Stephen King is back – and he’s writ­ten a book with his son. No, the other one.

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Re­leased OUT NOW! 718 pages | Hard­back/ebook/au­dio­book Au­thors stephen King, Owen King Pub­lisher Hod­der & stoughton

One thing’s for sure: Sleep­ing Beau­ties won’t win any fans on the Red Pill Red­dit. But it may raise the ire of the lib­eral elite as well. Be­cause this is a very brave book. Not in terms of scope, not in terms of break­ing lit­er­ary bound­aries, but be­cause it’s two men writ­ing a fem­i­nist novel. That’s a mine­field, and King Sr and King Jr don’t make it through to­tally un­scathed. Though by the end you do feel like ruf­fling their hair and say­ing, “Bless ’em!” for even try­ing.

Sleep­ing Beau­ties be­gins with women all over the globe fall­ing co­matose and be­com­ing wrapped in webby co­coons when they go to asleep. If any­one tries break­ing into the co­coons, the women in­side go killer zom­bie un­til the webs grow back.

But the book doesn’t ex­am­ine the global im­pact of this. Much of what’s go­ing on around the world is com­mu­ni­cated through news re­ports and hearsay. In­stead Sleep­ing Beau­ties takes place in fa­mil­iar King ter­ri­tory: small-town Amer­ica – in this case Dool­ing, in the Ap­palachi­ans. Dool­ing is dom­i­nated by a women’s prison, which be­comes the fo­cus of the “Aurora” phe­nom­e­non (as it comes to be known) when it takes in a new in­mate – a mys­te­ri­ous woman called Eve, found naked in the woods hav­ing just mur­dered a cou­ple of drugged-up hicks. It’s al­most like she wants to be in the prison. And she can sleep with­out be­com­ing co­cooned.

As time goes on and more women find it im­pos­si­ble not to give in to sleep, it’s left to the men to sort things out. And be­cause they’re men – the Kings pos­tu­late – that means sort­ing them out with vi­o­lence. The women, meanwhile… well, maybe they have gone to a bet­ter place.

The book has the usual mas­sive Stephen King cast (though – shock hor­ror – no writ­ers or artists of any sort): lots of prison guards, lawyers and cops, plus a dog catcher and a prison shrink. They all have their own is­sues that are wo­ven in and out of the story, some more per­ti­nent than oth­ers… some more in­ter­est­ing than oth­ers. It’s writ­ten in a TV script style – with lots of leap­ing about be­tween short scenes, fea­tur­ing dif­fer­ent sets of char­ac­ters. This is great for keep­ing the pace lively, but does mean that even though it’s over 700 pages long, some char­ac­ters feel like mere cogs.

It’s also not that scary. Ad­mit­tedly, King Sr long ago sur­passed be­ing a mere hor­ror writer, but here there are mo­ments that are cry­ing out for a full-on hor­ror treat­ment, both in terms of creep­ing ter­ror and out-and-out gore, and they are largely squan­dered. Deaths – even bizarre ones – of­ten feel like throw­away lines, and an ex­tended ac­tion set-piece and blood­bath at the end ac­tu­ally ends up rather bor­ing.

King Jr, a suc­cess­ful nov­el­ist in his own right, in­jects some wry pop cul­ture ref­er­ences and hu­mor­ous di­a­logue into the usual King Sr for­mula – there are nods to Doc­tor Who, swipes at Fox News and even a men­tion of some au­thor called Joe Hill. The King combo cer­tainly write com­pelling, page-turn­ing text, but they don’t seem to be able to edit each other. There’s far too much chaff here that should have been cut.

The main prob­lem with the book, though, is its slightly em­bar­rass­ing bleed­ing-heart lib­er­al­ism. All credit to the Kings for try­ing to write a book apol­o­gis­ing for all the ills that men have in­flicted on women, but they feel cring­ingly right-on at times. It’s al­most like the dust jacket should say, “THIS IS WHAT A FEM­I­NIST NOVEL LOOKS LIKE”. Dave Golder

Owen King con­sid­ered writ­ing Sleep­ing Beau­ties as a TV mini-se­ries, and even scripted the first two episodes.

Mo­ments cry out for the hor­ror treat­ment

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