King's Highway pt. 23: Can You Hear Me Now?

Not too much to say about this one - it's very straightforward:

There's a nice review here, with no real spoilers, and I will observe the same with this post. You should read it, if you haven't. Perfect way to pass some time in an airport, lounge-chair, train, etc. I don't mean to damn by faint praise; it's a damn-near perfect example of a story finely-tuned to those experiences (during which, for me anyway, reading a book is the only thing I want to do.) It's not too long, starts off with a bang, and takes some wild twists and turns.

I like the paperback cover a bit better than the hardcover. The "911" and tagline are fun commentaries on the events within, as is one of the three inscriptions before the story begins: Can You Hear Me Now?
It reminded me a lot of "The Mist."In both stories, a crisis-event happens and is not explained (ominous references to "The Arrowhead Project" in "The Mist," notwithstanding); survivors band together and hi-jinks ensue (among them, a religious-crazy-survivor who descends on the protagonists); the main character is preoccupied with the unknown fate of his loved ones back home; fact-finding missions are made into the lion's den; and both end ambiguously.

Of course, there are plenty of differences, too. In "The Mist," the m.c. has his kid with him, in Cell we get a glimpse of what the monsters/crazies are doing, and many more.

Frank Darabont added an ending to his film version of "The Mist," and I imagine a film version of Cell would do the same. (Why this hasn't been made, sequeled, and rebooted is beyond me.) I can sympathize with allegations of "cop-out" for the ending, but I for one was more disappointed with how the phone-crazy convention in Kashwakamak wrapped up. That was it? Not that I was exactly "disappointed," more surprised.

A view from the actual Kashwakamak, in Canada, that is.
Pretty good boogeyman in the character of The Raggedy Man aka The President of Harvard

Neither here nor there, but I liked the references to Dark Horse Comics, as well. I'll probably remove Dark Horse Presents from my pull-list in the months to come, but it's been something I've looked forward to for the past fourteen months.

Survival is like love; both are blind.

I couldn't help but think of the TV show Dollhouse, which also depicts an apocalypse triggered by a remote activation, a sudden and ubiquitous paving-over of the neural topography. Opinions are divided on the show...

Full disclosure - I love it.
but the central conceit of Cell (i.e. a pulse was generated over mobile networks and whomever answered the call went wack-a-doo) is pretty much said verbatim by Topher in "Epitaph One." I found a You-Tube clip of the particular dialogue, but it's a whole lot and not the isolated five-second clip that I was looking for. (Here it is, at 1:02, should you want a look)

I don't mean to suggest Dollhouse is derivative of Cell. Only that certain ideas suggest certain tributaries, independent of who observes them.

I found your friend...
I couldn't help but like the idea of old-timers who never quite embraced the change in societal customs and manners that the intrusion of cellphones demanded. I'll never forget the first few times someone answered a call in the middle of conversation and how exasperated I felt. And I still crease my eyebrows when a cashier (or even a cabbie) divides his or her attention between me and the phone, or I overhear the most personal/ ridiculous conversation on the train or bus.

Par for the course, now.
Considering the amount of dropped calls and the inability of Dawn and I to have a phone conversation when she's in her apartment, I remain as unconvinced of the superiority of the cellphone age to the one I grew up on as the author.

I get the same thing when I read F. Scott Fitzgerald and he speaks of how the world he grew up in would be/ is constantly offended by the world he died in. It's not unique to him, by any rate; it's an authorly observation passed down in every generation. But viewed through this perspective, this novel is a bit more of a gut-punch of a "get off my lawn" than others.

Great stuff - on the King recommendation/ readability scale, it's a Gjallarhorn.

I leave you with this, which I feel relates to all of the above, from Neil Gaiman's excellent interview with SK:

"I start to tell King my theory, that when people in the far future want to get an idea of how things felt between 1973 and today, they'll look to King. He's a master of reflecting the world that he sees, and recording it on the page. The rise and fall of the VCR, the arrival of Google and smartphones. It's all in there, behind the monsters and the night, making them more real."

His answer: "King is sanguine. “You know what you can’t tell what is going to last, what’s not going to last. There’s Kurt Vonnegut quote about John D. McDonald saying “200 years from now, when people want to know what the 20th century they ll go to John D. McDonald”, but I’m not sure that’s true – it seems like he’s almost been forgotten.  But I try and reread a John D. McDonald novel whenever I come down here."


  1. I need to revisit this novel. I liked it a lot when I read it (including the semi-controversial ending), but I only read it the once, and I simply don't remember it very well.

    It does beggar the imagination a bit that the movie version never happened. As zombie-obsessed as our culture is right now, it seems like it'd be a done deal. My guess: if "World War Z" does well next summer, "Cell" will suddenly be back in active development.

  2. I guess Eli Roth was briefly involved but dropped out. Take out or off-camera-ify the whole planes-crashing/ world-exploding beginning, and it seems like it could even be done on a low budget.

    Hopefully, soon.

    1. Yeah, Roth was definitely signed to it for a while, but when "Hostel Part II" came out and bombed, it seemed to set his career back big-time. I'd be fine with the idea of him doing it, but I guess that's not in the cards.

      I nominate Vince Gilligan, once he's done with "Breaking Bad." He could bring some of that old "X-Files" horror/fantasy juice to it, along with the realism he's cultivated on "Breaking Bad." That'd be good stuff.

    2. Just hopefully not Mick Garris.

    3. I started this yesterday as my "laundry reading" and damn if I'm not 80 pages from the end already. What a page-turner. Still holds up! But I've got to second, third, and fourth this Vince Gilligan suggestion - that would be perfect!

      Or the Coen Brothers. (For real.)

      The funny thing is, yesterday and today everyone is tweeting, posting, and talking about Pokemon GO. My news feed is dominated by it, it scrawled by on the news inside the elevator at my work, just everywhere I went. Fun bit of synchronicity.

      Looking forward to delving in a bit more when I get round to the ol' King's Highway pt. 23.5.

    4. Glad to hear that this one holds up. I look forward to revisiting it one of these days.

      Don't even get me started on Pokemon Go. There is a breaker panel inside my brain that changes me from DECENT GUY mode to ASSHOLE mode, and the very existence of Pokemon Go is flipping the breakers in that panel one by one.

      Look, I'm a guy who has wasted an incredible amount of time in my day, so I ought to not be judgemental about these things. Boy, I am, though. I mean, whatever keeps people from rioting in the streets and killing people, I guess; still, listen at those breakers turning on!