Finders Keepers is Stephen King’s love letter to literature. A blood drenched, visceral, scary love letter to literature.
The story centers around writer John Rothstein, who is considered by some to be one of America’s greatest authors, akin to Hemingway, Salinger, Vonnegut, Steinbeck, Roth. His iconic anti-hero, Jimmy Gold (whose catchphrase is “Shit don’t mean shit”) has resonated with readers like Holden Caulfield a generation before. But the reclusive author hasn’t published anything for decades, and Morris Bellamy, small time criminal, is incensed. When Morrie and two thick headed accomplices break into Rothstein’s remote New Hampshire farm, they are looking for fabled hoarded cash, yes, but Morrie also wants answers from his literary idol: “Why in God’s name couldn’t you leave Jimmy Gold alone? Why did you have to push his face down in the dirt like you did?.. Man, what a crap carnival. Advertising? I mean, advertising?”
What Morrie discovers after holding Rothstein at gunpoint is that the known Jimmy Gold novels – including the third one where Jimmy appears to have sold out – are just part of the literary cycle that John Rothstein has conceived in his Runner series. Two more novels showing how Jimmy Gold rejects his materialistic life and becomes his “essential self” again are contained in numerous meticulously hand written notebooks secured in a hefty safe, along with numerous short stories and even some poems – everything John Rothstein has written since his self-imposed retirement.
Suddenly Morrie realizes that this robbery will net him something far more valuable than hoarded cash; not only will the notebooks be worth their weight in gold, but they also will give him something far less tangible but far more compelling: the satisfaction of a jilted reader.
Of course, this being Stephen King, the story is not nearly that simple. Stolen manuscripts – especially, manuscripts that cannot even be reliably known to exist – are not easy things to pawn off. And for losers like Morrie, life intervenes in the meantime, swiftly and absolutely, separating him from his dreams of avarice, “tragically” even before he is able to settle in with the notebooks and discover the arc and conclusion of Jimmy Gold’s story.
Many years later, pure dumb luck brings a buried trunk with the stolen cash and notebooks to the attention of thirteen year old Pete Saubers. The money will come in mighty handy, seeing that Pete’s dad lost his job when the economy crashed in 2009, and then got run over by a madman in a Mercedes while waiting in line at a job fair, leaving him with crushed legs and stacks of medical bills. His mom’s crappy job doesn’t even come close to paying the bills, so Pete and his younger sister Tina already have been moved to a smaller house in a cheaper part of town, and gotten used to one car, no allowance, no cable, just the basics, if even that. They have also resigned themselves to their parent’s constant arguing, fearing that this signals a pending divorce.
But the money will help. Parceled out clandestinely, in small bits every month, the money helps keep the family afloat and together. Life still isn’t easy, but there is a little room to breathe. That is, until it runs out. Now Pete – who has figured out what is in the notebooks; after all, he’s a sophomore in high school now, planning on majoring in English when he goes to college (he even works part time in a library) – considers what he once thought was unthinkable: selling the Rothstein manuscripts that he has already secretly devoured, one notebook at a time. He doesn’t want to give the precious notebooks up, and he’s scared to give them up. He knows their discovery, even if done anonymously, will bring a hailstorm of investigation which might be traced back to him and then unearth his use of the stolen funds. He doesn’t want to get into trouble. But his family needs the money, and he loves his parents and his sister, more than he’s afraid of the consequences.
Ah, but Pete is still so very naïve. He doesn’t realize that once he tries to get information about selling the notebooks, it puts him on a collision course for disaster. Retired police officer turned bounty hunter Bill Hodges gets pulled into the fray, but he may be too late and too far behind to stem the tide of mayhem and bloodshed that is headed right towards Pete and his unknowing family.
While this is not the first time Stephen King has written about the weird and potentially terrifying relationship between reader and author (who can forget 1988’s Misery?), it holds a slightly different mindset, in that the reader/characters are passionate but not necessarily irrational (at least when it comes to literature). What is enticing, even to the point of murder, is being aware of that which heretofore was considered unknowable, or inconceivable, or even nonexistent. If knowledge is power, then how much sharper greed must cut when one holds the only knowledge of something as highly valued as a literary masterpiece? Or better yet, the culmination of literary genius? It’s a very compelling dynamic, especially with Morrie and Pete – two opposite ends of the moral spectrum – arguing many of the same points when debating the merits of the Runner series, and knowing what it’s continuation means to them.
However, this is a Stephen King novel, which means the esoteric discussions are on equal footing with fast pacing, engaging characters (both good and evil), lots of blood, a fair bit of murder, a heckuva lot of menacing, some downright ickiness, some well timed coincidences and a whole lotta clever, clever, clever writing.
The Bill Hodges story line did have the strange feel of being slightly outside the rest of the action, with elements that didn’t fit with Finders Keepers (such as the strangely catatonic patient that Hodges kept visiting). Being only a casual Stephen King reader, I didn’t realize until performing research for this review that Hodges and his cohorts, Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson, are the main characters in Mr. King’s book Mr. Mercedes, and that certain events in Finders Keepers overlap with the main gist of that novel. I don’t mean to imply that the Mr. Mercedes tie in detracts from Finders Keepers, but it does explain why Hodges, et al, while integral to the plot, seem to be a bit outside the action rather than entrenched in it.
While I didn’t find Finders Keepers quite as engaging as the other recent Stephen King I’ve read – Doctor Sleep – I did find it just as engrossing and just as page-turningly thrilling. If you’re a Stephen King fan, reading Finders Keepers is a no-brainer. If you are a casual fan, I would still highly recommend it. The passages about the value of literature are soaring and clear, the action is lucidly violent, the characters are unforgettable, as with the best of Stephen King’s works. Finders Keepers should definitely be on your TBR list.
~ Sharon Browning