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Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King / Lisa Rogak

St. Martin’s Press / January 2009
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

In writing Haunted Heart, an unauthorized biography of Stephen King, Lisa Rogak had a couple of major hurdles to clear. Whether or not she was successful in doing so is going to depend entirely on the reader’s familiarity with King prior to picking up this book.

As I understand it, the allure of the unauthorized biography is that they often share information that the subject has been reluctant to discuss, especially in our day of carefully manicured and polished public images. These are the places you go to get the kind of juicy behind-the-scenes dirt that helps magazines like People and websites like TMZ thrive. Rogak even comments on this in her introduction, where she writes: “The running joke among biographers is that if it is authorized, the book makes a good cure for insomnia.”

This idea may be true when the subject is someone like Oprah Winfrey, whose very existence depends on having total control over her public image, but in King’s case Rogak’s comment simply doesn’t fit. As both die-hard fans and casual readers are sure to know, King has always been extremely forthcoming about the personal demons that infuse his work and life. He’s talked in countless interviews about his years of substance abuse, his run-ins with obsessive fans, and his doubts and insecurities about the quality of his writing and the legacy he’s leaving behind. This is the man who, after all, once compared his contributions to literature as the equivalent of a Big Mac and fries. This is also the man who wrote On Writing, and it’s the “C.V.” section of that very book – King’s short but no-holds-barred memoir – that really serves to derail Rogak’s efforts.

You see, there’s precious little in Haunted Heart that King hasn’t already talked about or written about, whether it’s in On Writing or in the thousands of interviews he’s participated in over the years. So, Rogak’s first hurdle was in finding material that will be new to people. She may well have succeeded in this with casual readers of King’s work, but anyone who has moved beyond that description into full-blown fandom will know everything contained in her book already.

The second hurdle comes in re-telling (or re-writing) material already shared with us by one of the most talented and distinctive voices in writing. Rogak’s writing is not bad, but it is a bit workmanlike, without a lot of real personality or style. It almost reads like a book report instead of a book. When compared with King’s own autobiographical effort, which contains so much of the same material, it’s really no contest.

Haunted Heart is not awful, and it might even be revelatory for someone who’s only read a couple of King’s books and is curious as to what makes a guy write all that horror stuff. But for anyone who’s followed King’s career with anything approaching fandom, move along — there’s nothing to see here.

Purchase Haunted Heart by Lisa Rogak.

Posted on Friday, August 13, 2010 at 01:07PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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