Stephen King has published forty-nine novels (we won’t count Cycle of the Werewolf because that’s really just a picture book for grown-ups), and I have read thirty-one of them. They range from sublime (Misery), to mediocre (Dreamcatcher), and unfortunately, Cell sits towards the lower end of the spectrum.
It’s a great idea – the human population is turned into mindless zombies via a rogue mobile phone transmission, leaving a straggle of survivors (familiar King set up, I know) – but all the way through, it just feels like King is going through the motions, so he has something to send to the publishers. Dialogue – usually his forte – is stilted and functional at best, and the characters themselves are just not all that interesting. Even the ‘bad guy’, The Raggedy Man, comes off as a poor imitation of previous antagonists like Pennywise or Randall Flagg.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge King fan, but novels like Cell make me wonder why. There are a few standout sections, like the confusion of the opening chapter, and the assured way in which the (necessary) exposition is handled about one third of the way in, but mostly it just trundles along, trading on the name and past successes.
I remember someone saying that King was so famous he could publish his laundry list if he wanted. Well… there are moments, when I think he already has.