Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Curator (2023).

I think I found out about this one quite by accident.  It was in the aftermath of rather euphoric literary rush.  I'd just completed a successful read through of the latest Stephen King novel (which is a story for another day), and I guess the pleasant stock response I was left with must have made me curious to see if there was anything else similar to it lying around.  Either that or I stumbled across the news about the novel I am here to talk about today quite by accident.  Whichever one of these events turns out to be the truth, the upshot is that somehow, I found out that a book titled The Curator, by Owen King, was set to be published in March of 23.  Seeing as how I'd just had, not the first, but definitely one of the best experiences of pouring through a King book in recent memory, it only made sense to think I'd found the next book that would pick up where the previous one had left off.  The name sort of helped in this case.

It's not a complete accident that the author's byline caught my attention, either.  The reason for that is because Owen King happens to have a famous father named Stephen.  Nor is Owen the only literary progeny of the reigning Monarch of American Frights.  For all intents and purposes, it seems as if Stephen King has been blessed with a certain amount of luck.  When it comes to the case of writers in general, the basic rule of thumb is that most of them tend to be one-offs, the genetic equivalent of an on-going series of freaks of nature.  There's a sense in which they can be described as natural occurrences.  Yet most are willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that there's something out of the ordinary about a mind that can create entire imaginary worlds and personalities out of whole cloth, or whatever fabric the Imagination is made out of.  Nor is that the only weird thing about the scribbling arts.  Perhaps the strangest part is that it's possible for some of them to make a kind of actual living off peddling lies for whatever meager sum any of them can get.  The only thing that can match that, to my reckoning, anyway, is that we're willing to be entertained by these fictional, secondary worlds.

It's one of the few constants that any of us are able to say or figure out about literary artists.  For the most part, by and large, they're not the sort of figures you can set your watch by.  Each of them keeps to their own erratic hours, hunched over a keyboard or word processor, and just hoping against hope that whatever words they need to get the job done will be there when they set down to their peculiar task.  The only other definitive thing you can say about the species amounts to just two maxims.  The first is that the vast majority of them seem to be at the mercy of the Imaginative faculty, in and of itself, 90 to 99 percent of the time.  The second is that, as a rule, most writers are by and large isolated occurrences.  They'll crop up here and there like creative runts in an otherwise normal looking litter.  While the arrival of an artist on the scene may be taken as a matter of course (up to a point, anyway) the fact is that this natural, solitary nature of most of their existences tends to mean that there's always this lingering sense of isolation about them.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that all the writer's in the world combined would amount to no more than just one percent of the total population.  Hence, this lingering sense of solitude, which seems to emerge almost as a natural byproduct of their chosen profession.

It also seems that most authors tend to have a kind of sub-basement level awareness about their lives.  Each member of this solitary collective can often be found congregating in various types of writer's groups, some of which can sometimes manage to form the various literary movements that go on to bear their name, such as the Romantics.  There seems to be at least two good reasons for why this happens.  The first is relatively self-explanatory.  It turns out that art can't exist in a vacuum.  If a story has no audience, it remains mute, and therefore may as well not exist.  Hence the need for the artist to always be putting "the work" out there for consideration of the crowd.  It's one of the few times a writer can be said to emerge from their half natural solitude.  Yet even there, the peculiar function of the Arts in general means that this tends to heighten the sense of isolation that most writers tend to have in comparison to whatever normal people are supposed to be (and good luck trying to define something like that).  The other reason has to do with the awareness of the insular, retiring nature of writing.

This is the second reason why writers can sometimes feel the urge to seek out the company of fellow liars.  Just because the best writing is often done all by their lonesome isn't the same as meaning they like to be alone.  Hence you find scribbler's collectives like the Modernists.  The San Fransisco Beats, the Algonquin Round Table.  Even a writer like Stephen King has found himself part of an informal group of authors known as the New Wave Fabulists.  What makes it all interesting in King's case, however, is that he eventually turned out to be never as alone as he might have thought he would.  Far from conforming to type, the major writer of American Gothic fiction has turned out to be something of an exception that proves the rule.  It turns out there are (as of this writing) not one, but three published authors in the King family tree, and each of them were fathered by the same guy who wrote about stuff like a girl getting cover in pig's blood at the prom, or a demonic clown living under the sewers of a small town.  These literary off-spring are his two kids, Joe Hill and Owen King.

