The thing I like most about The Tommyknockers is how bonkers it is.
This was my primary motivation to re-read it for the first time since its original publication in 1987. Sometimes you just want to read something that’s flat-out bonkers.
The Tommyknockers is the story of an ancient spaceship buried under the ground of a bucolic village in Maine facing off against a washed-up and suicidal drunk poet.
It’s the story of how that same town, ironically named Haven, gets dosed with some serious crazy from the ship, leading the townsfolk to tear each other apart when they’re not busy building gadgets that defy the laws of physics.
It’s extremely violent at times, filled with gory deaths and near-misses that King gleefully describes in loving detail.
It’s also a bitter and sad reunion between a pair of former lovers and friends, both changed, both beyond redemption, each struggling with their basic humanity, one rather more literally than the other.
King spent much of the 1980s under the influence of various drugs and there’s something about the texture of the story and particularly the self-destruction of Jim Gardener, the alcoholic poet, that suggests more than verisimilitude at work here. Though the novel suffers from what feels like a hands-off approach from the editor, with a few sloppy sections that should have been cleaned up or excised, the sense that you are riding along on a rocket of destruction both serves as a strength of the story and a reminder of how King was battling his own buried demons at the time.
If you like horror masquerading as loopy science fiction, The Tommyknockers is a fun (if too-long) read. It’s my second favorite “spaceship buried in the earth” novel, after Patrick Tilley’s Fade-Out.