Desperation by Stephen King

You know a book is going to be good when you are sufficiently scared on page four. There is something about the highways in the middle of America, where you travel for miles without seeing any sign of life (on a side note, I’ve always found Wyoming to be the worst). Suddenly, you see a cop, but he passes you. Relief, right? Then you realize he’s not continuing on, but slowing again, his lights come on. Things are going from good to bad. That’s when the feeling of relief gives way to the feeling of dread. Let’s be honest about what most of us feel when this happens…it’s something akin to “oh, shit”.

(Most of us just get a ticket, but do remember, this is a Stephen King novel.)

The cop pulls you over and makes you step out of the car (What is going on?). However, you are relieved when you realize he just wants to show you a broken taillight. Then, for whatever inane reason, you open the trunk – forgetting that this is your stoner sister’s car and what might be in there. You’re arrested. The cop reads you your rights.

“You have the right to remain silent,’ the big cop said in his robot’s voice. ‘If you do not choose to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand your rights as I have explained them to you?”

Bad to worse. Welcome to Desperation.

The couple arrested, Peter and Mary Jackson, are brought to the Desperation Jail, where Peter is promptly shot. Mary is dragged to the upstairs jail cell (over another body) and locked in. Here she meets Ralph, Ellen, and David Carver (the other body was their young daughter Kirsten). The only other resident, and perhaps lone Desperation survivor (aside from the cop), is town vet Tom Billingsley. They are soon joined by literary superstar, but frequently troubled Johnny Marinville. Before the day is out, the misfit group will face evil in its purest form, necessitating the group to turn to a higher power.

David, the Carver’s devout son, continually prays for guidance – and seems to be receiving answers. As the group watches in a mix of awe and suspicion, David is able to lead them out of the prison. From here, it is their mission to get out of Desperation, but to do so successfully they will need to destroy the evil force possessing the town.

Desperation, published in 1996, is a companion novel the Bachman’s The Regulators (which I have not read, but recently required a pristine hardcover edition at a used book sale). While not his best work, Desperation is a solid, edge of your seat horror novel. The writing at times is average, but it is pleasingly scary from beginning to end.

One of the unusual aspects to this novel is its religious theme. This is the first and only King novel I’ve read (are there others?) that deals this heavily with the characters faith in God – and the testing and questioning of said faith. Generally speaking, most of King’s best works deal with average, but good citizens dealing with a truly evil entity. Desperation falls squarely in this category. It is not as good as The Stand or IT (two others where an average group of citizens defeat the ultimate evil), but it is worth a read for any King fan or horror aficionado. Bottom line: 4/5.

4 thoughts on “Desperation by Stephen King

  1. I’m listening to Under the Dome right now, and there’s a good bit of religion happening. But not really in a good way. It’s mixed in with a boatload of hypocrisy.
    I don’t know that I’ll be putting this on my Stephen King TBR pile, though. I’m disturbed enough by the cover!


    1. This is not one of his best, but it is a solid horror read. This book was surprisingly pro-God, but did not promote organized religion. The parents of the chosen boy were actually athiests who looked at the son like “Who are you and what happened to my son…?”. I found it funny, though I suppose it wasn’t especially (I just pictured my son asking me to go to church in five years).


  2. Great review! I enjoyed this book, and many others by King, although it’s been a while since I read anything by him. My last book was Full Dark, No Stars, and it was disturbing but not really surprising considering the genre. This book was scary but Salem’s Lot was scarier. Have you read it?


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