If Evil comes from an “unsuspected pulpit”: The new nightmares of the “king of thrill”


By John

At the same time worldwide, today Stephen King returns to the bookstore with “Holly”, published in Italy by Sperling & Kupfer. The king of thrills, the 75-year-old author who has sold 500 million copies, the man who gave shape and word to the nightmares of multiple generations of readers, engages with a horror-tinged book in which evil has no metaphysical traits but is the birth of two diabolical minds. Emily and Rodney Harris are a couple of university professors, retired senior lecturers who live in a Victorian house complete with a porch and immaculate driveway. Unsuspected but capable of orchestrating a plan to deceive, drug and kidnap young victims, locking them in their soundproof cellar and finally killing them.

If the evil that comes from space or from beyond the grave terrifies us and leaves us dismayed, the darkness that exudes in “Holly” is even darker as it seems to overflow from the pages of crime news. Emily and Rodney are not followers of the Devil but they are convinced that “flesh is life” and where fat and vital spirit abound, the diabolical and unsuspecting couple is determined to feed on it greedily, certain of being able to defeat sciatica and even Alzheimer’s with a “tasty taste of youth”. Cultured and gourmet, ironic and racist, King enters the intimacy of a wasp couple who carefully choose their victims, identifying young subjects far from home, even better if they are on a collision course with their families. People who, once disappeared, are swallowed up by oblivion and which, soon, no one will remember anymore. The translator – the Americanist Luca Briasco, recently interviewed by this newspaper – had defined it “a horror-tinged novel to the extent that evil comes from an unsuspected pulpit” and furthermore, in these pages, comes the celebration of Holly Gibney, the hypochondriac detective who finds herself embroiled in the hunt for missing teenagers.

Holly – first appeared in «Mr. Mercedes», returning in «The Outsider» and in the long story of «If blood flows» (all published by Sperling&Kupfer) – she is clumsy, talks to herself and continually broods but her human weaknesses bring her closer to the reader’s heart, balancing the darkness of history. And even more importantly, with Holly, King once again celebrates the America of the bruised of “It” and “Memory of a Summer” rather than that of the arrogant winners; after all, even Holly was bullied as a child and called “Farfuglia”.

In the final notes, the novelist says that he chose to plant his feet in his own time, bringing post-Trump America plagued by Covid-19 to the page. And so, if Holly’s mother died from complications of the virus (and for having refused the vaccine), the characters on the page wear masks and sanitize their hands, however, King does not silence the deniers, also giving voice to characters which speak of a stupid anti-democratic plot to subjugate the people, also bringing to the page the shameful assault on the Capitol in January 2021. With his usual mastery, King unravels Rodney’s sick reasoning, explaining his mad fight against aging bodies, pushed to the extreme consequences and with a narrative in alternating temporal planes, we follow Holly moving alone dealing with a succession of leads; but at the same time, she will have to find the strength to move on, finally managing to forgive herself. And she will have to do it despite all the evil encountered along her way.