Horror logo

SuzeReviews: Billy Summers

Stephen King’s new instant bestseller shows why he’s still one of the greats. [No Spoilers]

By Suze KayPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Billy Summers by Stephen King, Scribner, $30 at your local bookseller

From any other writer, it would have been just another schlocky action porno: a hit man on a cursed last job, traveling the country with a bombshell ingenue. But Stephen King‘s Billy Summers shows that even with a tenuous premise, he can deliver a meaningful, character-driven opus that hums with power.

There are some notes that ring false. Despite foreshadowing COVID lockdown multiple times, the book’s timeline doesn’t quite run that far. There are crucial discoveries and plot twists that don’t feel fully explored or even explained to this reader’s satisfaction. And most disappointing, the main plot’s pay-off falls short of its build-up.

All that said, there were certain lines and characteristic wry commentary that made each page worth turning. As Billy navigates his way through a warren of ill-intentioned gangsters, generous would-be friends, and the multiple doppelgängers he sets up for himself, his voice is strong and compelling. He demands pity and admiration from the reader, pulls pure emotion out of the mundane, and is a convincingly forgivable man. Even if it doesn’t all hang together so well, each new plot reveal is interesting enough to merit reading on.

It’s nice to see King leave his comfortable bedrock of rural Maine and continue to explore America. However, his literary grasp on the ‘iconic’ in these new locations falters. There’s nothing special about most of the locations explored by Billy, with the exception of a spooky, sidelong reference to The Shining. If a lurid description of a Walmart is as close as King can get to a notable location in modern America (a la the Shop in Needful Things or Big Pink in Duma Key), so be it, but he’s trained his dedicated readers to expect more.

It’s heartening to read a book where sex isn’t a motivator or a cheap thrill, but also isn’t ignored. King shows tact and humor while dealing with difficult themes of rape and recovery. His characters are believable and consistent in their motivations and their emotions are palpable without schmaltz. Over everything else, that’s what keeps this story going: his characters.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the embedded narrative of Billy’s backstory, which runs parallel to the plot of Billy Summers. That’s the core of the book, and it’s rock solid. With excellent character voice, perfect pacing, and thematically packed with imagery and mystery, Billy’s writing casts a cool, clear light over a multitude of societal evils. Better than any other section of the novel in full, it touches on many of King’s classic themes. What does it mean to be good or bad? What does loneliness and desperation do to the soul? And the age-old classic: War! What is it good for?

The downside of embedding such a stunning narrative is that it makes the walnut shell of the rest of the novel feel fragile, almost inconsequential. It’s a reminder that some of Stephen King’s best work can be found in his short stories, where there are fewer distractions and fiddly details to get in the way of the weighty topics he grapples with.

There were pages that summoned tears, lines that inspired authentic laughter, and definitely a lamp that was on well past bedtime while reading. So, this book joins the others on the collected shelf of King’s repertoire. While it may not have earned its place next to It or The Stand, in Billy Summers King has found a character that is worth remembering. And maybe even rereading.

Final Rating: 3/5

For dedicated King fans who appreciate his character building, it’s a moving pleasure to read. For casual readers looking for a thrill ride, the plot may disappoint.

book reviews

About the Creator

Suze Kay

Pastry chef by day, insomniac writer by night.

Find here: stories that creep up on you, poems to stumble over, and the weird words I hold them in.

Or, let me catch you at www.suzekay.com

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.