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The most chilling moment comes at the start when Pixie Dark, a startled teenybopper surrounded in sudden rage and insane carnage turns to a total stranger and screams, "who am I?" (Scribners, ISBN 978743292337, c.2006, p.9). The rest of the novel is about coping.
Since this novel's apexing the Best Sellers List, everyone pretty much knows the plot. Suffice it to say cell phones become flak jackets full of C-4, ready to start the New Order at the first "Hello?". I was once again dumbfounded with Mr. King's ability to move me into turning the page, again and again, until I saw The End. It was like getting a collect call and being unable to hang up until prompted.
And our addiction to modern technology at the expense of almost everything else is truly fascinating. With its rocket launch into our daily routines, the cell phone tops even television as a vital necessity to 21st century living. But what if it turns out to be Viaoxx, or even worse, Marlboros?
For horror to really stick, it must punch into what the society at that time is most frightened about. Sure, we're edgy that Reddy Kilowatt is not really our friend, or that runaway technology will lead to more disasters like Chernobyl or Bhopal . In this respect, the Cell 's Pulse is an augury, but not really unsettling enough to put us off our audio (and now, video!) fun. Besides, those were foreign disasters, right? No department store like that one in Korea is going to collapse in our capitalistic economy!
But buildings do fall in America killing thousands, and what scares us the most is how vulnerable and easy and fast it all unravels. King never identifies the mastermind behind The Pulse, but, as one character speculates, "They saw we had built the Tower of Babel all over again . . . and in a space of seconds, they brushed . . . and our Tower fell" (p.85). You'd think he was talking about 9/11, wouldn't ya? And, just so you didn't miss King going Ka-Boom! like a dialogue balloon in a comic book, The Pulse is activated by dialing that renown emergency number.
Now that puts shivers in the ol' Stars 'N Stripes.
And isn't that how we see them? We can't understand their language, we can't fathom their reasoning, let alone their actions. They look dirty and poorly groomed and unfashionable on TV. They follow a regiment with mores and beliefs incomprehensible to us, forming in zombie-like masses to genuflect , demonstrate, or conduct commerce. Maybe we share the same genus, but they're truly a different species, aren't they? They're homo sapien insanus.
So, isn't it okay to cuddle them up with incendiary bombs while they "reboot"? Isn't it right to want the world back the way it was under our benign and prudent guidance?
And isn't this line of reasoning as narrow and fanatical as theirs?
This analogy or submerged diatribe becomes static in the line by novel's end. A mutating virus and/or computer worm alters The Pulse's original intent, making it unknowable. Although King remains somewhat ambiguous—or skeptical—our heroes should be able to party-line the surviving Phoners back to some semblance of a calling plan. After all, Clay speculates that eventually they might "have turned out to be better custodians of the earth than the so-called normies" (p.342) before trying some celltime on his son as a healing solution.
Because when the insulation is stripped off, all of our armatures are wrapped in the same flesh and blood. From this basic level, we have gone our separate ways and created discrepant civilizations to bring us out of the swamp. But,
I don't think Cell will be considered much after its initial ringing. It's not that it's bad, it's just not definitive. The contemporary quips will date it as easy as "say goodnight, Gracie". And its Phoner zombies—no matter how resonant their dialtone—will just stiff-leg it into the Lime Pit of Overexposed Satire absorbed by their neighbors like Zombie Honeymoon and Biker Zombies from Detroit.
But, worst of all, is the naiveté—or exploitation—shown in King's glib pronouncement that he doesn't own a cell phone himself. Admittedly, technology is a tar baby so sticky it is without release, but refusing a superior tool stinks of killing the messenger—and the resulting deafness that goes with it.