The curious part is how both of them have managed to find their little niches, both in terms of personal success in a tough market, and also as writers with something of a family legacy to carry onward.  This is perhaps the main feature of King's life that makes him so unique.  It's not often you get a case where creativity runs in the family.  It's like you have to go way back in time in order to find something like this.  The most famous cases that I know are all clustered around a small span of time from the 19th to the start of the early 20th century.  There are the two Bronte Sisters, Charlotte and Emily.  Then there was a brother and sister act with Dante and Christina Rossetti.  And of course, there are a pair of brothers known as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who wound up giving some guy named Walt Disney an entire career later on.  The most curious case I've uncovered belongs to none other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  It turns out he had one niece and a daughter whose own talents extended to carrying on his legacy in poetry, and philosophy.  So in that sense, you could say that Owen King and Joe Hill are part of a very informal, and haphazard tradition in which Imagination tends to run a bit in the family.

As of this writing, it seems like Hill is the closest one with any kind of genuine brand recognition to his name.  Stephen's oldest son seems to have done pretty well in carving out his own space in the pop culture landscape.  His breakout success came in the form of the still popular Locke and Key graphic novel series.  In addition, he is a published print author in his own right, whose titles include a 2005 anthology, 20th Century Ghosts (one of whose tales has since been turned into a successful motion picture not too long ago), and a series of novels such as Horns (2010), Heart Shaped Box (2007), N0S4A2 (2013), and The Fireman (2015).  He's also written a more or less decent short story with his dad, that was itself later turned into a film that deserves a lot more credit than it's gotten, known as In The Tall Grass.  By and large, the best way to sum up Hill's accomplishments is that it looks like he's well poised to one take up the mantel of King of Horror from his own father.  Indeed, it seems like Hill is set to inherit the same secondary world that made Stephen King famous, and that he'll one day pick up wherever the creator of Derry, Castle Rock, and Salem's Lot leaves off.  That just leaves us with the figure of Owen King to discuss.  And perhaps here is the point where the task becomes a bit difficult.

In distinction from Hill, Owen seems to be very much the writer in the family who often gets overlooked.  Part of the reason for this is because of the relative sparseness of his output compared with that of his dad or brother.  So far to date, Owen has been responsible for an entry known as We're All in This Together: A Novella and Stories (2005), Double Feature (2013), Sleeping Beauties (2017, which was also a collaboration with Stephen King), and finally there's the book that's up for discussion today, 2023's The Curator.  The danger here is the risk of turning him into a cliche, and that's something that's best avoided.  Right now, perhaps the best thing to do is to try and examine Owen's latest text, and see how it holds up on its own merits.  With that in mind, The Curator seems like the best place to start.

The Story.

At it's heart, the narrative tells the story of the aftermath of a seemingly successful political revolution.  We open in an otherwise nameless city, in what appears, for all intents and purposes to sometime in the mid to late Victorian Era.  The setting largely evokes the London of Charles Dickens and Jack the Ripper, yet the book makes a clear demarcation between the two, with the Isles being mentioned as its own separate place within the novel's secondary world, alongside several other real life world capitals.  The closest the novel's main stage ever gets to a proper name is derived from its Thames inspired river, The Fairest.  In this setting we're introduced to our main protagonist, a former chamber maid at a local, Oxford-ish University.  Her name is Dora, or D as she prefers to be called.  Her story opens in the proper Dickensian penny dreadful fashion, as we find our young heroine the somewhat unexpected beneficiary of the recent uprising that seems to have displaced (or at the very least driven off) the former tyrannical monarchy which has been the cause of generations of suffering for its citizens, D included.  Imagine a version of Dickens' London in which Oliver and Company manage, through a combination of determination and sheer dumb luck to overthrow the Crown and you get the idea.

Because of this recent turn of events, it only makes sense (inasmuch as such things ever can) that the current functions of the city are in something of what might be termed a prolonged period of uncertain transition.  With most the of the aristocracy that formerly was in charge of keeping the trains running on time out of the picture, the task of keeping the city a going concern has now fallen to the conquering revolutionaries, one of whom just so happens to be Dora's lover, Robert Barnes.  He's a Lieutenant in the uprising, and he's just managed to grant D a position as the new curator at the Museum of the Worker.  It's the best anyone can afford for her right now, under the circumstances, and Dora knows its better than nothing at all.  That doesn't change the fact that the real position she was angling for was in what used to be the building next door.  It's nothing but a pile of rubble now, though once upon a time it used to be known as the Museum of Psykical Research, and it is, or was a place D has been fascinated with since she was a child.  A lot of it has to do with the fact that her brother once took her there when she was very young.  Both her parents were away on business and Nurse was in need of a little break.

