“I know you / I walked with you once upon a dream” -Sammy Fain, Jack Lawrence, Once Upon a Dream
Sleeping Beauties is epical in the true sense of the word. A collaboration between King, the elder and King, the younger, this 800-page allegorical saga of the Adam/Eve conflict is a tour de force. I will not spoil the action for you by discussing the plot but just entice with a comparison to The Stand. The time frame is much more compact, but the apocalyptic theme is similar, but with a quirk- this epidemic is confined to the female gender.
The fact that this work is a collaboration between one of the best-known living writers and his son makes for an interesting study. The power and draw of the story line is completely worthy of the King name. Despite the length of the book, the reader’s attention span is not taxed, and the pace feels quite rapid. The level of skill makes you tempted to assign the bulk of the writing to Stephen King, rather than the more unfamiliar Owen, but the structure is clearly different.
My experience with Stephen King is that he will spend time up front getting the reader introduced to and invested in his characters before diving into the action. This work felt more like the reader was moved into knowledge of the characters sideways as the novel progresses, with the action starting immediately. In fact, we are introduced to some fascinating, relatively important new characters over 500 pages in to the book. I don’t know that one way or the other is better, it was just clearly different, leading me to believe that this novel was, in a large part, Owen. The boon here is that we constant readers may have another master storyteller!
The genre of the book also felt a bit different. Pure Stephen King is gothic horror with varying level of graphic violence. Sleeping Beauties had much more of an air of magical realism to it, deriving from the fairy-tale nature of the story origins. But the aura of dark violence in the story is familiar, both to the King style and classic fairy tales in general. The black, ironic humor is also redolent of classic King, as is the small-town setting. We have, however, moved south from Castle Rock, Maine to Dooling, West Virginia. The clashes that arise from the sometimes conservative natures of such towns are present in this novel, similar to other King works.
But Sleeping Beauties is more than just a fantastic, well-told tale. It is an exploration of the battle of the sexes. I do not personally believe in gender-based stereotypes and have written about the subject in the past. But the effects of blood levels of steroid hormones such as estrogen and testosterone on behavior have been documented. Sleeping Beauties manages to present the worst of the stereotypical behaviors of both Mars and Venus while walking a fine line of reasonably objective neutrality. There are no answers or solutions here, just food for thought and discussion. And this is where the King legacy has truly stamped its mark- in grabbing your attention and making you think about what we can do to prevent the nightmares so vividly described.