This is the first I’ve ever read of Stephen King. I’ve never found myself attracted to King’s writing…a couple of glances at the films made of his novels and overhearing descriptions of his writing have generally been enough to rule him out for me. That’s not because I don’t think he’s a good writer…I’ve heard everything to the contrary. Its just that suspense and horror aren’t my bent.
What I have found myself drawn to lately, however, is the SyFy Channel’s original series, Haven. The series is based off of The Colorado Kid, this short novella by Stephen King. Some of the behind-the-scenes videos from the series discuss how veiled references to King’s other stories appear throughout the series, much to the delight of his fans. While I’m not interested in reading the rest of his canon…or really anything else by him…I was very interested to read the basis for the just-eery-enough program upon which I’ve become so hooked.
And when I call this a short novella, its just that: the ebook version finishes at less than 200 pages, so if you pick it up with any time to devote at all, you’ll likely finish it in one sitting. Like the television series, the story is set in coastal Maine. This proves to be the perfect setting for a mystery, because, as King states in his afterword, nowhere is quite so isolated to provide for the mysterious as an island. The story is of a man who is discovered dead on a beach by two high school students one morning, and the subsequent investigation that is sold short by local law enforcement, and performed largely at the hand of the two old newspaper reporters of the local paper (who will be instantly recognizable to fans of Haven). The unidentified man, to whom they begin to refer as the Colorado Kid, is eventually identified, and discovered to have not only be from Colorado, but to have been seen in Colorado hours before being discovered dead on a beach in Maine. Thus the mystery begins…and it proves nearly unsolvable.
What King does here that’s so fascinating is that he leaves the story at that: an unsolvable mystery (although he hypothesizes the potential for solutions in his afterword, he never identifies any). Rather, this is a story that explores the phenomenon of mystery, the fact that human beings are confronted with (what King views as) the unsolvable mystery of life, and compelled to reach toward it, to keep trying to solve it regardless of how unsolvable it turns out to be, and to keep our future generations motivated to continue probing the unknown, as well. The newspaper reporters pass on the unsolvable story to their college intern, who has become passionate about staying in Maine and carrying on this small newspaper. She is the heir to the story of the Colorado Kid, and we know that she will continue to pursue it. In his afterword, King states that wanting to know can more important than knowing. As much as he seems to eschew any rhyme or reason to the tragedy of life in his thoughts, he seems to be exploring an almost theological idea here, nothing short of the knowledge of good and evil.
There’s nothing frightening about the novel. I was left with some chills when I read it late into the night in a quiet apartment with most of the lights off, but they weren’t the “something’s coming to get me” chills, but rather the chills that accompany an excellent mystery. And that, ultimately, is exactly what this is: an excellent mystery. The supernatural element that drives Haven is absent (although one does ponder paranormal solutions to the mystery when all rational explanations seem to fail), and the reader is drawn into sleuthing with amateur sleuths who are passionate about discovering the answer to the mystery. King even weaves in a classic quote from Sherlock Holmes, and its very much at home here, even though the truth isn’t discovered by the end.
But the reader is still left with the hope that it could be discovered. And so we’re driven to always keep wondering. And that’s the part of the human condition that King is probing here, the thing that drives us to seek answers to “why?” when we’re confronted with the unanswerable.
You don’t need to be a fan of Stephen King to love this book. You don’t even need to be a fan of Haven. If you are a fan of a good mystery, then this should be on your shelf.