Picks and Pans Review: The Talisman

updated 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/19/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Jack Sawyer, 12, has some things in common with the little boy in King's novel The Shining. Both find the adult world threatening. Both have some kind of supernatural power that lets them see into another dimension. And both are befriended by an old black man. These similarities make the book seem tired and derivative, though there are differences. Sawyer's father is dead. The boy's mother, an ex-B-movie actress, is being courted by her late husband's vicious partner, and she's dying of cancer. She and Jack retreat to a New Hampshire resort. It's not fair to reveal much more of what happens in this novel because plot is all it has going for it. But there is a place called "the Territories," where the twins of some earthly characters reside. With the help of a bitter magic potion in a green bottle (shades of Alice in Wonderland), Jack zips off to get help for his mom. King and Straub, author of Ghost Story and Floating Dragon, wrote this book on word processors some 350 miles apart, doing alternate chapters. The result is almost 700 pages of rambling, sometimes confusing storytelling. The Talisman presumptuously starts with a quote from Huckleberry Finn, and there are echoes of all sorts of literary events throughout. But there is nothing in the book that seems real enough to give a reader a foundation for all the fantasy. The violence at the end is unspeakable. Steven Spielberg has already bought the movie rights. (Viking, $18.95)

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