about the election.
On a related topic, the book also contains some discussion of the president’s speech in response to the crisis, which some hailed as great and just exactly what was needed, and others blew off as nothing special and chalked any positive reaction to his speech up to the general distress at the moment — basically saying that anyone could have gotten that reaction at that moment. And you know, that’s sort of how I remember the response to Bush’s speech addressing the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with some praising him as the only person who could have delivered such remarks at such a time and calmed the nation, and others who thought his words were inadequate or nothing special. But King can’t possibly have been trying to parallel the reaction to that speech, because this book was already published and on the shelves months before 9/11 even happened.
I mean, maybe this is just a common type of reaction to a leader’s speech after a uniquely harrowing crisis. It’s logical — the divisions that exist in normal times exist in critical times too, so it’s logical that those who oppose the president would dismiss his speech and its effects, while the people who support him would praise it. And that might also be especially stark when a president is as controversial and narrowly-elected as W. was. But it all made me wonder if King was receiving transmissions from other levels of the tower when he was writing this.
Speaking of which, there’s a good chance that Dreamcatcher actually takes place somewhere other than the “real”, keystone-world, level of the tower anyway since something like this would be major news for quite a while and would, you’d think, be brought up again if it happened in the same setting as some of his other books. Maybe it’s a slightly different version of the world — one where the events of It still happened, but other things are different. Maybe the president, even. Sort of like how The Stand apparently takes place in a non-keystone level world.
Anyway, I’m probably spending too much time thinking about this, but it bugged me.
The other thing that I really should address about this book is Duddits. For whatever reason, Duddits is usually the one that people seem to latch onto when they want to make complaints about King’s “special” characters. Duddits undoubtedly is a “magical disabled person” trope, and King has actually done this again and again. To me, Duddits felt a lot like John Coffey — able to use his powers to help and also able to pass them on, essentially sacrificed himself for his friends/the world. I don’t love this, but personally, I don’t think Duddits is really worse than any other similar character. King never portrays these characters cruelly or unkindly, I don’t think. (Maybe inaccurately, though) The people who do treat them cruelly are always bad characters who are punished for doing so. But he keeps making them magic, and the people who treat these characters kindly tend to get rewarded (when really, this should just be the baseline expectation) and it gets problematic. Duddits is as good an example of that tendency as exists anywhere in the King canon, I guess, but I don’t think he’s any worse than any of the others.
All in all, I actually think I liked this one. It’s probably not going to be on the top of my reread list, but I imagine I will reread it at some point. It’s better than I thought that it would be (and the shit-weasels are less prevalent and less important than I thought they would be too. I mean, they’re there, you can’t forget them, but the book isn’t overrun with them either.) I would recommend it to someone who skipped it due to bad press.
I don’t know about the movie, though. I do remember that being a mess.