So, with no other options left, Dora's older brother, Ambrose, took his little sister (who could have been no older than six to ten, at the time) off with him to his place of business.  Ambrose appeared to have been some sort of important member of the Psykical Society.  When D asked him what it was he did there, Ambrose told her that he and his friends were "going to save the world".  He never did elaborate on what he meant by those words, and by the time an oncoming Cholera epidemic that swept through the Fairest had caught up with her beloved sibling, Ambrose was no longer in any condition to tell his beloved sister anything more about the Society, and how it planned to save everyone.  It was these occurrences (her brother's death, the Psykical Society, and its strange, never realized mission for the world) that have sort of become the defining moments in Dora's life.  When that sort of thing happens, it can go a great deal toward determining the choices a person makes with their life.  It can focus all their thoughts around the achievement of one, singular goal, with all the other details of living serving as secondary considerations (at best) in relation to whatever fixed point it is that you're aiming at.

In D's case, it's left her with the nagging desire to find out more about the Society, what her brother did there, and what his mysterious last words to her meant.  A lot of it is much more personal than even she is willing to admit to herself.  In fact, in the moments when she feels like she can be truly honest with herself, Dora is driven by the desire to know if it is possible to contact the departed from the other side.  To call this a lofty goal is a bit like saying that Niagara Falls runs downhill.  To be fair, she is also not the first person to be sized with such a notion.  History is full of plaintive souls looking for some semblance commune beyond the veil of things.  Looked at from that perspective, Dora is pretty much just the next in line.  She spends most of her time divided between days of trying to refurbish the Worker's Museum as part of her new government responsibilities, and the occasional nights of trying to find out whatever information she can about the Psykical Society along with its work, and whatever information might be out there about what role her brother might have had to play in it.  The trouble is that what starts out as a simple personal desire is soon swept up in a wider circle of social intrigue.

All around Dora, the city is starting to come alive in ways that neither she, Lt. Barnes, or their fellow revolutionaries did not expect.  First there are the prosaic facts.  While the monarchy has been dethroned, there is a threat that the reprieve may be temporary.  None of the major players have been taken into custody, for instance, and the king himself is rumored to be sequestered away in the hills not too far away, and slowly consolidating his own power for a triumphant return to the throne, however hollow it may be.  The biggest fears whispered in the liberated halls of power is that the king might try and reconnoiter with the Great Gildersleeve, supreme commander of the Fairest naval fleet.  If the ruling class can get their hands on all that fire power, then the tide could turn against the nascent revolution very quickly.  In addition to this threat, there a rumors of even stranger things abroad.

There's talk of odd, unexplainable occurrences afoot.  One of them concerns the remains, or rather the lack thereof, of a man named Joven.  He's sort of the one responsible for the recent "change of state management".  It all began when Joven, a ceramics manufacturer got into a bit of feud with the former Currency Minister over the lack of payment for a recent job produced at his Lordship's request.  Joven was the kind of businessman who saw himself as an artist, first and foremost.  He never lacked a head for business, he knew a genuine article from a phony ten, and it stood his firm in good stead.  The one thing that was sure to get his always considerable temper riled up was if someone refused to see the hard earned work that went into every single one of the ceramics he produced.  If it didn't come as close to perfection, then Joven sort of became like Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen.  That's the kind of insane level of dedication that the manufacturer brought to the job.  The fact that the Minister of Finance was not just unimpressed with the Art of the Craft, but also impudent enough to pay less than was offered for the work was enough to make Joven see red.  It marked the start of a long feud between the two men.  As far as the Minister was concerned, the whole thing was a very one-sided kind of affair.

The last thing the the head of the country's economic situation was expecting was to step out of his house one day, only to find the incensed pottery maker stood right outside of the gates of his palatial estate.  Words were exchanged, the Minister tried to ignore this, so Joven aimed a few shards of sharp pottage at the main financier's head.  Some of it reached the target.  What happened next was that the Minister of Currency order his men to hold Joven down, while he took up a piece of smoldering goal, and pressed it to the ceramic maker's face.  To his great surprise, this did nothing to deter the insolent pest.  He just got up and started to to make a lunge for his throat.  Seeing the look in the man's eyes, the Minister drew out his pistol and shot Joven square in the head.  That might have been a mistake, in retrospect, at least.  What should have been the end of minor private inconvenience turned out to be one of those things where word of mouth spreads all over the city like a virus.  Before too long, decades of resentments at a long line of similar, shabby treatment at the hands of the monarchy became a spark ignited into a revolutionary flame.  It didn't take long for the Finance Minister and the other ruling class to realize things had gotten a bit out of hand, and soon the tables were turned in ways they didn't expect.

