Picks and Pans Review: Insomnia

updated 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stephen King

Ordinarily, Stephen King novels are to substance what Cheez Doodles are to nutrition. But this book manages to touch on abortion, spouse abuse, health care and aging before King trots out his monsters.

This time he introduces enigmatic, spiritual creatures—entities, he calls them—who look like shmoos or Close Encounters types and have the power to decide who is going to die and when.

The entities manifest themselves in Derry, Maine, but only to babies, animals and septuagenarian retiree Ralph Roberts and his friend Lois. King even keeps the entities a secret from his readers for most of the novel's 700 pages. Meanwhile, Roberts has to deal with his wife's death, a young friend whose husband beats her, the physical failure of his elderly friends and a chronic case of insomnia.

With the creatures such a tangential part of the story, King is forced to spend more time with his characters, and he makes the most of it. Old Stephen knows, however, on which side his career is buttered: the dark side. So the surreal doings gradually creep in. King never really resolves the event that motivates this novel: a visit to Derry by a pro-choice activist that brings out the entities. Despite the dissatisfying conclusion, though, King keeps up readers' curiosity. While you're disbelieving what's going on, you're anxious to know what will happen next. (Viking, $27.95)

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