Onyx reviews: We're All In This
Together by Owen King
Owen King is the youngest son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King. The dust
jacket copy for We’re All in This Together mentions only his childhood
in Bangor, Maine, and he acknowledges Mom and Dad without naming them. The
author’s heritage is never mentioned explicitly.
With good reason. King’s work deserves to be considered on its own merit
without being tainted by a footnote describing him as the son of America’s
favorite boogeyman. His style, approach and material are vastly different from
anything either of his parents has written.
That being said, We’re All in This Together contains some fine
writing. The book consists of the title novella—which takes up more than half
the page count—and four short stories. Though plotted, the stories are
literary in style. They often raise more questions than they answer, and end in
places where the characters’ real lives are just beginning.
The novella is where King’s talents shine strongest. George’s pot-smoking
grandfather, Henry, is a former union leader and a rabid Democrat who believes
that Al Gore was robbed of the 2000 election. Several times the billboard on his
front lawn proclaiming Gore the real president has been defaced with insulting
messages written in red paint. Henry believes the culprit is his paperboy, who
he also suspects of stealing sections from his newspaper. All out war is
pending; Henry is armed with a paintball gun and keeps vigil over his billboard
from an upstairs window, marijuana smoke encircling his head. He enlists his
teenaged grandson as a willing co-conspirator.
George’s parents split up when he was young. He’s had little contact with
his father in the interim, and his mother has gone through a slew of boyfriends,
some better than others from his perspective. The man she now plans to marry is
his least favorite of them all. He is conducting his own war against his
soon-to-be stepfather, whose political leanings are suspect; he may have voted
George’s mother is caught in the middle. At times mother and son
communicate only by passing notes. “Why didn’t you marry Dale?” he writes
one evening when they are waging mischief against a group of protestors who
routinely vandalize the family planning clinic where she works, making it clear
that her fiancé doesn’t measure up to some of her previous boyfriends.
What George has to learn through his teenage angst is the importance of a
family—whatever that term represents—remaining strong, cohesive and allied
against the world. The story’s title is the mantra of the determined and
In “Frozen Animals,” an itinerant, alcoholic dentist is summoned to a
remote hunting cabin to attend to the dental needs of a trapper’s wife. The
period story follows his progress through the woods during a blizzard, roped to
two trappers. After they reach the cabin, he performs the requisite surgery and
is paid for his services in a thoroughly unexpected manner, which his besotted
mind barely remembers.
The star pitcher for the Coney Island Wonders is off his game in “Wonders.”
His girlfriend is pregnant and they venture to a shady part of town to take care
of this bit of unwanted business. A troop of freaks who provide entertainment
during the seventh inning stretch at Wonders games offers more serious services
later on. The pitcher’s fate is intertwined with that of a vociferous heckler
who is especially fond of ridiculing the team’s sole African American player.
In “Snake,” a father drops his son Frank off at the mall on a Sunday
afternoon on a weekend when he has him for visitation. The mall is mostly empty,
except for a kiosk huckster selling photographs taken with his pet boa
constrictor. Bored, Frank strikes up a conversation with the man and hears the
fantastic tale of how he came to own such a creature. Though Frank later doubts
the story’s veracity, he is forced to admit that it is a good tale all the
same. “Snake” ends on an unexpected note, leaving the reader to consider the
import of what Frank has learned.
The closing story, “My Second Wife,” features a morose man named Stanley.
He agrees to drive to Florida with his brother, who wants to purchase a classic
Jaguar from the wife of a killer facing imminent execution. The killer used the
car to run down several squeegee men, and it is highly sought after by
collectors of serial killer memorabilia. Stanley and his brother must camp out
until after the execution to close the deal.
Stanley and his estranged wife used to play a game in which he asked her how
she would escape from dangerous, albeit hypothetical situations. Now that his
wife has left him for the baker, Stanley realizes that he never included himself
in those scenarios, and she never relied on him to save her in her responses.
Depressed and convinced that he will die alone, his brother’s expedition
seems like a fitting distraction from his malaise. It’s part road trip and
part voyage of rediscovery. “How could I save myself from the kind of love
that could rip you to pieces, the kind of love that in the end still loved you
enough to tell you the last hard truth, to tell you that things had changed?”
We’re All in This Together is a strong debut collection from a young
writer with an unquestionably powerful literary pedigree.
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