Now, however, the advantage might be turning back in their favor.  It's all a simple question of attacking the weak points in the rabble's defenses, such as food supply, or moles within the ranks, sabotaging, or in some cases even subverting their improvement efforts.  If the ruling class can just hold out on these fronts, then sooner or later the riff-raff of this fetid town will once more learn their place.  The real hassle is wishing that a lot of the odder rumors going on about the city would stop.  Most of it has to do with that blasted Corpse Ship that broke free of its moorings, and wound up drifting off to who knows where.  In fact, it's the exact same place where they stored the remains of that malingerer Joven, come to think of it.  Oh well, nothing to write home about, except perhaps as a minor bit of amusement.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, and all that sort of thing.  Except that the rumors persist, and they show no signs of stopping.  There are whispers on the streets that the Morgue Ship and its charnel crew can be seen floating in the skies above the city at night, like a veritable Flying Dutchman.  Or else that you can catch glimpses of it trawling through the current of the river Fairest at night.

What's more, some of the city's older local inhabitants, the ones who can still remember back to a time before the Industrial Revolution, all seem to connect this wife's tales of a phantom ship with the strange behavior of the town's resident feline population.  And now here's Dora somewhere at the center of all these peculiar happenings.  She's just one girl trying to find answers to her own personal questions.  And the ironic thing is that her own search could lead down a greater rabbit hole than she ever knew.

Conclusion: The Potential for a Good Story that Never Gets Off the Ground

This is one of those stories that starts out with the promise of one thing, only to end up delivering another.  To be fair, this in itself doesn't have to be a bad thing.  There are plenty of good stories out there that are able to make good on a setup like this.  Some of them can even be called great.  With a book like The Curator, however, the task is a bit harder, and that's down to a question of focus, driving incidents, and forward narrative momentum.  The trick with this kind of story all rests in the three elements just outlined.  If the writer is able to juggle all of these parts well, and stick the landing, then it is possible to give a passing grade to their efforts.  So here is how Owen King's efforts hold up.

The reader is treated to what sounds like a strong enough beginning.  The author starts by bringing out a handful of what later turns out to be a large ensemble of characters.  We get to meet Dora, her lover Robert Barnes, the secondary world both characters inhabit, and the general situation they find themselves in.  We're then treated to vignettes of Dora's back story.  These are among the strongest elements in Owen's narrative, as it clear the writer has at least some kind of a fondness for his lead character.  As such, we're allowed to get know about Dora, her plight, and her own personal quest in a way that allows us to sympathize with the story's main lead in a manner that can hold our interest, provided the writer is able to keep a sure hand on the trajectory of his narrative.  Looked at on these terms, it really does seem as if all the elements of the story that pertain to Dora and her ongoing search for the mysteries of the Society for Psykical Research are the strongest parts of the book.  These are the moments where Owen seems to be playing to all of his strengths as a writer.  And perhaps it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise that he shows a flare for the macabre in much the same vein and meter as both his father and older brother.  The King family appears to have a knack for frights.

The way Owen helps to bolster this part of the book is with a series of background details that help deepen the mystery Dora is trying to solve.  It starts out with a few hints here and there that the world the titular Curator inhabits is perhaps less realistic than our own.  To start with, we're told soon enough that the planet she inhabits has two moons, instead of one.  There is also a strange religious practice involving the worship of cats which is popular in Dora's neck of the woods.  This stands out as one of the most intriguing aspects of the narrative for me, and a lot of the reason why that might be is because it sounds so familiar.  The first irony is that it is possible to find actual historical records of cat worship in real life.  It used to be a staple of the ancient Egyptian civilization.  It's more or less the product of a bygone age now, yet it was enough to strike a bell within the mind of writers like H.P. Lovecraft, who was so taken with the notion as to go about writing an entire short story around the idea.  It was called "The Cats of Ulthar" and it forms a side show place within his larger Cthulhu Mythos.  I can't shake the idea that it is this particular story that Owen has drawn from as an inspiration for his own novel.

