Monday, January 30, 2006

Stephen King's "Cell" -- fast, bloody, and fun

I won't spoil your enjoyment of "Cell" by revealing any plot twists. There aren't any. The premise is set up by page three and the rest is a safety-bar off, roller-coaster ride to Hell.

In short, anyone who is on or calls on their cell phone on October 1st is turned into something like a zombie, a creature with no memory or ability to reason. Civilization comes crashing down within, oh, about twenty minutes.

Then the survivors have to survive, a theme that King returns to again and again in his novels. The world ends abruptly. Now what?

When I first read "The Stand," as a teenager, I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought the book was going to be about an epidemic and the brave people who fight it. Instead, by the end of the first hundred pages, the world was done and ended. It was breathtaking, like being punched without warning. My teenage friends and I discussed endlessly "What We Would Do" as survivors. The new series "Lost" engages the same sense of wonder and contemplation; how would I survive the Island? What would I do?

I read "Cell" while awaiting an airline flight, and then while I was on the long, boring flight. If Islamic terrorists had tried to take over the plane I think I would have screamed like an enraged ape, scrambled over the seats and ripped out their throats with my teeth, I was so involved in this world where nothing but survival mattered. (And the taste would have been salty and hot as a spilled cup of coffee.... Don't interrupt me while I'm reading a new King book. Someone should make me a sign.)

Then I realized (point of essay coming up) that Stephen King had to create a zombie-like mystical cell phone "Pulse" to destroy our brains because we now know what happens to Americans when unimaginable disaster strikes.

We help each other. We sometimes die for each other. We act with bravery and courage and steadfastness, and like Todd Beamer we say our prayers before we go to fight evil and die to keep it from killing countless others.

What about Katrina? You might ask. Wasn't there rioting, looting, stabbing, raping, and murdering? Didn't the survivors of Katrina act like King's cell phone zombies? Actually, we've learned that the stories coming out of Katrina were mostly that -- stories. There were no gang rapes at the Superdome. No bodies piled like cordword in the Convention Center. There were lots of thirsty and unhappy people at the Superdome and there was looting, but most people were helpful, rescued others, took care of each other and tried their best to endure their suffering with dignity.

Katrina, one might say, was where the news media tried to write their own Stephen King thriller. The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, Flight 93, the Shoe Bomber (who was captured and tied to his seat so thoroughly by passenger's belts that he had to be cut free), the North American Blackout of '03, showed us Americans who were brave, courageous, and kind, and who helped each other.

Stephen King's "Cell" is also a story of bravery and courage, and the Americans who survive the Pulse are endearing characters. It's a fast and bloody read and there is a death in there that makes me want to punch Mr. King right in the mouth (so what else is new, asks the loyal readers of the Dark Tower series?) but I liked it very much. I think you will, too.


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