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Book Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Here is something I learned in Empis: Good people shine brighter in dark times.

This is not a book review, but a book response. I could summarize the plot (portal fantasy that interacts with The Wizard of Oz in some ways) or point out some literary tropes (good vs. evil, overcoming monsters, father/son relationships) or even point out a flaw or two (how, for example, did Bowditch manage to record the tape explaining the shed while he was in the process of having a heart attack?). But others have done that better than I have, and at some point what can you say about a book that has more than 56,000 ratings on Amazon?

All that’s left to tell are personal reactions, and I read Stephen King’s novel Fairy Tale for three personal reasons:

  1. I bought it for Nathan to read while he was recuperating from surgeries three and four last January, and since he read that actual copy of the book, I wanted to read it too.
  2. If my dad were alive, he would read it and love it.
  3. I imagined it to be a sort of alternate universe for Jake from the Dark Tower series to live in where he got a gentler story.

Fairy Tale Stephen KingAt some point Nathan put the book down unfinished, so I had to wait until the summer to read it, once he picked it back up and finished. He liked but didn’t love it, which is a fine response.

I discovered, while I read it, that my supposition was pretty close. Charlie does remind me a lot of Jake, and while he does go through a lot of weird and painful stuff, his story is more gentle than Jake’s.

But really why I am glad I read Fairy Tale is because of the second reason: My dad would have loved it.

One of the saddest things about your dad developing dementia in his early sixties is all the conversations you don’t get to have. Although my mom did the work of taking us to the library and making sure we got books as Christmas gifts, I’m a bibliophile mostly because my dad was. Like me, he just always was reading something; books were a part of who he was as much as his penchant for church shoes with his swim trunks at Lake Powell.

But I never really talked much about books with him once I was married and had kids. I think the noise of those years didn’t give space for it, or maybe our reading tastes didn’t overlap enough. (Being a librarian really stripped me of all my book-snob tendencies; I can now discuss any kind of book with any kind of reader.) And by the time my life had quieted a little and I had acquired that skill, his dementia had started.

Not all of the books I read are ones I’d have a conversation with my dad about. Probably not even many.

But Fairy Tale is. He would have read it and loved it and found some little bit of it to repeat in admiration.

Reading it with him on the edges of my brain was almost, almost like having a conversation about a book with him. It made me miss him so much and brought back all of the grief of losing him. And it made me feel closer to him, like we had an experience together, even if it all was in my head.

And that’s one of the things I love about books, and why “reader” is as core a part of my identity as anything else about me. An author wrote a book during a pandemic, and everyone who read it had an experience. My experience (along with all of the other readers’) is nothing the author imagined or intended, and yet: here we are.

I’m glad my dad taught me to love books and that we can have that connection still, even though he’s gone.

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