Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

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Bag of Bones
by Stephen King
Four years after the sudden death of his wife, forty-year-old bestselling novelist Mike Noonan is still grieving. Unable to write, and plagued by vivid nightmares set at the western Maine summerhouse he calls Sara Laughs, Mike reluctantly returns to the lakeside getaway. There, he finds his beloved Yankee town held in the grip of a powerful millionaire, Max Devore, whose vindictive purpose is to take his three-year-old granddaughter, Kyra, away from her widowed young mother, Mattie. As Mike is drawn into Mattie and Kyra's struggle, as he falls in love with both of them, he is also drawn into the mystery of Sara Laughs, now the site of ghostly visitations and escalating terrors. What are the forces that have been unleashed here—and what do they want of Mike Noonan?

It is no secret that King is one of our most mesmerizing storytellers. In Bag of Bones, he proves to be one of our most moving as well.


  • I am a Stephen King junkie. I started reading him in high school and quickly tore through just about everything he'd ever written, and then started buying every new book he put out. Being a Stephen King fan is kind of like being a geek for Dragonlance or comic books - reviewing his work seems borderline pointless because non-fans will usually dismiss him out of hand and be hard to convince of any intrinsic value, and fans are already pretty hardcore about him.

Nevertheless, I wanted to add this specific Stephen King book to my "all time faves" shelf for three reasons:

1. It's amazing
2. Among King's books, this one is lesser known (hasn't been made into a movie or mini-series, isn't usually on people's Top 5 lists, etc.)
3. I think it's one of his more accessible and "mainstream" books.

Don't get me wrong, I love IT and The Stand and the Gunslinger septulogy, all the crazy outlandish horror and fantasy that is SK's bread and butter. But I adore Bag of Bones and think it is one of his absolute best. It's very intimate, very down to earth, with the supernatural downplayed. It's told from the first-person perspective of a widower writer with writer's block. I wouldn't want to give away much more than that. It's just a really solidly told story, where King writes about what he knows, doesn't try too hard or reach too far, and ends up with a perfectly polished gem.

This is not just a great Stephen King book, it's a great book.

  • I am enjoying what I think is perhaps Stephen King’s best novel, ever.

The opinion on Stephen King’s best work differs depending on who you talk to; but for me, it will always be Bag of Bones.

It’s the one novel of Kings that I’ve read more than any other (nine times) and each time it’s just as wonderful and beautiful and engaging as it was the first time I opened up my hardcover copy ten years ago.

I think it was the beginning of King moving away from horror and toward a more literary style of writing. Hearts in Atlantis, Lisey’s Story and Duma Key (his most literary works) would come later, but Bag of Bones was the beginning of something, the capturing of time in the pages of a book.

I remember when I first read Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. I was on welfare at the time and living in a boarding house with nine other people. It was this big sprawling Victorian house that still had the servants quarters in the attic and the servants stairs to the kitchen. I remember going to the bookstore early in the morning and spending more money than I had on the book.

Even though it was fall, I sat outside on the front porch of the big old house and opened my book to the first page. I remember smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee; but I don’t remember much else except the words.

It was the words, the language that transported me.

I had thought that I was going to read a story of a writer haunted by ghosts. In a sense, that’s what the book was about. But in reality, Bag of Bones was and is about a man haunted by himself, haunted by the past.

It was the most beautiful book by King that I had ever read. I felt for and ached for Mike Noonan, newly widowed writer of thriller novels. Newly struggling with a writers block so intense that he could not write a word.

I remember thinking when I brought that book home that it was so big, that it was huge. That it would take me forever to finish it (and thus worth the fourty some dollars I had spent on it).

The book lasted me three days.

Three glorious days where I was held spellbound, enraptured, in rapture. Bag of Bones for me was more than a novel. It was a gift. While reading Bag of Bones, I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to see if I could write something as good as Bag of Boens.

I’m still trying.

That hardcover copy was lent out, only to be lent out to someone else. It was lost to me, never to be seen again. And so, when the book came out in paperback, I bought a copy. I read that copy twice a year for many years, always saving it for a dark, rainy day. It somehow seemed appropriate, reading Bag of Bones when the rain was falling down around me.

It would call to me on my shelf, begging to be read. I swear I could hear the book sigh with contentment when I took it off the shelf and held it in my hands.

Not learning my lesson the first time, I lent it out to someone who either lost it or lent it out to someone else. It was never clear what happened to the book. Suffice it to say that I felt like I had lost a part of me. After all, it was Bag of Bones that showed me what I wanted to do with my life.

It’s been a couple years since I’ve read Bag of Bones. So imagine my surprise when I saw a trade paperback edition on the shelves in the bookstore yesterday.

