In his 1996 bestseller Desperation, Stephen King delivers terror wrapped in religion.
The novel is about a handful of people who get stranded in Desperation, NV, a small, mining town totally off the grid in the middle of the desert.
The stranded travelers are the Jacksons, driving the husband’s sister’s car home to New York City; the Carver’s with their two children in an RV heading to Lake Tahoe; a has-been writer riding cross-country on a Harley looking for material for a new book; and the writer’s keeper, following in a truck with skinny, female hitchhiker.
All of the travelers get stopped by Collie Entragian, a supersized cop whose behavior is first odd, then threatening. Most of the residents of Desperation are already dead, murdered by Entragian.
Desperation’s plot mixes grisly details about the destruction caused by the mining industry and people’s natural stupidity with almost equally horrifying supernatural elements.
The only person who knows what how to respond to all the bad stuff is 11-year-old David Carver. He believes in praying to God and doing whatever God tells him. The adults look to David for direction.
King gets religion right: Having faith isn’t the same thing as having all the answers.
Hungry Hill is a novel book jackets refer to as a “sweeping saga.”
It’s what I call a stupendous bore.
In 1820, John Brodrick opens a copper mine at Hungry Hill near Doonhaven. A local man resentful of English takeover of Irish land, predicts the Brodericks and their estate will come to ruin. Daphne du Maurier spends the rest of the book showing the prediction come true.
Each succeeding generation of Brodericks is more foolish than the last. By 1920, there’s nothing left but chimney stacks and regrets.
Du Maurier fails to do more than just sketch characters and settings. The Dame tells us what we’re supposed to see, but it’s like looking for pictures in clouds. The facts are so flimsy, we can see any projection we wish.
The story line is equally superficial. We’ve seen all these plots before: The loving wife dying in childbirth, the mine-owner falling down his own mine shaft. The whole novel gives the impression of paper dolls manipulated by a child mouthing lines from her storybooks.
When John Henry realizes that he, like all the Brodricks, cares for nothing but his own comfort, it’s too late to do any good for the family or for du Maurier’s poor readers.
By Daphne du Mauier
Doubleday, Doran 1943
1943 bestseller # 8
My grade: C-
Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley is a nostalgic glimpse of life in days that were at once rougher and gentler than our own.
When the story opens, narrator Huw Morgan is just a boy in a Welsh household made prosperous by the combined wages of his father and brothers who work the coal mines.
As mines everywhere shut, plentiful labor forces wages down. The Morgan household splits over attempts to unionize the mine. Miners strike, but the strike fails.
A new minister in the valley takes an interest in Huw and encourages him to go to school, where he excels. Huw refuses to go to college. He chooses life in the mine over a profession.
A series of fresh disasters strike the valley: mining accidents, a rift in the local congregation over the minister’s relationship with Huw’s sister. The valley grows bleak and barren.
Although Huw tells the story in a flashback, he tells it basically from the perspective of what he saw, felt, and understood at the age when the events happened. Llewellyn’s novel takes readers into an interior world the classic film version of the novel does not capture.
Experience youth again: Read How Green Was My Valley.
How Green Was My Valley
By Richard Llewellyn
1940 bestseller #1
My grade: B+
John Fox, Jr. churned out sentimental novels about the American frontier that were immensely popular in the early 1900s. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was his first big success, making the bestseller list two years running.
Jack Hale sees the opportunity to make a fortune by buying land in the Cumberland Gap after the Civil War when the demand for steel soars.
While he’s looking for investment property up near the lonesome pine, Jack meets a young hillbilly girl, June Tolliver. Hale arranges for her to get schooling outside the mountains.
Meanwhile, Jack tries to civilize the hillbillies enough that investors won’t be afraid to come in. He makes enemies of both sides in the Tolliver-Falin feud.
His investments don’t fare well either. When June comes back, clean and cultured, she finds Jack gone to seed and the feud ready to blow her family apart.
If you can imagine John Wayne playing Professor Henry Higgins, you’ve got the flavor of the book. Trail has several intriguing story lines, but none of them is fully developed.
Characters are underdeveloped, too. Hale initially considers June a child , but readers never learn her age, which is a pivotal fact.
This melodrama survives as a curiosity, but it’s too splintered to endure as a novel.
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
By John Fox, Jr.
Grosset & Dunlap, 1908
1908 bestseller #3; 1909 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg ebook #5122
My Grade C