written by David Steffen
Sleeping Beauties is a drama/fantasy/action novel written by Stephen King and Owen King published in September 2017 by Scribner.
A mysterious condition hits the whole planet in an instant–if a woman falls asleep, threads of what appear to be fungus quickly envelop her, forming a sort of cocoon. She continues to live inside the cocoon if left undisturbed. If the cocoon is broken, she will wake up and react violently like a rabid animal. Meanwhile, in the Appalachian town of Dooling, a mysterious stranger who calls herself Eve who is arrested after violently killing a man with apparently superhuman strength. There’s no end in sight for the condition that affects only women–the women who are still awake try desperately to stay that way, some of the men left behind are ready to take desperate measures of one kind or another, and all hell is going to break loose. People find out that Eve can sleep without going into a cocoon, and they become violently desperate to find out why. Clint Norcross, the prison psychologist, husband of the sheriff, has a violent past from his juvenile days that he keeps to himself, even from his wife, and he takes it upon himself to protect as many women as he can, including Evie.
I like the premise of the book. It was enough for me to decide to read the book, and I was interested enough in it to want to stick through it to the end. But it took effort to stick with it. The biggest reason was that the book had, in my opinion, major pacing issues. And also a too-large cast without, in my opinion, any particular reason to root for anyone. Ensemble casts are one of Stephen King’s major skills, many of his best books have ensemble casts: It, Needful Things, The Stand. But those books were very good at getting me emotionally invested in most or all of the characters, understanding their strengths and weaknesses so that by the end I’m rooting for the outcome. I did not get that from Sleeping Beauties. Since the inciting incident isn’t introduced in that first 100 pages, the main purpose of that space must be to invest me in the characters, but I felt like it focused almost entirely on the negative in each person’s personality–this person treats this other person badly in various respects but never makes them feel well-rounded.
The Eve plotline and the cocoons plotline, while they are connected, felt like they were really two separate stories, the stories of a supernatural killer and the story of this condition the women have. Part of the reason I kept reading is that I wanted to find out more about that connection but I felt like what I got was just vague handwaving.
The themes of the book, about the relationship between men and women and how they treat each other and how they behave, could’ve been great. But I felt that they relied more on caricatures than on reality, and never managed to be as profound as they seemed to be meant to be.
I feel like this book could’ve been really really good with the existing story, if it were 150-200 pages, just cut out that first 100-page segment and got that characterization in alongside the inciting action and things happening, and it could’ve been an incredible book. As it is, I was interested enough in the end to read the end, but afterward I didn’t think the payoff of reading was worth the time it took to read.
More on the pacing issues, that might be too spoilerish:
The “inciting” action of local women being overtaken by the cocoons didn’t happen until past page 100. Usually for the purpose of reviews I try to only discuss what happens within the first 100 pages or so but, there wouldn’t be much of a review if I couldn’t even mention the cocoons. The next 100 pages are spent seeing the same thing happen over and over again as women succumb to the cocoons one after another, which has to be told anew for each point of view since each person is not familiar with it. And then most of the book is a long slow climb to the final confrontation.