I have long admired Stephen King’s ability to create a riveting story. To just set up a premise that demands to be read. I think where he excels the most is in his ability to write characters we care about, and then his willingness to put those characters into extremely difficult situations. From there, he allows the premise to unfold, and he doesn’t shy away from put all those characters through the ringer.
The Outsider is squarely in that sweet spot. I started reading it one evening, and the next thing I knew, it was almost midnight, and I had to get up early for work the next morning. The premise is compelling: a man who’s universally admired around his small community is arrested for a dreadful murder of a young boy. For the first 100 pages or so, King shows us just how iron clad the case is against the man. He also shows us just how surprised the man is to be arrested. It’s almost like you’re reading two different books. There’s no way both narratives could be true.
I won’t give any more description than that, but suffice it to say that from there, King takes those characters and develops them further. Some make good choices. Some make terrible ones. All of those decisions feel consistent with who they are as characters. There are none that just make you feel like it’s the author forcing characters to do what the plot demands.
I’ve asked myself several times over the years, “What is horror?” What makes a book belong in the horror section? I think that many people assume it’s got to be gory and bloody, and King definitely doesn’t shy away from that when those situations arise in his books. But I think what really makes a horror story work for me is there needs to be some level of believability. Sometimes, the most horrific things are the everyday things people do to each other. The casual way people will treat another person’s hopes, dreams, or lives. If it’s a big scary monster doing that, then it’s easier for me to distance myself from what’s going on. If it’s just another person?
I struggle sometimes with King’s endings. They can feel like they are abrupt, or take a turn to the bizarre. The Outsider didn’t have that problem for me. By the time we get to the end, I know what stakes are at play, and I understand enough of what’s going on for the finale to really feel earned and impactful.
So, is this a book you’ll like? On the one hand, it’s definitely horror. It’s got some very intense scenes, and some grisly details. So if that’s something that turns you off, it would be best to just step away. That said, I think many people dismiss horror as a genre out of hand, assuming it’s all machetes and screaming. If they gave it a shot, they might be surprised at just how normal it reads. Certainly no worse than many episodes of CSI, for example.
In any case, I really enjoyed this one of King’s, and I heartily recommend it. 9/10