Book Review: "Cell" by Stephen King.

I haven't done a book review in a while, and I felt this one would be a good one to review, seeing as I have quite a few feelings on it.


Cell is my first Stephen King novel (second attempted... I tried reading the first book of his Dark Tower series and was so bored to tears that I eventually just gave up). I've heard different opinions of this book. Some call it superb and anybody, King fan or not, will love it. Some call it a hack job and just a mishmash of previous works (particularly The Stand). As I've said, I've never read a previous King work (I've seen movie versions), but even I could tell this was piecemeal.

Let's start with the story. Clay Riddell is in Boston selling his first graphic novel, Dark Wanderer. But suddenly, everybody on their cellphones, or even people listening in on cell conversations, just start going crazy. They become somewhat reminiscent of 28 Days/Weeks Later's Infected. They're fast. They're dangerous. They're angry. They're insane. They'll do anything to cause destruction. During the madness, Clay meets Tom, who didn't have his cell because his cat had accidentally knocked it off the counter and broken it that morning. And not long after, they meet a teen girl named Alice, whose mother just attacked her after turning into one of the "phone-crazies." Eventually, the group heads off to Maine, where Clay is from, to find his son and ex-wife (but moreso his son). They meet others along the way, and they all realize that things might not be that easy (...or is it?), as the phone-crazies begin to evolve.

First, let's start with the most important aspect of the story: the "phone-crazies," "phoners," whatever you wanna call them. Just don't call them zombies, because they aren't. How can people call this a zombie story? Hell, in comparison, I'd be more likely to call 28 Days Later... a zombie story faster than I'd call this one, and if you know me, that's saying a lot. First, they aren't dead, undead, or anywhere close to not being alive. Second, they're not cannibals. They don't yearn for human flesh or any other part of the human body. They eat twinkies and vegetables and who knows what other common foods. Third, they attack anything (human or animal) and anybody (including their own kind, which zombies really don't do... but I can let this one slide a bit). And not to mention their psionic tendencies (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.). Yeah, you heard me right.

The story starts off great. It's suspenseful. The characters have, well, character and personality. But once they leave Boston, and once the phoners begin to evolve, the story begins to devolve. The characters are hardly ever in any danger, and they do more watching than anything else. And once they realize when and how to travel, the danger zone all but disappears, as the threat basically becomes nonexistent. In other words, outside the first quarter or so of the book, there is almost no "horror" or "suspense" in this "horror/suspense" novel.

And then we have the characters. After the Boston scenes, Tom loses all personality and he and Clay are damn near interchangeable. And outside of being (sometimes irrationally) focused on getting to his son, he's a boring lead character. He doesn't really do anything. Alice starts off as an interesting character, and then she gets that little sneaker. It wouldn't be annoying if the book didn't go out of its way to explain how annoyed your POV character gets at her obsession with it. And then she, too, starts devolving from a teenage girl into just another cutout of the rest of the characters. She doesn't act or speak (which I'll get to momentarily) like any normal teenage girl, or much like she did at the beginning of the book (which is what happened with Tom, too). And then we have other characters, like Jordan, Ray, Dan, and Denise, the latter 3 feeling so random and out of place and so underdeveloped, it was crazy. Jordan  (a 12-year-old boy computer whiz) wasn't really developed, either, but he did have grown men (gay and straight) fawning over him and wanting to cover him in kisses... which is just awkward. In other words, everybody just acted strange, like Stephen King forgot how people act around each other.

And then we have the dialogue, which even in the Boston scenes feels awkward and poor. None of the dialogue felt realistic for any character, and by the end, everybody sounded exactly the same--trying to see who could drop the f-bomb more (from the once-meek Tom to the 12-year-old Jordan). I have absolutely zero problem with language, but some of it in this book was just plain gratuitous and out of place with the rest of the scene or whatnot. Or there will be times when somebody will make a (really bad) joke (sometimes I wasn't even aware it was supposed to be a joke), and all the present characters will start laughing so hard they have tears coming out of their eyes. Not to mention some of the dialogue is just weird or doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

I wouldn't necessarily say the book is off-the-charts boring as some reviews I've read have proclaimed, but there is a whole lot of nothing going on. And almost nothing is explained. What caused the "Pulse" in the first place? Who was behind it? Why was "this" or "that" mentioned (sometimes repetitively) though never brought back up again in any significant way, if at all? Why are the main characters labeled as "insane"? What's with the whole "virtual stage" thing? And then you have more logic-driven questions: Are the phoners actually evil, or are all these characters just idiots? If there's even a glimmer of hope that the phoners could be cured, why isn't it brought up sooner and why do the characters keep going out of their way to attack them and make them angry? Why bring up the main characters' importance to everybody if what you want is to not bring any unwanted attention their way? Why do their actions in the climax not make any rational sense, especially compared to their reasonings earlier on in the book? And, most importantly, why the hell did the book end the way it did? The entire last section of the book was completely unnecessary and an incredibly boring waste of time.

Seriously, I don't usually mind open endings, but this one is just ridiculous. On top of unanswered questions, logic problems, bad dialogue, little suspense, and flat characters, you won't even give resolution? Lame. There were many obvious segments in the book that were clearly put in because King had some writer's block and didn't know how to get the characters where he wanted them to go (for instance, the "shoes on the porch" thing felt like an excuse to keep them walking until they reached Gaiten Academy, especially since it was never bothered with after that moment).

Another random issue that I found was... how is it that every "normie" calls the phoners by the exact same thing? I find it a bit farfetched that complete strangers will meet up and both call these attackers "phone-crazies" or that the groups of them are "flocks." It's way too coincidental.

Overall, the book has a good premise. But it's marketed as a horror/suspense/zombie novel, and it really has none of these things. It's full of holes, logic problems, unnecessary descriptions, awful dialogue, unrealistic actions, undeveloped and unrealistic characters, unanswered questions, and almost no suspense. Though it's in the process of being made into a TV mini-series, and I'll probably give that a watch, assuming at least half of these issues are changed in the process of transferring it from page to screen.

Otherwise, I probably won't read it again. Was it the worst book I've ever read? Not even close. I did finish it, after all. But it was mainly a good premise that wasn't handled well after the beginning. After they leave Boston, it goes from good to decent and stays that way for about half the book (with a few dips here and there, usually involving character). And then it just starts to go downhill fast. Maybe if you're a hardcore King fan, you might enjoy it. But let's just say it didn't win me over to King.

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