Picks and Pans Review: Bag of Bones

updated 09/28/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/28/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stephen King

A real scare awaits readers of Stephen King's latest—the chillmeister seems to have tired of telling ghost stories. Bag of Bones—King's first book since he made news last November by switching publishers after almost 20 years at Viking—is a clear departure for the author, more a mournful meditation on love and loss than the familiar Gothic horror-fest the title implies.

The tale of a popular writer of spooky thrillers who confronts his young wife's mysterious past after her death, Bones proves that King is as seductive a storyteller as ever, pulling readers along as he explores the hidden evils of small-town America. But the requisite horror elements—refrigerator magnets that move by themselves, a child with Shining-like ESP—are unconvincing and ultimately derail the narrative. Its focus divided, Bones only hints at the potent, romantic lyricism a redirected King might achieve.

Whether or not King has truly lost his taste for horror remains to be seen. If so, the question becomes—can he establish his virtuosity in any other genre? (Scribner, $28)

Bottom Line: Horror goes on holiday as King attempts a love story

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