Holly is out worldwide today, welcome back to the “dark places” of Stephen King


By John

A detective with a mask and hand sanitizer, who moves in post-Trump America but still within the collective tragedy of Covid, with all its social, health and human consequences. She is the heroine who gives her name to Stephen King’s latest novel, in bookstores worldwide today, “Holly” (Sperling & Kupfer, translated by Luca Briasco). A mystery, rather than a horror, but a mystery in which we immediately know who the culprits are and what type of crime they committed, and in fact the focus is not the crime (in this case kidnappings and serial murders), but – as always in King – the descent into the underworld, whether they are real tunnels inhabited by supernatural creatures or those of the human psyche, which has always been allied, in King’s novels, with the darkest forces of the universe, or universes.
The thing, however, that is most surprising in this novel, which in other ways perfectly fits the author’s style and themes – even in the use of characters already seen in other narratives, and in the network of references and self-quotations – is the most marked, indeed decidedly (even too) insistent setting not in a generic contemporaneity, but in the United States of summer 2021, i.e. after the end of the ruinous Trump presidency and still within the Covid storm, with the change of management of the pandemic after the widespread denialism and superficiality of the Trumpian and Republican approach and its disasters. We know that Stephen King she was one of the most active and vocal celebrities, in the Covid period, against the anti-scientific attitudes and flat-earth and vulgar conspiracy theories of the Novax, and who often expressed sharp judgments – even in other narratives – against Trump and Trumpism, but in some way this has become, in «Holly», the ethical pivot of the narrative. Through the very detailed description of a world that we all remember well, in which certain “ethical-health dilemmas” have affected our lives for months: do I go in or not, in a place where no one has a mask? I extend my elbow or my hand, and why do I have to argue about it? Will he be rude, ask if he is vaccinated before entering his house? But also much worse things: the collapsing hospitals, the difficult life of those who needed checks or assistance, the quarantines that broke sociality and made trades and professions difficult, the continuous, exhausting dispute with novax (and their political godfathers) and others delusions.

Then, if anything, it is irony of the finest Kingian kind that the wonderful Holly, with all her insecurities and fragilities – toxic families are another of King’s great themes, and produce some of his most successful victims but also shining heroes and heroines – , albeit hypochondriac (golden times, pandemics, for hypochondriacs!), and that the couple of serial murderers are – apparently – the best of the dem and progressive intelligentsia.

And if deep America, the one in which supremacists and gunslingers fish for followers, has always been King’s privileged narrative object (in each of his novels cosmic and atavistic Evil always finds accomplices or facilitators or even entry routes precisely in the worst of our peers: the racists, the gallows, the chauvinists, the violent, the homophobes), here sometimes one has the feeling that the whole novel – however happy narratively, impeccable in its construction, acute in its psychology and tight in its rhythms – is constructed with excessive insistence on these issues, and the concern is first and foremost to point out to us the damage that irrational thinking, conspiracy theories and racism can bring to the community, even where we would not expect it. With a “pedagogical” or even “moralistic” aftertaste, so much so that King himself feels the need, in the final “Author’s Note”, to dispel the suspicion that, as he says, he “speaks from the pulpit”.

The writer clarifies that the credibility of fiction lies in its ability to coexist with real life and its events and characters, and is careful to certify to us that he has “correctly represented” even ideas that are very different from his (to silence all the controversy on the subject of the story «Ratto» in the collection «If Blood Flows», written well before Covid but which seems to talk about Covid: it is truly true that great storytellers are ahead of their times, they feel them…). We can reassure King King: a Novax, a denier (several characters speak of Covid as “a conspiracy” based on “a simple flu”, like the Novax mother of the protagonist, who will in fact die from it), a flat-earther will always seem like imbeciles, even described less well than he does. And yes, evil sometimes doesn’t need vampires, aliens and sleeping things: we bring the “dark places” first of all inside.