This and Bag of Bones are probably the best horror-genre books Stephen King has produced to date. What surprised me most about Insomnia is that it's eloquent, and rather heart-felt. Missing is the casual narrational profanity that marks so many of his other works. The profanity is there, but it serves a Purpose (with a capital P) so to speak. It illustrates just how crazy Edward Deepneau really is. It's not that I have a problem with profanity so to speak, it's just that the lack of it in a King novel was the first thing that struck me. In it's place is a straight-shooting narrative of life in the golden years, with all of the genuine wisdoms and simple, yet beyond the reach of most people, observations about life that make you sit back and think, "Yup, that just about sums it up." The elliptical narrative of the book fits in with the general theme of fate and the imagery of fate and life being a wheel, an observation explored more fully in the Dark Tower series.
And how cool is Ralph Roberts? I think that he's probably my favorite King fictional character, which says a lot considering the mini-universe he's created over the past 30 years. Ralph Roberts is optimistic, stubborn, kind, gentle and genteel, quietly heroic and self-deprecating all while he deals with his life, his health and his community falling apart. It's interesting to me that 99% of America's heroic figures are in their 20s-30s with no sense of wisdom really at all. Blundering through epic events or quiet miseries without any sense of the bigger picture. And we lift them up. And we wish we were like them. Not like the old crocks sitting in the park, waiting around for their time to exit stage right. Most, would view old age like Ralph's friend Bill McGovern: a tragedy to be avoided until the last possible moment. Ralph on the other hand confronts it, accepts it, and there's a sense of peace about him, even frustration that is admirable and endearing. In short, Ralph's the kind of old man you only hope you can become. He deals with the dark events in Derry not with his might or endurance, but with sagacity and an old school sense of roll-up your sleeves pluck that seems missing nowadays. Ralph makes this novel.
On finishing Insomnia I began to wonder if maybe I love this book so much because of how much of the missing Dark Tower info is filled in by this novel. In a sense this is a missing book that belongs completely within the Tower narrative cycle because it explains how a very important person ends up being where he is at a very important time. Anyways, was this just really good fan-service? Or is it a genuinely good novel?
I think it's both. King found a way to satisfy Tower fans with a little bit of fleshing out of the original story, while not trying too hard to imitate and recreate his past-success (Yes I'm wagging a finger at YOU George Lucas - thinking that it's clever to have all of your characters use the same one-liners as Han Solo over and over again through six movies and thinking that ties everything together. Pay attention). This is a separate story, fully enjoyable on its own, but you get a level of its richness and a new respect for how King keeps so many dangling threads of storyline straight in his 40 year career so as to create meaningful and casual intersections whenever he feels like it.
BTW, I did notice that part of this story did drag. But on the other hand, I think that the period where Ralph first comes down with Insomnia is meant to drag. You're supposed to feel as weary and bewildered as Ralph. So take your pick: it's either genius or a waste of a hundred pages.