Book Review: Holly

Holly Cover
Holly Cover

When I was younger, Stephen King was the biggest author in the world. Bookstores in my local mall (B.Dalton and Waldenbooks) prominently displayed his new hardcovers. They turned his books into movies. Guy was the “king” of horror.

I never liked horror, though, so I didn’t read or watch any of King’s stories. It wasn’t until I was an adult my wife made me watch The Shining, which I really enjoyed (as well as the book). When I read On Writing (the best book on writing?) I truly became a fan. So when my writing coach suggested I read Holly, I was game.

I enjoyed Holly. Holly is a mystery, sort of… we know who the bad guys are very early. The story is watching Holly, our protagonist, figure everything out. It’s a good page turner. It’s easy to root for Holly and her team of good guys and even easier to hate the bad guys… they are seriously evil and deranged.

Reading Holly, a few things stood out to me. One, King made this an immediately post-COVID lockdown story. Masks, shots, people sick and dying. Covid is a character in the story. It’s an odd choice because it already made it feel dated. An example is people, upon meeting for the first time, discuss whether they are vaccinated. Most of the “bad” people in the story aren’t, while our heroes are. Same with mask wearing, Covid deniers, etc. It’s an interesting choice; on the one hand, it marks a specific period in history. But reading it now, only a year or two later, it feels very dated. And while I agree with the “good guys” on vaccines and masks, making all the bad guys on the denier side comes off heavy-handed.

The other issue is the editing. I remember reading another super-popular author when I was a kid, Tom Clancy. His first bestseller, The Hunt for Red October, was a tight thriller with just enough military tech to make it interesting. His second, Red Storm Rising, was an unnecessarily long and almost unreadable. I distinctly remember my father, who read the book before I did, telling me it was a shame when authors got too big and could ignore their editors. I feel the same way about King’s writing. Characters have the same thoughts or experiences multiple times… I constantly said yes, I know this already. It’s unfortunate because the writing is excellent, and we’re invested in the characters and plot. The “Writers Edition” of The Stand was perhaps the worst example. In fairness, SK, in the intro to the extended version of the book, says the same… but it was laborious to read.

As fun as it is to criticize one of the most successful authors of all time, Holly a good read. Great, memorable characters, tension, and we really feel like we have a good sense of the location where most of the story takes place.

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