Final say: The Outsider by Stephen King is one of the most anticipated books of 2018. A little more than a month after its release it holds a high Goodreads score of 4.26. In my opinion, it’s well deserved. I give it 5/5.
Going into this book I had zero expectations. Mind you, even though I did read some Stephen King work in my life, I was never a continued fan. One has to be a blind idiot not to appreciate his stories, his writing style, or his legacy, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. All a bit too dark, too long, and too naturalistic for my taste.
Still, in the past couple years I found myself returning to his novels more and more. The older and the new. Also, I do tend to like his new novels a lot. Stephen King is no spring chicken, and I feel his perspective on humans mellowed a bit, which I rather enjoy.
The beginning of the book puts a reader in medias res – to be more specific, in the middle of an ongoing police investigation. There is a small community that has been shaken by a gruesome rape and murder of a local boy. All evidence, including multiple eyewitness recollections, point to a single suspect – the local baseball coach Terry – a man with, up to this point, an impeccable community reputation.
This is where the true brilliance of the first part of the novel happens. The thing is… the main suspect? The bulletproof suspect? He has a PERFECT alibi. And when I say a perfect alibi I mean a perfect alibi. A shift happens here. The brilliance of King’s writing shines so brightly at this moment. I felt my mind stretch to its limits while I absolutely, as a reader, believe the suspect Terry is both guilty and completely innocent. Yes, of course, one can assume there is a supernatural power at work here (we are in a Stephen King novel, after all), but the way he writes, the way it puzzles our main hero detective Ralph is so palpable and so exciting.
I felt a cognitive dissonance happening in my mind as well as in the mind of our main characters, while the inner atmosphere slowly (actually, not so slowly) rose to a hot peak – something very becoming to Stephen King’s novels. He knows humans. He knows their inner workings. He knows their darkness… And that escalation was both amazing and heartbreaking at the same time.
Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno
The second part of the book was not as innovative as this first one, but it was still a great literary ride. The confirmation of the supernatural kills some of the mystery (even though not the creepiness). But, King shifts his focus to his other strengths, and here is the other thing King does well – teams of mismatched characters.
While the second part of the book follows a non-original script and contains barely anything original, the way King does it is masterful. He is a great storyteller; his characters came alive so easily, and they deal with so much. When a traumatic (or painful) thing happens to a character, that character does not just shake it off (like Taylor Swift) without dealing with the repercussions. You see… I love that. And I don’t see a lot of this in contemporary stories. Even King himself, as the narrator, (almost) breaks the fourth wall ridiculing situations we see in movies when a character gets seriously wounded but doesn’t even slow down, or when a character experiences something world shattering and simply recovers like nothing had happened. This doesn’t occur in King’s novels, and particularly in this one.
By allowing the characters to grieve and deal with life, King also allows them to connect more organically to other characters in the same or similar situations. They bond in tragedy. Nothing connects people like a common sorrow, a grief, or a common belief. I absolutely loved the team that formed in the second part of the book. That was such a bonus that I didn’t even care that the story suddenly turned to safety and predictability, or that the main climax at the end turned out to be a bit rushed.
Another beautiful surprise of “The Outsider” was the mid-book introduction of an old character from the other King novel – Holly Gibney. Her introduction was exciting! And her contribution to the story was deep. By the end, Ralph and she left me in tears. Like, literally in tears… I don’t know about you, but this does not happen often to me! Yes, I cry immensely during movies. I cry while listening to music! But not during books. And I never thought I’ll be weeping during a Stephen King novel.
“Doesn’t look like a monster, does he?” “They rarely do.”
Amidst everything, the writer still manages to explore big ideas like the nature of monstrosity. The weight of wrong decisions. Taking responsibility for your mistakes. Our capabilities of doing bad, but also doing good. What truly makes us human. Accepting the unacceptable. These are themes that are an integral part of King’s writing. And in the end, it is all about Good Vs. Evil, and despite this being a zillionth book on the subject by Stephen King, I believe he managed to find a fresh voice and bring something new to the table with “The Outsider“.