Searching for Stephen King

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 13, 2010

But while the book is full of facts, the larger narratives — about fame, substance abuse, literary criticism, marriage, and family — get only superficial treatment. Rogak's supplementary interviews aren't particularly illuminating, with some early-childhood exceptions. The reader is left with little more than a deftly compiled chronology, and lots of fodder for the next edition of Trivial Pursuit.

But if you don't already know these factoids (i.e., you're not already a madly devoted fan), do you feel their lack? Anecdotes, dates, and dollar amounts only take non-Kingophiles so far. This book begs the question: For what readers are pop-culture biographies written? Are they for fans only? (Rogak tacitly acknowledges her presumed readership when she writes, "Yes, that fence," when describing the Kings' house in Bangor, a popular destination for King-lovers, who would recognize the wrought-iron fence adorned with bats and spiderwebs.) Or is there hope on the part of the author that aspects of the book will appeal to a larger audience, will elucidate larger themes?

Rogak outlines one such theme in her introduction: "Stephen King has never gotten over feeling like an abandoned child and he never stopped being a child permanently haunted by his father's absence. That's something that will never change. It has affected his entire life, from his childhood to his marriage to his books. Especially his books." She admonishes the reader: "Keep this in mind as you read both this book and Steve's novels..." (Rogak adopts a bit of a fan's tone herself, consistently referring to King familiarly as "Steve.")

These correlations aren't specious — King himself has admitted that the fact that his dad deserted his family has affected his perceptions of family, fatherhood, and fear in general. But once she puts forth her initial hypothesis, Rogak revisits the abandonment issues only in passing. Much more space is taken up by exposition of the this-happened-then-this-happened type. And while a psychological exploration might not have been appropriate in this book, or any other, one wonders if Rogak was trying to make Haunted Heart into something it didn't want to, or couldn't, be.

For those searching for either a deeper portrait of Stephen King (or even a summarization of celebrity bios at large), perhaps the most telling passage can be found in the opening pages, when Rogak describes a meeting she had with King's assistant, who met with Rogak at King's office to inquire about the nature of the biographer's project.

"For most of that half-hour interrogation," she writes, "the man himself hovered just outside the doorway, listening in on our conversation but never once stepping inside."

Unfortunately, King never steps fully into Haunted Heart, either.

Deirdre Fulton can be reached

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