Book Review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (Series, #5)
The gunslinger’s katet have a lot more on their plate than just continuing along the path of the beam. Susannah is pregnant and has developed another personality, Mia, to deal with the pregnancy as it is most likely demonic. The Rose is in danger in then when of 1977 New York City. The man who owns the empty lot it grows in is under pressure from the mob to sell it to an unseen man. So the last thing the katet needs is to run into a town desperately in need of the help of gunslingers.
The Calla, a town made up of rice growers and ranchers who mostly give birth to twins, has been facing a plague once every generation. Creatures referred to as Wolves come and take one child out of every set of twins between the ages of about 4 and puberty. The child is later returned mentally retarded. Their local robot messenger, Andy, has warned them that the Wolves are coming in about a month, and their holy man believes gunslingers are on their way.
Unable to turn down their duty as gunslingers or give up on their quest for the Dark Tower, can the gunslingers pull it all off or is it just more than any katet, even one as strong as theirs, can handle?
Toward the beginning of the book, Roland says something like, “Being a gunslinger means weeks of planning, preparation, and hard work for 5 minutes of battle.” That’s really a good description of this book. It’s a lot of exposition, albeit very interesting exposition, followed by a rather anticlimactic battle that is really the exposition for the next leg of the katet’s journey. This could have gone really badly, but thankfully there’s a lot of information King needs to tell us, and most of it is interesting and relevant to the gunslingers’ world, so it works.
King is good at creating a culture. The Calla and its people possess a very distinctive speech pattern and colloquialisms that are simultaneously easy enough for the reader to learn and to follow. He hints that he just took the Maine accent and exaggerated it. Maybe that’s why a New England gal like myself found it so easy to follow. In any case, the town of twins, ranchers, and rice is rich with local legends, folklore, and traditions. It is enjoyable to read about, and the town also manages to provide information about the katet’s greater quest for the Dark Tower.
It is well-known that King’s Dark Tower series brings in elements and characters from his other works, as he sees all of his stories happening in the same world and being connected. To that end, the holy man of the Calla is the priest from Salem’s Lot, and a part of Wolves of the Calla is him relating his backstory to the katet. Something that irritated me about all of the tales told in the “Telling of Tales” section of Wolves of the Calla is that it would switch from the character speaking to an italicized third person narrative. I don’t know if all of the italicized portions were previously written for other books or if King felt that he needed to be an omnipotent narrator in order to properly tell everything that had happened, but I found it disjointing and jarring. It was only my unanswered questions about the Wolves and the Dark Tower that kept me reading through that section.
I enjoyed the growth in the relationship between Roland and Jake. Roland is gradually growing into a father figure/adviser, while Jake is gradually becoming a man and an equal with the other gunslingers. King handles this transition well, and it is believable. Meanwhile, Eddie and Susannah’s relationship doesn’t change per se, but Eddie does realize that he will always love Susannah more than she loves him. It is evident that both of them are uncomfortable with her multiple personalities. This is an issue that clearly has not yet been resolved.
I do have three gripes with King. The first is that he persists in calling Susannah’s multiple personalities schizophrenia, which is just wrong. Schizophrenics hear voices, at worst, they do not have multiple personalities. What Susannah has is Dissociative Identity Disorder, and it is just inexcusable that he would get this wrong.
Second, although previously in the series the reader isn’t allowed to know or see something Roland knows, the reader always gets to know what the other gunslingers know. Here, information is pointedly held back from the reader. I can only assume this was an attempt to maintain suspense about the Wolves, which I found to be a cop-out. Either come up with an idea creative enough that we’ll be surprised anyway or have the characters be surprised as well as us. Also, I already had the wolves figured out long before they are revealed anyway. The suspense came in wondering how the final battle would play out, not in wondering who the Wolves were.
Third, I don’t like the fact that Susannah’s main storyline is a pregnancy. I don’t like that one of her key roles so far as a gunslinger was to fuck the shit out of a demon so that Jake could be pulled through (The Wastelands). I also really don’t like that something as simple as her being pregnant causes her to abandon her husband and her katet in the form of another personality, Mia. It almost seems that King uses the multiple personalities just so that he can have a sweet woman around when he needs one but then can instantaneously turn her back into all of the negative images of women out there. I need to see where Susannah’s storyline winds up before I can offer a final analysis of the character and its implications, but at the moment, it reads as a very negative view of women.
The overarching storyline of the quest for the Dark Tower, however, is still going strong in this book. We learn a bunch of new, important information about the Tower, the beams, and the worlds, and new questions pop up. With each book it becomes more evident that saving the Tower is important to the well-being of all worlds. I am pleased to report that this was a marked improvement over the previous book, although not quite up to the intensity of The Waste Lands or pure readability of The Gunslinger. It still manages to suck you in and gets the story back on the path of the beam.
3 out of 5 stars