Later: review of King's new novel

Later: review of King's new novel


There is a particular link between the afterlife and Stephen King. And it could not be otherwise, considered as the afterlife and its corollaries have always been one of the great, disturbing mysteries of human life. If we add to this the particular tendency of the American novelist to bring out the worst characteristics of the human soul in his protagonists, it becomes easy to understand how Later, his latest literary effort, is a story in full King style, even if, in its genesis , the Maine writer may have been inspired by the world of cinema.

That King and cinema are deeply connected is certainly no mystery. The King's works, in fact, gave birth to films of the caliber of The Shining and numerous television series, not least the recent The Stand, inspired by his Shadow of the Scorpion. With Later, the feeling is that it is the turn of the world of cinema to give the writer the idea for his new novel, considering that the young protagonist of Later, Jamie Conklin, has a particular gift: being able to speak with the soul. of the dead.

Later: only the dead have no secrets

It is difficult not to see in this peculiarity an evident resemblance to Cole Sear, the child endowed with the same power protagonist of The Sixth Sense of M. Night Shyamalan. King himself never misses an opportunity to make fun of this common trait between his protagonist and the young medium played by Haley Joel Osment, aware that while showing this common characteristic, the two boys are profoundly different, both in the manifestation of their power and in the way in which they interact with the souls of the dead.

Jamie lives in one of the best neighborhoods in New York, thanks to the work of her single mother, Tia, owner of a started literary agency, which she runs on her own after her brother who ran her with is struck by Alzheimer's . Life for Jamie and her mother does not present, at least initially, big problems, even if the two share a secret: the child manages to communicate with the dead. This power allows the little boy to be able to ask questions to the souls of the deceased in the short period that they still pass in our world, before reaching the afterlife.

In this transitory dimension of theirs, the dead, if properly questioned, are forced to reveal the truth. At the same time, they manifest a progressive emotional detachment from the living, experiencing only emotions of great intensity, whether positive or negative. For Jamie, this discovery is initially shocking, and he struggles to make himself believe by his mother, but when this gift of hers becomes undeniable, a tacit agreement is established between the two: obviously not to mention it to anyone.

To the reader, this peculiarity of Jamie is revealed in a suggestive way, reconstructing one of these encounters with a dead soul seen from the point of view of the boy, who is the narrator of Later. In this way, King is able to skillfully guide us in a game of deceptions and suggestions that sharpen the sense of wonder of the reader, who matures in the small revelations that the succession of events generates. An extremely pleasant dynamic, which finds its strong point in the first-person narration, using it as an excuse to always reiterate the concept of 'after', later in English, with which the narrator manages to create a curiosity in the reader, just as we could during a particularly interesting conversation.

By entrusting the narration to Jamie's voice, which tells everything as a long flashback, King manages to enhance the emotionality of his protagonist, brings him closer to the reader who soon enters in the boy's mind, experiencing his passions and anxieties firsthand. Thanks to a light writing and never weighed down by useless narrative trappings, in which King seems to guide us in a conversation with the adult Jamie, thanks to the presence of expressions typical of oral conversations or personal sayings of the narrator. The effect is to empathize the reader with Jaimie, creating a synergy that allows to overlook even some small concessions that King requires of his faithful readers, with a suspension of disbelief that often seems to be more a gesture of affection towards the a novelist who is not a merit of the story itself.

Later, a story of the afterlife and human impulses

Later, in its strengths and weaknesses, is in all respects a story of King. Once again, the American writer relies on a young protagonist as an intermediary for his narrative intent, relying on bitter emotionality and still fascinated by a magical and naive vision of the world that makes the stories told even more human and engaging. Jamie's passage from childhood to adolescence is told with attention, it evolves through some emotional passages that marry with the adventures and encounters of the boy.

If in some moments the growth of the young Conklin seems natural and credible, even if it is lowered into Later's unreal situation, in others some of King's choices seem a little more prententious. These are concessions that are offered with a smile to the author, aware that the overall result of the plot is pleasant, and these character hyperboles are an indispensable part of Kingh's narrative. The complex figure of Liz falls into this context, first lover of the character's mother and then his nemesis, capable of seeing in the boy his salvation for good twice, identifying in Jamie, or rather in his gift, the perfect tool to avoid to pay the price of a life that is anything but exemplary.

To highlight Jamie's human story is the definition of two particularly successful characters dear to him: his mother Tia and the old professor Burkett. Tia is a woman forced to face a life as a single mother, a complex relationship with Liz and manage a literary agency, all aware of the secret of her son. A situation that is certainly not simple, which soon presents her account when she herself is forced to ask Jamie to use her gift, to guarantee their economic survival. The most mentored figure is Professor Burkett, who becomes a loving and friendly guide for Jamie, in a particular intense moment of his life, helping him not to lose his moral compass, but rather by marking a course for the boy that could be his salvation. .

King's typical emotional touch is perceived in both characters. Later offers fascinating human figures, at times a little estemized, but still palpable and realistic, which combine to give further character to his story. Where King loses his bite is, as often happens to the novelist, in the finale, where after keeping a fundamental secret of Jaime he reveals it with an incredible scene twist, ruined shortly after by a narrative choice that, on paper, could have been interesting, but which is not flawlessly realized.

Later, balancing light and shadow, remains a compelling reading characterized by the unequivocal Kinghian style. The beautiful edition of Sperling & Kupfer, which brings King back to the bookstore after the recent re-edition of The Man in Black, boasts as a cover an illustration by Paul Mann created for Hard Case Crime, perfect to convey some of the suggestions that are experienced in the King's story.

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