“A good novelist does not lead his characters, he follows them. A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees. A good novelist realizes he is a secretary, not God.” ― Stephen King
Finders Keepers is master storyteller Stephen King’s latest endowment to his faithfully devoted “Constant Readers.” If you are thinking to yourself, “Wait, didn’t I just see a new King novel out a few months ago?” you are not incorrect. He is clearly on a creative roll and we lucky fans can only hope he remains at the top of his game.
The novel travels further along the path of some his recent departures from the supernatural elements, in particular Mr. Mercedes. Mr. Mercedes (read the Pop Mythology review here) was the story of a serial killer that steals a car to run down a crowd of people waiting in line at a job fair. Pete Saubers, the protagonist of Finders Keepers, is the son of one of the severely wounded victims of this crime.
Pete’s father is now a disabled OxyContin addict and his family is disintegrating, trying to survive solely on his mother’s schoolteacher salary. Escaping the house during one of his parent’s endless rows, Pete makes a discovery in the woods adjacent to his home – a trunk containing money and a large number of notebooks. While the money could obviously be used to help his family, it is the notebooks that have a more profound impact on Pete.
It seems that these notebooks contain unpublished and previously unknown writings of a famous and highly acclaimed author, John Rothstein, who had been robbed and murdered over thirty years ago and whose killer(s) and property had never been found. Rothstein’s most famous work is a trilogy, The Runner, The Runner Sees Action, and The Runner Slows Down. Thes Runner novels tell the story of a rebellious character named Jimmy Gold, who tries to maintain an independent spirit, but ultimately caves into American “mediocrity” after electing to chase the “Golden Buck.”
Finders Keepers is as mesmerizing a tale as any Stephen King has told, but it is this element of a fictional author and his corpus opus that makes this novel structurally intriguing. King is not the first author to implement the post-modernistic concept of a meta-narrative. Vladimir Nabakov’s Pale Fire, which is about a poem by a fictional author, is a classic example of this type of self-reference. John Irving also embedded the novella “The Pension Grillparzer” within The World According to Garp.
King, however, makes Rothstein and his Runner series so coherent and plausible that’s it’s hard to believe that the novels don’t exist somewhere – possibly even in King’s archives themselves. Rothstein’s name sounds vaguely familiar, similar to Philip Roth. Jimmy Gold evokes J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield, allowed to grow to adulthood. Even the titles ring a familiarity bell reminiscent of John Updike’s series which began with Rabbit Run. The plot line described in Finders Keepers for the Jimmy Gold series sounds exactly like what would result from Roth/Salinger/Updike mash up.
The overarching theme of Finders Keepers is the power inherent in literature to change and shape lives, both for the author and the reader. The recursive, tangible structure of the novel rubs away the boundary between fiction and reality, making manifest King’s preminent storytelling and creative ability.