The Regulators

"The Regulators" by Stephen King
The Regulators by Stephen King

by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman), performed by Kate Nelligan

It’s a peaceful day in suburban Ohio when the fleet of futuristic vans rolls into town, bringing hell with them.  The residents of the neighborhood are trapped and confused as gunfire opens up, people start dying, and the world around them slowly starts to crumble.  A few thoughts:

  • I’ve only read a few Stephen King books, but this one feels the most strange, with a bizarre plot plucked from the air like a nightmare.  Despite the otherworldly horror King built his career sprinkling through his books, The Regulators takes the chaos to another level, pushing the boundaries of how much a reader can take before it starts to provide context for the madness.
  • As usual, King does a good job developing believable characters with human motives and emotions.  He sprinkles the novel with popular culture references and straight-forward, believable dialogue.  The strange mix of people on the street are revealed quickly and slowly, some fully, some hardly at all.  And most in keeping with the vicious and capricious nature of the attackers, it’s nearly impossible to tell who will and will not survive any given scene.
  • King uses a strange mix of perspectives to tell the story, drawing on journals, letters, diaries, and an omniscient narrator with little or no sense of order to the choice.  I felt like this was the biggest weakness of the novel, as its method of storytelling doesn’t move the story forward, but instead breaks the suspension of disbelief by asking the reader to switch perspectives and modes with little or no warning.
  • King takes his title, and many of the plot elements, from a Western movie that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist.  It’s a little disappointing, actually, as I wanted to go back and understand the book better by watching the film.  In looking for it, though, I’ve learned that King wrote a mirror novel at the same time as The Regulators called Desperation, which apparently features many of the same characters.  I’ve requested it from the library.
  • Kate Nelligan does an excellent job with the reading, bringing strong emotions and characterization to her voice acting.  The production also includes some downright creepy sound effects and discordant music to throw the reader off their complacent game.  The terrible voice she provides to the supernatural power toward the end of the book is marvelous.
  • I’m certainly not one to insist that all stories have a purpose or a meaning, nor that a big lesson must appear or apply at the end of the tale, but The Regulators feels particularly purposeless in this regard.  Perhaps that itself is the point — the horrible unreality these suburbanites find invading their neighborhood feels as old as time, not unlike the villainous demonic force at the heart of IT or the malevolent spirit haunting the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.  Such stories become allegories for both the random acts of violence and terror that individual humans perpetrate to one another, but they also represent the terror the unknown holds over us.  At any time the Earth could open up and swallow our city, or bring a flood or a tornado, or a stray asteroid could trigger another ice age.  King’s supernatural menaces spring from the same ancient fear, the instinctual horror we recognize lurking in the dark places just beyond the reach of our feeble torches.

It’s a good, entertaining horror story, but runs a little long for my taste.  When I was about a third of the way through, I found myself wondering how it could possibly go the full length, though I didn’t feel the book stretched out too much. 

Update: As I went to the library website to request Desperation, I learned that the edition of The Regulators I listened to was abridged.  DAMMIT.  No wonder the pacing seemed weird.  I HATE discovering that I’ve read an abridged version of the book.  Now I don’t know what I missed. ARRGGHGHGHHH!

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