Book Review – Stephen King’s “Cell”
How often do you use your cell phone?
You may have a different mind (in more ways than one) about the annoying but yet so popular little devices used by so many people today. Let’s face it, for a lot of people the cell phone isn’t just a luxury item but rather a necessity for instant information and communication. Just how much has daily life changed through the last ten to fifteen years of advancements in cell phone technology?
For the setting of one of his more recent novels, Stephen King, the master of horror stories, uses the cell phone as the weapon to destroy most of humanity nearly instantly as a pulse of energy (known as “the Pulse”) changes regular people into creatures similar to zombies. These “zombies” (known as “phoners”) are at first mentally reduced to their most primate form and ruthlessly attack each other and any other living thing within sight, tearing and biting their victims and killing them brutally.
In Cell, the action starts fast and hits you hard. The first scream takes place on page seven and the first taste of gore begins on page eight.
One minute everything seems normal as the story’s main character, Clay Riddell, is on the streets of Boston, and the next he’s running for his life as the carnage lets loose all around him. People run around screaming, trying to get away from the phoners as cars crash and explosions rock the town.
While initially fighting for survival and just trying to stay alive, Clay meets Tom and a little bit later they encounter Alice, a fifteen-year-old girl who also joins the party. The three of them band together, each for their own reasons, and they all set out on foot first to Tom’s house in one of the Boston suburbs and then ultimately northward to Clay’s home in Maine and so-called “safe zones.”
While on their journey through an apocalyptic New England, the trio observe that the phoners may not be as crazy as once believed. The phoners evolved and established more “livable” patterns, grouping together, working together, having a very basic and primitive language, and even going to a designated place at night to “rest.” The phoners were no longer attacking each other and seemed to be under control of something unknown.
After making their way to a school compound in New Hampshire and learning more of the ways of the phoners, Clay, Tom, Alice, Charles and Jordan (teacher and pupil at the academy) develop a plan for killing a large number of phoners. It turned out that one such group had been using the academy’s soccer field at night for their rest period, packing into the place like sardines and not wasting any space. The people used two propane trucks parked next to the field and shot one of them with a gun, setting off a massive explosion and igniting the second truck, killing all of the phoners in the process.
This was a major turning point in the novel as now the supposed leader of the phoners (a guy wearing a Harvard University sweatshirt, named “The Raggedy Man”), sets out against the survivors personally, appearing telepathically in their dreams and almost taunting them. From that point the phoners were under strict orders not to touch Clay, Tom, Alice or Charles, and The Raggedy Man himself appeared several more times, almost taunting them as the group continued their trek to Maine. Alice was tragically killed after an encounter with some punks, reducing the party to just Clay, Tom and Jordan, the computer whiz who helped think of new theories about the Pulse and what controlled the phoners.
The trio met with more survivors, and the novel took a few more twists and turns until the climatic final with The Raggedy Man and mass of phoners.
I’m not going to say how the novel ends or who survives, but I will say that the ending was a lot faster and quicker than I was expecting. I was waiting to have a surprise or two after the climax, but no, that was the real ending of the story.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel as it was chuck full of action and gore, and the usage of common technology being used against humanity was fitting.
To me, the most horrific part was near the beginning of the novel as Clay, Tom and Alice spent the night at Tom’s house. This wasn’t one of those being scared of the dark and waiting for something to pop out and kill you moments, but rather the sudden changing of life and transition to an apocalyptic world. There they were in a seemingly normal home, but the power was out, life had already changed dramatically, and the three people had already witnessed an incredibly amount of horror and terror, something none of them had ever imagined would ever happen in their lifetime. But to spend the night in a familiar place (at least for Tom) knowing that the world had changed forever a few minutes ago and right here in the suburbs was a war zone, to me that was chilling.
Where would you go? What would you do? How would you survive?
Modern day survival in an apocalyptic setting is a story in itself let alone the crazy people under telepathic influence from a higher source.
A problem with this novel is that the book is simply too short and left several unanswered questions.
First, it would have been great to actually know who was responsible for the Pulse. More detail around that event and control of the phoners would have added another huge element to the story. Was it something created by terrorists? Was it something supernatural? Was it just an evil entity that finally decided to strike against humanity?
Another issue that needed more attention was The Raggedy Man himself / itself. Who was The Raggedy Man? Was he a phoner like those he commanded, or did he have a more sinister background? If he was telepathic and could read minds, then why was he so easily killed in the ending?
This story was told through Clay and we, the reader, only knew what the main character knew when he made his discoveries. This makes for great storytelling and this novel really delivers, but the world of Cell, much like the outstanding movie Cloverfield, is full of other stories just begging to be released. But unlike Cloverfield, Cell implies that the entire world was affected by the Pulse rather than just having a giant monster destroying New York City. It would have been interesting to hear about how people across the country and throughout the most populated cities on the planet handled the actions of the Pulse and if there were other leaders of the phoners like The Raggedy Man.
I’ve read a couple of Stephen King’s short stories (namely Rage and The Long Walk), but this was my first time reading one of his novels. I love the fact that he isn’t afraid to use such harsh language or graphic descriptions and even going so far as killing certain types of characters. This was a brutal story at times.
I’ll be looking forward to reading more of Mr. King’s works in the near future.