The two other major ways he helps build a mystique around Dora's quest is with the aforementioned Morgue Ship, plus a set of museum mannequins that come to life in a way that recalls both The Twilight Zone, as well as some of the more Gothic stories of Edith Nesbit.  Now so far, all of this at least sounds like it could be promising.  You've got a plucky Gothic heroine seeking answers to a troubled past, and slowly building upon a series of supernatural encounters as she gets closer to the explanations for the mysteries that have dogged almost her entire existence.  Stripped down to such bare essentials, it really does sound as if the author had a winning idea on his hands.  If you play this kind of setup right, then what you might have is the kind of setup that contains elements of Charles Dickens, Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and E. Nesbit all woven together into what could be a fine modern day penny dreadful.

In all honesty, I just wish that was the kind of story we've got on our hands.  While the setup may start out with a great deal of promise, that's all it winds up as.  It stops at being just a lot of creative potential that remains unfulfilled.  The worst part is its easy to figure out why this happened.  The long story short is that somewhere along the way, the author allowed his mind (at the expense of the Imagination) to be side-tracked by what is really little more than a whole lot of B plot material involving an imaginary revolution in a fantasy version of the British Isles.  It's frustrating to have to write this, yet this the vast majority of the book's focus.  It's also what ultimately brings the whole narrative down. 

The basic fault of this novel is best explained by the history of my own response to the book as I read along.  I started out with a lot of high hopes.  It was a novel by one of the sons of the King of Horror, which appeared to share a similar approach and aesthetic, and better yet, it was set in its own, separate, secondary world, such as Middle Earth, or Narnia.  This meant the writer had free reign to let his imagination soar as high as he could possibly want, with no restraints whatsoever in his way.  The sky was the literal limit.  And I'll admit, at first, it looked for a minute or two as if everything was going in a pretty positive sounding direction.  The opening chapters are able to display a certain amount of setup that is vague and open enough to the point where all of it could have gone just about anywhere, and vague hints about the Morgue Ship or the Cult of Cats promised the idea that we could have been headed for the same kind of territory as that explored by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore in his more Gothic frames of mind.  The problem for me is that it all gets derailed as it soon becomes clear that the story is headed in the least possible creative direction the writer could have chosen to take everything.

Something tells me I've got to stress the word choice on this one.  Because in retrospect, it really does seem as if Owen wound up making some kind of deliberation about where to take things in his book.  The impression I get is that he knew he was seeing all this material gathering around the campfire of his imagination, and yet he still didn't have much in the way of an idea where it was all going, or what even to do with the materials that were being assembled.  Now to be fair, so far as that goes, such a state of circumstances is no crime, especially not where fiction writing is concerned.  In fact, if we're being honest, that's pretty much the standard operating procedure for 99 percent of all the books ever written.  In this, Owen is doing no more than following the normal run of things.  I thing where it all went wrong is when he made the choice to take it in a course that was pretty much guaranteed to take things in the worst possible direction.  All the implications of the basic building blocks of his inspiration point to the idea that what was always meant, or should have been, was a modern Gothic fairy tale with a creepy Victorian overlay that was thoroughly supernatural and arabesque at its core, and then it got lost.

To be fair even further, all of those elements can be said to still be there.  However it's clear that the creative choices of the author have wound up diluting the intrinsic narrative drive, or power contained in such archetypes, almost reducing them to the level of extras within their own story.  The trouble is that if what you're describing is fundamentally a Horror story at its core, then this is precisely the last sort of thing you should do with all the ingredients it needs to work.  By choosing to let the plot ultimately revolve around the political machinations of an imaginary revolution, I'm afraid all King has done is to rob the story of any creative potential it might have had.  While it's true Dora's story forms the heart of the book, I think it was a mistake to have it all ultimately tie in with a story that wound up being a rumination about politics. We're dragged from one tedious scene of various factions and revolutionaries as they go about their various schemes, then we'll return to Dora's explorations, and back again, until the two merge into one, and by doing so, all the creativity just gets sapped away.

When the supernatural plot elements make their final big entrance, it arrives with a whimper instead of a bang.  Without going too much into spoiler territory, what it put me the most in mind of was a long ago Terry Pratchett novel in which the denouement is resolved by the aid of bringing a bunch of clay statues to life and having them pretty much trample all over the armies of the bad guy.  Now, that could be a good idea in its own right, and Pratchett at least was able to make the concept work in his own handling.  The trouble is I'm not sure this is the approach that is good for Owen's book.  For one thing, it's clear the writer's heart is much more aligned with a clearly supernatural ethos, much like his father.  This means the basic thrust of all of the Gothic ingredients in his story are always trying to point toward some greater kind of otherworldly resolution at complete variance from the one the reader is left with by the time they reach the final page.  I suppose one other work that the finale of The Curator reminds me of is the scene in Lord of the Rings when the ghosts and spirits of the past swoop in to save the living at the Battle of Gondor.  The difference here is that Tolkien found a way to make it all work.

