Monday, February 16, 2009

Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King

In Haunted Heart, her unauthorized Stephen King biography, Lisa Rogak presents a straightforward look into the major events of King’s life, from his birth into an impoverished family to the multi-millionaire lifestyle he lives today. And despite how heavily the book depends on secondary sources, and all the media attention given to King for more than three decades now, even passionate Stephen King followers should come away from it with a better understanding of the man.

Any potential revelations in the book originate in Rogak’s speculation about how King’s childhood shaped him into the writer, and the man, he is today, not from the well-known facts about his youth and his career. Stephen King does not remember his father, a man who, as the story goes, went down to the corner one evening for a pack of cigarettes and never returned. King’s mother never remarried and it was only by working multiple jobs when they came her way, and with substantial help from her sisters, that she was able to keep Steve and his brother together.

The resulting insecurity King felt as a child convinced him that the world is a dangerous place filled with countless scary things wholly deserving his fear. He admits that he fears most of them and that the only way he can escape those fears, even temporarily, is to write about them - something for which his fans should be grateful.

Rogak describes the depth of King’s addiction to drugs and alcohol in great detail. However, the surprising thing is not King’s alcoholism or past drug use, neither of which is much of a secret these days. Rather, the surprise is how productive King was during even the worst years of his addictions. To put it into perspective, consider that he has no memory of the exhaustive editing process he went through to finalize Cujo or the fact that he was almost constantly drunk or stoned during the entire time he directed his first motion picture but still managed to finish the project.

Haunted Heart
does well in its chronological presentation of Stephen King’s life, and Lisa Rogak’s assessment of what made King into the superstar writer that he is today is an interesting, if not new, theory. Readers looking for the basic Stephen King story will not be disappointed but one has to wonder what King’s take would be on all the speculation about what makes him tick. Unfortunately, without King’s participation or response we will never know how close to the truth Rogak and others have managed to get.

Stephen King fans will appreciate Rogak’s efforts but will, at the same time, wish that King had made himself available to her.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. "Haunted Heart" sounds interesting, but I am always a little suspicious of unathorized biographies. I remember reading one a couple of years ago on Shel Silverstein that seemed to be very padded and poorly written. I always prefer hearing an author's story in their own words, if possible, and think it might be too easy to make a lot of mistakes in speculating about King's life. Still, your review intrigued me enough to make me want to check this book out.

  2. While it may be wise to be leery of an unauthorized biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee turned out to be quite good. This one sounds interesting, Sam!

  3. Alissa, I wouldn't say that this is the best edited book I've ever read, it is a bit repetitive (maybe padded could be used, but it does a pretty good job, overall. I think that the more you already know about King, the less this one will appeal.

  4. "Mockingbird" is one of my favorite bios of all-time, Jenclair. The author did a remarkable job in dealing with someone like Harper Lee who absolutely refuses to be interviewed by anyone...period.

  5. An excellent review of the King book. I find him fascinating, would love to read this book after reading your review. [Like Mr. King, I do some of my best writing while inebriated, not kidding].
    I have a SIGNED copy of "Mockingbird" here on my shelf.... perhaps I should read that one, too.
    I am way behind... way behind in my reading goals Sam.

  6. Cip, depending on how much you already know about King's life and books, this can be a good read. I've read King for a long time - off and on - and I knew at least a little bit about everything she wrote about - but I did learn some new details and consider it to have been worth the couple of days I spent reading it.

    Some critics are panning the author more than the book, I think, because she has done so many unauthorized bios in her career...heck, I think she's just found a niche for herself and is making an honest living at it.

  7. Talk about poor editing... on page 42 she claims that Steve went (in August) to the 1968 Democratic National Convention to support McCarthy over President Johnson "who had promised to pull American troops out of Vietnam if elected..."

    First: Johnson never ran for President in 1968. He announced to the country on March 31: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

    Second: it was Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey who ran against McCarthy for the Democratic nomination.

    Third: of course there was no such promise regarding troops being pulled from Vietnam "if elected" because he didn't run.

    Not just bad editing, but apparently no fact checking either.

  8. I just read the book, and thought it very good. :)