It is with relief that the reader shifts from this chugging, blood-spattered finale into “Big Driver,” a story about a storyteller in peril (a motif re-visited by King many times, most memorably with his earlier novel – and its later film version, with an Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates – the stunner “Misery”). Short-lived relief, that is.
Before the fireworks begin, King does what he does best: He sets up an ordinary character in ordinary contemporary American surroundings for a hellish ride into traumatic, extraordinary events.
Tess is in her mid-30s, churning out Willow Grove Knitting Society novels that earn respectable sales, if not the blockbuster status of those written by Janet Evanovich. Think Jan Karon meets Alexander McCall Smith.
To ensure a retirement cushion, she knocks off a dozen paid speeches and book-signings per year, all of them within an easy drive of her New England home.
An invitation for just such an appearance pops up at the last minute, and Tess accepts with delighted aplomb. All goes well, until the president of Books & Brown Baggers – a mannish 60-year-old named Ramona who extended the author’s invitation – suggests Tess take a shortcut home.
What follows is harrowing enough: flat tire, hulking helper-turned-attacker, Tess left for dead. But the lead-in and aftermath are what cement the horrors with the reader’s dread, driven by the commonality of Tess’s thoughts and mental tics.