It's a summer afternoon in Wentworth, Ohio, and on Poplar Street everything's normal. The paper boy is making his rounds; the Carver kids are bickering at the corner convenience store; a Frisbee is flying on the Reeds' lawn; Gary Soderson is firing up the backyard barbecue. The only thing that doesn't quite fit is the red van idling just up the hill. Soon it will begin to roll, and the killing will begin. A quiet slice of American suburbia is about to turn to toast. The mayhem rages around a seemingly still point, a darkened house lit fitfully from within by a flickering television screen. Inside, where things haven't been normal for a long time, are Audrey Wyler and the autistic nephew she cares for, eight-year-old Seth Garin. They're fighting their own battle, and its intensity has turned 247 Poplar Street into a prisonhouse. By the time night falls on Poplar Street, the surviving residents will find themselves in another world, one where anything, no matter how terrible, is possible...and where the regulators are on their way. By what power they have come, how far they will go, and how they can be stopped -- these are the desperate questions. The answers are absolutely terrifying.
Why revive the Bachman byline more than a decade after Stephen King was found lurking behind it? Not for thematic reasons. This devilishly entertaining yarn of occult mayhem married to mordant social commentary is pure King and resembles little the four nonsupernatural (if science-fictional) pre-Thinner Bachmans. The theme is the horror of TV, played out through the terrors visited upon quiet Poplar Street in the postcard-perfect suburban town of Wentworth, Ohio, when a discorporeal psychic vampire settles inside an autistic boy obsessed with TV westerns and kiddie action shows and brings screen images to demented, lethal life. The long opening scene, in which characters and vehicles from the TV show Motokops 2200 (think Power Rangers) sweep down the street, spewing death by firearm, is a paragon of action-horror. The story rarely flags after that, evoking powerful tension and, at times, emotion. The premise owes a big unacknowledged debt to the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life"; echoes of earlier Kings resound often as well -- the psychic boy (The Shining), a writer-hero (Misery, The Dark Half), etc. But King makes hay in this story in which anything can happen, and does, including the warping of space-time and the savage deaths of much of his large cast. The narrative itself warps fantastically, from prose set in classic typeface to handwritten journals to drawings to typewritten playscript and so on. So why the Bachman byline? Probably for fear that yet another new King in 1996 in addition to six volumes of The Green Mile and Viking's forthcoming Desperation might glut the market. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain: call him Bachman or call him King, the bard of Bangor is going to hit the charts hard and vast with this white-knuckler knockout.