I stumbled across Mile 81 by Stephen King in the Kindle store while I was looking for 11/22/63. The basic premise is a bit outrageous and reminds me of an improv sketch at a comedy show where they take suggestions from the audience, or maybe a bunch of writers sitting around drinking seeing who can come up with the most outlandish premise for a story. That’s not really surprising considering Stephen King’s history of basing creepy stories on outlandish things happening in every day situations. This is the man that brought the story about a tiger in the bathroom at an elementary school, a demon possessed industrial laundry press, and drinking bad beer (first is from Skeleton Crew, the other two are from Night Shift). It’s pretty much King’s talent to take something mundane, make it evil, and entertain us in the process.
I don’t want to give too much away here. You can go read the blurb on King’s site if that makes you feel better about dropping $2.99 to read the story, but I think it will be a better read if you don’t. The story revolves around a ten year old boy who gets left home alone when his big brother goes to get into the usual tween age boy mischief. Our ten year old hero decides to explore an abandoned rest area at mile 81 on the local turnpike and the typical Stephen King body count inducing shenanigans ensue.
Most people think they read Stephen King for the weird things that happen, but that’s just the icing on the cake. What actually keeps King’s books moving off the shelf is his talent for characterization. He’s very skilled at making his characters into flesh and blood people, and he accomplishes this by including lots of really mundane details. All the better to make us squirm when a killer alien vampire demon dog with telekinetic powers menaces them. The typical King methodology is at work here. The first quarter of the book is devoted to getting into ten year old Pete’s head as he tries to think of some way to spend the afternoon that will make his big brother sorry he left him behind.
There’s an element of numbing the reader with lots of details that King uses to startle us when the real action starts. It’s very reminiscent of the movie version of Psycho in how it starts off in one direction and just when the reader starts to think he knows what to expect everything goes pear shaped and off on a tangent. Our hero, Pete, actually disappears just before the action really starts and doesn’t pop back up until things are really getting out of hand.
King’s signature use of children makes an appearance here as well. It was a recurring motif throughout It that children are better able to react to the really unusual stuff because they’re so much more accepting of the supernatural and that makes an appearance in Mile 81 as well. While the state trooper is frozen trying to come up with some explanation for what he’s seeing, the ten year old boy is able to react and come up with a plan to try and take care of business. There is a definite aura of ‘child in danger’ to the story. I won’t tell you what happens, but I do want to point out that King isn’t afraid to have child victims so don’t assume anyone is safe.
If you’re interested in the genre, this is a great read. It’s fairly short and the value isn’t great when you compare it to an actual novel which probably has ten times as many pages for four times the price, but I really couldn’t put it down until I finished and it was a great read. If you consider the price based on the time it keeps you entertained it becomes a much better value. I recommend you download it if you’re interested in this genre. It’s available from Kindle, iBook, Nook, and various other e-book retailers for $2.99, and it’s not available anywhere in dead tree format.
If you do read it, stop by the comments and let me know what you think.