Stephen King does without the monsters in his new novel “Billy Summers” – and prefers to draw a very personal balance sheet.
“Billy Summers”, Stephen King’s new novel, is over 700 pages long, but the plot can be summed up in four sentences: Billy Summers is a contract killer who works according to the code of only killing bad people. He wants to do one last job and then retire – only he’s not sure whether he trusts his clients. While he is waiting for the manhunt to end after his work is done, he accidentally rescues the young Alice, who has just been the victim of rape. Together they go on the run.
And that’s it: no monsters, no huge ensemble of figures. While his bestseller “The Talisman” is currently being filmed as a Netflix series by Steven Spielberg, King holds back here with references to other works, only the Overlook Hotel appears in a few subordinate clauses. Instead, the author focuses on Billy. His plan for the final hit requires a lot of patience and sedentary life, and King gives the story a lot of time to unfold. “Billy Summers” tells a simple story about an aging criminal who realizes that he is too old for his job and maybe not quite as good a person as he always thought. Not an original premise, but through his closeness to the protagonist, King avoids many clichés – fortunately also in the relationship between Billy and Alice, which could easily have slipped into a mess, but is usually portrayed with tact and empathy.
As if Stephen King were giving us arguments as to why he was still writing
Stephen King’s “Billy Summers” is a surprisingly down-to-earth, detailed character study – and, by the way, an ode to writing. Because as an alibi, Billy pretends to be the author who writes his memoirs, and he enjoys them so much that he actually puts them on paper right away. In doing so, he gets to know the liberating power of the imagination. In these moments we read Stephen King’s mind himself, as if he were giving us arguments as to why he is still writing. He doesn’t have to: “Billy Summers” is not a masterpiece, but argument enough.
August 25, 2021 // Matthias Jordan