Becky’s One Hundred and Third Book Review: “Insomnia” by Stephen King

“Insomnia” by Stephen King was like an acid trip. Ok, to be fair, I’ve never actually done acid or any hallucinogenic drugs…but I do believe that what he wrote about in “Insomnia” can most closely be described as that. Pretty crazy.

Stephen King’s “Insomnia” is set in a small town in Maine where a man named Ralph lives. In the beginning of the book, Ralph is in the process of saying goodbye to his wife. She is dying from brain cancer and rather quickly, forgetting who he is and who she is. It was very sad to read about him losing the woman he had been with for most of his life. Soon after Carolyn’s death, Ralph begins losing sleep. It starts out small enough, he begins getting up just a little earlier every day. Then he is missing hours of sleep. Soon he is lucky if he gets three or four hours a night. Not long after, Ralph starts to see things. Everyone and their mothers are offering Ralph advice as to how to solve his insomnia. He tries all sorts of things including drinking a shot or two of whiskey before bed as well as eating honeycomb. (Which I now really want to try). Nothing works and Ralph is still not getting any rest.

The way that Stephen King describes what Ralph begins to see is what really made me think to compare “Insomnia” to hallucinogenic drugs. Ralph is seeing what most people would call an aura. But it isn’t just people who have auras. Buildings, plants, furniture, food…everything has an aura. One that stood out for me was when he saw the aura of some flowers in a vase. The color coming off of them was a misty green and Ralph could feel the flowers dying. That was what it was like for him with pretty much everything. He would see the colors and feel the emotions. I really liked this aspect of the book. Stephen King was able to stretch his writing, at least in my opinion, to include the different ‘colors’ that different emotions would be linked to. It was quite different from what you would normally expect from him.

As I say that, I feel compelled to mention that yes, there is horror in this story as well. It really wouldn’t be a Stephen King novel if it wasn’t at least a little. One of the things that Ralph is seeing once he is sleeping less and less are these black clouds or ‘death bags’ as he comes to call them. The presence of one means something bad is coming, the larger the death bag, the greater the trauma will be. (The death bags really reminded me of the creatures that Odd Thomas sees when something evil is coming. Some of Dean Koontz’s best works in my opinion).

Some of these things are explained to him by ‘the doctors’. There are three all together, and they cannot be seen by ordinary people but only by Ralph. The three ‘doctors’ are compared to the three sisters in Greek mythology — the ones who cut the thread of life. Essentially, that is what these guys do. It was really interesting to read King’s interpretation on a Greek myth. Two of the doctors could be categorized as ‘good’ and then the third can be described as a messenger of chaos.

Would I recommend “Insomnia” by Stephen King? Yes – but it isn’t for everyone. I think most die-hard Stephen King fans would enjoy it but it certainly isn’t something that I would go raving about to those who do not read his books most of the time. It was a very entertaining read, but not his best work ever.                                   

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