Owen, on the other hand, just isn't able to pull off such a feat.  I think a lot of the reason for this is because he makes a cardinal mistake that the other two writers were able to avoid.  Owen seemed to be under the false impression that a lot of head scratching and amateur theorizing about politics was enough to carry an entire novel that the vast majority of the audience would be willing to sit still for.  It betrays a kind of naive shortsightedness on the author's part, and sort of leaves him vulnerable to the charge that he was painting a target on his head, and never even knew it.  Perhaps the capping irony is that the way he tackles the political angle in the book is so damned vague that the writer might as well have been speaking in the vaguest of abstract terms.  There's a kind of basic hand waving about the Haves and Have Nots that doesn't advance anything beyond the notion that we should help the poor.  To be fairest of all, that's not the worst idea anyone's ever had.  It's just that everything about the main thrust of the plot is left so vague, that's almost as if nothing was ever said at all.  It's the major issue that dogs the novel from start to finish.  The writer chose the wrong path, and the story suffered for it.

If I had to figure out why Owen did it, then I think the answer is discoverable enough.  The sense I kept getting throughout the novel was that I was dealing with the contents of a mind that was more busy trying to figure out just how loopy 21st century politics has gotten in the last few years, and the sad irony there is that the writer doesn't seem able to arrive at any definitive conclusion.  Which acts as a further detriment to his plot.  In doing all this, Owen seems to have wound up joining an ongoing chorus of voices looking for the right artistic statement that will capture our current moment in a way that helps us move forward, only to somehow wind up making various types of mistakes that sabotage a lot of efforts made in a good cause.  I think that should stand as a testament to just how much of a muddle the 21st century mind is in at the moment.  Everyone has been so damned thrown off kilter by the last couple of years that our minds are still too far shook up for anything coherent to be made of it.  There may come a day when the perfect artistic expression of our present plight comes along.  Until then, it seems like all either critics or writers can do is just hold on, and wait for the right moment.

Sadly, that day hasn't arrived with The Curator.  What we have on our hands is not so much an anomaly as it is an irony.  We've got a story that appears to want to go in one direction, and an author whose personal concerns with public matters is driving him away in another direction.  If there's any truth to this surmise, then what has happened is that the right artistic idea has arrived at the worst possible time, when the artist is too distracted by other matters to attend to the proper care and fashioning of his craft, and the narrative that it is meant to help create.  It's possible this sort of thing has happened before, and yet never have I ever witnessed a case where the experience of a public crisis has driven the writer into such a mental disconnect with his own Imagination.  It used to be the case long ago, writers would find all the inspiration they needed when confronting the crisis of their time.  This is something that the work of scribblers like Tolkien, Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, or eve Shakespeare can attest to.  They were all spurred on to create some of the most lasting art in any century by tackling the challenges of their own times.  What stands out is the way they were able to handle their respective issues.

Each of the four latter authors display a combination of moral outrage, mixed together with what can only be described as an interesting amount of levelheadedness that allows even their most strident works to have not just a certain level of authority, yet also this universal sense of thematic applicability.  They were storytellers for all seasons, and that seems to be at least a dimly glimpsed goal that King was aiming for here, in his latest novel.  The trouble he's facing seems to be a collective one in the current world of the Arts.  We've been through a crisis of some sort.  Most people out there know this, but perhaps none of us knows quite what that dilemma is, or how it came to be, and why.  We're a culture that's been rattled to our core, and apparently it still seems like it's all we can do to just gain our bearings, even if only for a little while.  This is all perfectly understandable, though it seems like there might be some time before the art of storytelling is able to catch up and orient itself to this new social reality in any meaningful way.  With all this on his plate, is it any wonder that Owen King's book sort of falls apart under the weight of all the ideas that are packed into it.  Sometimes stories can bear just so much heavy lifting.  We had the opportunity to get either a very good supernatural Gothic novel, or else an intriguing sort of political thriller, and instead  we've wound up being able to enjoy neither.

I came into this book wanting to like what I read.  The cover description alone made it sound like the kind of story that would be just right up my alley.  I can only say that I wanted things to be good.  As it stands, however, The Curator by Owen King offers up a promise it just can't deliver on

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