Before we begin, I've gotta say two things.
1. Besides Stephen, Tabitha King is my favorite writer in the King family. Their sons are fantastic, as well as their daughter-in-law Kelly Braffet (seriously, the three of them haven't churned out a bad book yet) but my heart still belongs to Tabby. That's no shock, really -- all of her family members never hesitate to give her praise for her sense of story and characters, and she's perhaps more known for helping her husband and sons with their novels than she is for her own novels. Funny, isn't it? Still, the woman is very talented And SHOULD WRITE MORE ARGHHHH!
2. This review is going to make me sound like I don't like Tabby's writing, and nothing could be farther from the truth. I simply have issues with this novel, THE BOOK OF REUBEN (yeah, I've switched from italicizing book titles to typing them in all caps because I'm a lazy bum) and they can't be overlooked. There's a lot to like about this book, but there are also mistakes present here that an author six books into her writing career shouldn't be making.
So, on we go.....
Actually, no. I just lied to you. There is one more thing I need to say-- a brief comment on the way Tabby's novels work. You see, King has published 8 novels over the years, and five of them are a series of sorts -- they're all about the inner workings of a small town in Maine called Nodd's Ridge, a small town not dissimilar to her husband's Castle Rock (in fact, Castle Rock is referenced in almost every Tabitha King novel, as well as a few of her husband's characters). Tabby tends to take an important event -- such as the murder of a small child in CARETAKERS -- and give a different twist on said event in laters books from witnesses or townsfolk who have heard about it. It's a way of deepening our relationship with the characters as well as furthering the feeling that we, the readers, are truly a part of this small town King has created. It's not too different from what her husband does -- he tends to throw in passing references to other works of his as a wink and nod to Constant Readers -- but it's also a little more involved. Again, these five books -- CARETAKERS, THE TRAP, PEARL, ONE ON ONE, and lastly, THE BOOK OF REUBEN -- are a series, or at least they detail the history and future of Nodd's Ridge and tend to focus on the same cast of characters, albeit at different stages in life -- for instance, Reuben is a grown man with a teenage son in ONE ON ONE, but THE BOOK OF REUBEN details his teenage years and eventual manhood against the back-drop of the '60s and '70s.
So, what did I think of the novel?
Well, for the first two hundred pages or so, I loved it. The story had me in its grip -- Reuben's father's suicide and purchase of a run-down garage in hopes of keeping himself and his mother afloat; his friendship to Sonny, a guy who knocks up his girlfriend, marries her, becomes a drunk, and goes off to 'Nam; his interactions with characters from previous King novels such as Joe Nevers and Torie Christopher....
Okay, so let me address an issue I had with the novel. Torie Christopher is a drunken middle-aged woman who tends to make at least a token appearance in every King novel. She's an alcoholic and sleeps with a lot of guys and isn't very well-liked on the Ridge. She's a summer resident, therefore she's from "away" as some of the folks in this town put it. Still, she's one of my favorite characters of King's simply because she's so . . . wild? Her biggest and best appearance is in CARETAKERS, and her full story will fully break ya heart.
Here, she's only used for soft (and hard) core porn. Early on in the book, Reuben is fixing this lady's Cadillac in his garage after hours. Everyone is gone except the two of them, and she says "Do you wanna screw me?"
Cue long sex scene. Like, reeeeeeally long. I'm no prude, but Reuben is only sixteen or so in this scene, and this lady is in her thirties. It's tolerable at first, but after a while it gets tiresome. Still, I didn't let it bother me too much -- anyone who reads works of any King family member has to expect a steamy sex scene or three. It comes with the territory.
A few chapters later, the two are at it again, and soon after they are looking for any place they can find to do it. They barely know each other, and King gives us no reason to root for these two. They are almost strangers -- Reuben doesn't even know her first name!
Meanwhile, Reuben is trying to catch the eye of Laura (i.e. The most annoying and lifeless female character I've ever read) all while still sleeping with Ms. Christopher. He and Laura hook up, and -- surprise surprise -- him juggling two women doesn't work well. Drama abounds.
Sigh. What was it about Tabitha King in the '90s? Why did she feel her books had to be filled with endless pages of sex, followed by the woman wondering why the man gets upset when she won't give him any? (Seriously, Laura eventually marries Reuben, complains every time they have sex, and then stops giving him any for, like, months.)
Thus, my biggest problem with this novel. Every woman turns into a frigid witch and every guy turns into a mindless sex-crazed lunatic. It's sad, because at least most of the characters in this novel started out so interesting and slowly devolved into cliches. I don't want to accuse Tabitha King of misandry, but THE BOOK OF REUBEN gives off that vibe, and how.
Still, King knows her way around a phrase. There is too much beautiful writing here to quote (read: I'm too lazy to get off my butt, grab my book, and find something to quote). The story kept me rapt for at least 2/3 of it, even if some of the sex made me roll my eyes. She obviously cares about these characters, even if she tries to infuse a lot of needless drama into their lives. It's neat to see Reuben grow up into the man we saw in PEARL and ONE ON ONE (even if King totally wasted the '60s setting -- seriously, Vietnam was mentioned like, twice, and there were maybe a couple of passing references to the counter-culture) and he's a strong guy -- a guy one can easily root for (when he's not being led around by his second brain, that is). His life isn't easy, and it's easy to cheer for him when he succeeds.
Overall, I think this book is a solid 3-star read. Like her husband, even on a bad day King is very readable, and it's easy to get lost in the world she's created. Her prose and dialogue are solid, as well as her sense of pace. It's only 350 pages long and doesn't feel bloated like ONE ON ONE did at times. Honestly, if the characters in this novel didn't hop in bed with any ole Joe from off the street (and this problem isn't limited to Reuben and Torie Christopher, trust me) this would get 4 stars, easy. Maybe 4 1/2. As it is, I'm giving this one 3 and hoping SURVIVOR is a better read.