I had no reason being in the bookstore. I had little money but, when I saw Bag of Bones, sitting there nestled in between other paperbacks, I thought again of when I had first read the novel. I looked at the cover: 10th Anniversary Edition.

Ten years? That couldn’t be right, I thought. It can’t have been ten years. But I counted back and indeed it has been. Time flies when you’re having fun. I picked up the book and stroked the cover lightly, letting the memories flood back into my consciousness.

It was not lost on me that I found myself in much the same situation as I did ten years ago: Staring at the gorgeous white cover with little money to my name but knowing that I would leave the store a few dollars poorer but all the more richer with that book under my arm.

And what a book it is. Bag of Bones reads as fresh ten years later as it did ten years past. What I love most about the novel, I think, is its gothic nature. Mike Noonan, trying to find the power to write again by delving into his past. As a writer myself, I identify with Mike, with his struggle. With his search for peace.

There is some bonus material enclosed: we get to read an interview about why Stephen King wrote Bag of Bones and learn a bit more about what he thinks of the novel. We also get a short story, The Cat From Hell, from Kings upcoming collection of short stories Just After Sunset which will hit the shelves on November 11th.

But for me, it’s not the bonus material (though great it is) that makes the new edition of Bag of Bones so incredible. For me, then and now, it’s about the story, the language, the power of words and redemption from the ghosts of your past.

For, in the end, we are all bags of bones.

  • Had you asked me a month ago what I thought of Bag of Bones I might have chuckled and shook my head. I might have told you it is one of the worst Stephen King books there is, that it is easily in my bottom five King reads, down there with such piles of Kingly excrement as Dreamcatcher, Wizard and Glass, The Eyes of the Dragon, and From a Buick 8, the latter being the pinnacle of Uncle Stevie's fecal production. In other words, friends and neighbors, I hated this book.

But that was then and this is now. What happened over the course of 17 years, the timespan between my first read and this one? Well, I stopped doing Class-A narcotics for entertainment purposes, became a husband and a father of two, grew up a little, and all-around dug my head out of my ass. My change of heart could have something to do with one of those things or all of them. I don't know. But this is a gorgeous book. A little heavy in the rear, but absolutely beautiful.

My only complaint this time around is how long the book goes on after the denouement. It's not annoyingly long, but I feel a few questions could have been edited out in the beginning half of the book so that we didn't have to sit around for twenty pages reading about two men chatting over whiskey about what happened in the past 710 pages. I only say this editing could have been done because it is one of the things the made-for-tv movie gets right.

One of the toughest topics this book tackles is the subject of male lust, how immediate and destructive a force it can be. It took a heavy sack on King's part to speak honestly about something every man deals with yet most cannot explain. King does not condone or make excuses here. He explains. This is how it is, and there are men that find their own thoughts reprehensible. Yes, we all lust. Yes, we all imagine how wonderful it would be for our partners to say "Do what you want", but not all of us prefer that over love and tenderness.

Okay, here's where you take responsibility. By clicking on "view spoiler" you agree that you've read King's entire catalogue and will not hold me responsible for things being ruined because you're too damn inquisitive. Trust me, the shit hidden here is only interesting if you have read all of King's books.

(view spoiler)

In summation: Some books are better the second time around. What is sad is that I never would have reread this one had I not taken on this massive challenge. I feel that this entire journey has been worth it if only because I have a new favorite King book. Bag of Bones is a powerful novel that doesn't get the credit it deserves from King fans. I cannot recommend a first read, but I highly recommend a reread.

Final Judgment: Sometimes it's the reader and not the book.

  • I was a big Stephen King fan back in the 7th grade, mainly because it was my first experience with books written for adults. 
After a while though, I stared reading other more obscure novels and I stopped reading King's works. Bag of Bones really caught my interest though, and I found it to be much better than many of his other books because of the way it deals so much with plain human emotion, loss and life. Like his novel Pet Sematary, Bag of Bones has a main theme of overwhelming grief, as the main character tries to move on from the death of a loved one, finding it impossible. Sometimes it's the simplest things that can be the most complex, as King's novel proves. He also creates a vivid setting and very realistic characters.

  • Easily my favorite Stephen King novel ever, and I've read a wide cross section of different eras of his stuff. 
This is a ghost's about being haunted, both by spirits and by memories. It's a book about loss and grief, but also a suspenseful mystery with a super spooky atmosphere, set in a creepy, unincorporated and sparesely populated fading resort community with a dark historic past. The mystery and the hauntings are linked in with a child custody battle, complete with a nefarious old villain, and a damsel in distress. At the center of it all is Mike Noonan, a troubled best-selling writer (naturally), who is greiving the sudden loss of his deeply beloved, spunky number one fan, his wife, and, he has reason to believe, their unborn child.

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