As I said in My Thoughts on Finishing Doctor Sleep I’d thought I might give Cell another chance. I originally read it when it was first published – I even have a hardback copy of it, so desperate was I to have another King in my life* – didn’t really like it and haven’t read it since. Having found myself wanting more King but also not wanting to enter into the cycle of Shining, Stand, Tower and so on I’d decided to give a less favourite title a try. Enter my least favourite King book of all.
When I first read Cell I remember feeling decidedly underwhelmed and a little disappointed. It wasn’t very, well, King. It didn’t grip me, wasn’t something I spent time thinking about and finding any excuse to get back to. I read it because it was there to be read and I don’t remember really enjoying it. Over the years I’ve heard many people talk disparagingly about Cell and I had to agree.
However, I don’t like not liking books. Especially if those books are written by Stephen King, or if people, whose opinions I respect, have read and liked them. I tried three times before I got the hang of The Tommyknockers, which is actually a great book (hey, maybe I’ll read that again, I’d forgotten all about that.) I’m still trying to read The Two Towers and The Fellowship of the Ring took me two goes. With this in mind I felt Cell was perhaps worth a second chance.
At the start of the book, we meet Clay, a comic book artist who is trying his luck in Boston. On the day of what will be later known as The Pulse he has just secured a contract which could mean not only work and money but possibly another chance for him and his estranged wife. Moments before The Pulse he is contemplating the call he will make when he returns to his motel room. This is because Clay doesn’t own a mobile phone. In the light of following events it’s definitely a good thing. Not such a good thing is the little red mobile phone his son owns. As Clay flees Boston and embarks on a journey to find his family, that little red phone is all he can think about. Eventually Clay, accompanied by a small group of normals he has gathered along the way, find themselves steered towards Kashwakamak, a no phone area and hopefully the place where he will be reunited with his son…
About halfway through the book I realised where I had gone wrong the first time. The book is dedicated to George Romero and Richard Matheson. Romero I got, the phone crazies are clearly supposed to be King’s take on the zombie genre, which some people consider Romero to be the granddaddy of (I tend to err toward Fulci personally but I do appreciate Romero). Matheson I didn’t. Between 2006 and now I read I Am Legend. This completely changes your appreciation of Cell. As a result I found myself sympathising more and more with the phone crazies. Cell is not just King’s homage to the zombie genre but an attempt to challenge the standard zombie bad, human good set up. Just like Matheson’s I Am Legend challenges the accepted, all vampires are bad guys approach. I appreciate it’s not quite as cut and dried as that, there are other strands to Matheson’s novel, vampirism as a disease for one, that ending for another. There is also fact that I Am Legend inspired Dawn of the Dead which brings things full circle quite nicely!
Consequently I enjoyed Cell a second time around although more because I got what it was trying to do than because I appreciated the storytelling any more than the first time. As far as King books go it’s pretty far down on my list of preferences, just not by itself right at the bottom.
*My collection pretty much goes, Paperback for anything already published, new books are Hardback. This is most clearly demonstrated with my Dark Tower books which have to be shelved in two lots, books one to four together and five to seven on a different shelf because they are bigger.