CELL by Stephen King

The last Stephen King novel I read was The Tommynockers back in 1990. I was on an overnight flight to Santiago. After arriving, I took a taxi to my hotel and spent another two hours finishing the novel, after which I swore off Stephen King novels, annoyed that I was at wasting time, delaying exploring this city I was visiting on a turn-around three-day trip from New York.

I am not a horror fan although I confess I did read Misery because I was intrigued by the premise. And now that I have discovered audio books (on CDs) I picked up one more Stephen King novel, Cell, again because I found the premise fascinating. I also get a lot of gardening done while listening.

For me it was Don Johnson in the TV series Nash Bridges that put the cell phone on the map. How he could hear anything over that sports car in which he roared around the streets of San Francisco is the question. But cell phones soon became annoying…on the way to becoming ubiquitous, the use of which is now accepted under most circumstances.

I personally thought they reached their peak the day I observed a heavyset woman wearing Bermuda shorts, a sleeveless blouse and flip-flops, and leaning on a shopping cart she was pushing around the supermarket while yammering away. Her chubby child and skinny, unkempt husband were in tow. But she was not talking to them. She was talking into a cell phone attached her ear by a large rubber-band that was leaving a red welt across her forehead.

King has his cell phone users killing one another in unexplained fury after hearing a “pulse” that fries their brains or “erases their hard drives.” Our hero, comic book artist Clayton Riddell, has eschewed owning a cell phone. He has just signed a comic book deal in Boston that puts him in-the-money. His estranged wife doubted his talent but now she will see, if she isn’t pulsed. He must get back to Maine and find his son before Johnny hears the pulse on his new cell phone.  A gay man and teenage girl join Clay on the trek.

The phone people evolve from primal beasts to a “flocking” behavior, eventually herding the “normies” toward the small town of Kashwak, Maine, where, according to dreams or mental telepathy, Clay intuits the normies will accept their demise by willingly hearing a cell phone pulse. There is plenty of gore: hanging eyeballs, bitten off noses and ears, unwashed zombies in soiled clothing, dismembered burning bodies, etc.—the King palette.

Will the phone people become the ruling class?  You know the panic you feel when you see that flashing warning that your computer has been infected? Multiply that into an ongoing, life-threatening situation and you get the timbre of Stephen King’s Cell.

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