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The Regulators

A book by Stephen King

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Alternate versions of grisly, gory, terrifying horror

  • Aug 19, 2004
Our resident master of horror, Stephen King, chalked up another first with the simultaneous 1996 publication of two huge grisly page turners, "Desperation", and under the pseudonym of "the late" Richard Bachman, "The Regulators."

A juxtaposition of the two covers reveals one picture - a menacing suburban landscape overlapping a western ghost town overrun with critters. But the two novels (almost 1200 pages of late nights and disturbing dreams) are each complete in themselves.

"Desperation" is set in a tiny Nevada mining town of the same name and "The Regulators" takes place on one block of an Ohio suburb. What the two novels share is their characters and the same elemental evil force, Tak, which has escaped from a deep mine shaft.

Although King has saved himself some work here - the characters have essentially the same personalities and backgrounds in both books - neither book provides a clue to anyone's fate in the other. The books are not sequential but alternate versions, alternate lives.

In "Desperation" the characters are assembled by Collie Entragian, an outsize cop whose initially strange mix of friendliness and menace is eerily chilling. Apparently at random, he stops passing motorists and carries them off to jail. Some, however, don't make it all the way to jail, and it gradually becomes clear that Entragian has murdered everyone in town. But something weird is happening to the cop, too. He is literally and gorily falling apart.

In "The Regulators" the characters are already assembled as neighbors on Poplar Street. Their glorious summer day is shattered by the arrival of a crayon red van and its armed driver.

Collie Entragian, a former cop drummed off the force on trumped-up charges, attempts to protect his neighbors and preserve the crime scene but the violence quickly escalates out of control. As the street begins a nightmarish metamorphosis into something out of the worst of children's television and old westerns, the strengths and weaknesses of the inhabitants begin to work on all of them - Johnny Marinville, the successful author of children's books, haunted by a dissipated past and a too-vivid vision; Cynthia, the new clerk at the convenience store, whose two-toned hair and irreverent wit obscure a core of decency; Tom Billingsley, the retired veterinarian; Steve Ames, a young man drifting through life, picking up skills.

And then there's Audrey Wyler, the young widow with the autistic nephew, Seth. No one's seen her in a while and at first they scarcely notice her continuing absence amidst all the mayhem. But Audrey's particular hell has been a long time coming. There's a thing in Seth that can bend people to its will and the world to its malevolent vision and it's growing stronger.

In "Desperation," aging Johnny Marinville is only inches away from his former dissipation and still trying to reform his life without giving up his roue image; Steve Ames is the general dogsbody following Marinville on his cross-country tour; Cynthia is the plucky hitchhiker Steve picks up; Tom Billingsley is an old alcoholic veterinarian from Desperation (and why didn't Collie kill him? we wonder) and Audrey is a mining engineer who has managed to hide out from Collie.

The Carvers, also present in "The Regulators" are reversed in "Desperation" - the parents are the children and vice versa. Thus, David, the child touched by God whose role is pivotal in "Desperation," is just an early adult corpse in "The Regulators."

The child - his individual strength as well as innocence and purity of vision - are key in both books. And in "The Regulators," King adds a twist - good and evil battling it out within the same small body.

As always, King's writing zips along and no one can beat him for sheer terror - the opening chapters of "Desperation" are scarier than any of the gore which follows. But the sheer volume of horrors numbs the reader's imagination eventually. In a lesser writer's hands both books could fizzle but King's characters are human beings and we care what happens to them. With King, you never know if the good guys are going to make it until the last page is turned.

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Lynn Harnett ()
Ranked #182
I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … more
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About this book


An evil creature called Tak uses the imagination of an autistic boy to shift a residential street in small-town Ohio into a world so bizarre and brutal that only a child could think it up. It's as two-dimensional and gaudy as a kid's comic book, but for this reviewer,The Regulatorsis a gripping adventure tale about what happens when a mind fixated on TV (especially old Westerns and a cartoon called MotoKops 2200) runs amok. As Michael Collins writes inNecrofile,"[Stephen] King offers his readers a glimpse of the true evil of popular culture ... which has no design or intent, only an empty need to sustain itself. King is, I think, about the canniest observer of what America is, and that he generally writes horror ought to give us pause from time to time."--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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ISBN-10: 0525941908
ISBN-13: 978-0525941903
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Dutton Adult

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