Lewis Birchon's Reviews > Billy Summers

Billy Summers by Stephen King
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Billy Summers is a book that begins with a classic King premise: an over-worn trope brought to life in a vividly drawn small American town; a frog being brought slowly to the boil. It is at its best in the first half, slowly ratcheting the tension as the hitman-with-a-moral-code-on-his-last-job waits for his mark.

In common with much vintage King, the story has meta layers. Billy Summers’s cover as he embeds in small-town America is that he’s a writer recovering from alcohol abuse while he writes to deadline. With typical nod and wink, Billy finds himself in a summerhouse in the mountains (Misery?) with a view to the fire-ruined Overlook Hotel (The Shining), haunted by echoes of King’s writers past.

But King is a writer best suited to the lost past of 50s Americana. Writing sensitively about the trauma of gang rape is beyond him, surely. The resolution of this sub-plot feels excruciatingly simplistic - scare the lads, make them say sorry down the phone, all solved. As is the moral line that Billy treads, in particular the time spent in Fallujah feels reminiscent (deliberately or not?) of Peter Staub’s writing about ‘gooks’ in Vietnam - dehumanising and trite.

More interesting, perhaps, is the way King weaves in his particular dislike of Trump, MAGA America, and - going out on a limb here - Rupert Murdoch and the way his media empire emboldened Trumpian politics. I assume that some lawyers checked certain chapters *very* carefully… Perhaps, in line with his hero’s insistence that he will only kill bad men, King is using Billy Summers (the book) to deal a certain level of vigilante justice to an assortment of untouchable bad men.

The end result is something that feels like a revenge fantasy, but with a limp ending that tries to patch over the lack of agency Alice has had since her appearance mid-way through the book.

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Reading Progress

August 29, 2021 – Started Reading
August 29, 2021 – Shelved
September 9, 2021 – Finished Reading

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