The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982) by Stephen King
I've been a hard-core Stephen King fan for a while now, but somehow never got around to his Dark Tower series. I'm changing that now by listening to the audiobooks each night, and between the often exhilarating prose and the narrator's dynamic reading, I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience.
For those of you who haven't yet read this series, I'll try to summarize the plot, but that might be difficult since I'm still trying to process it. So in the world of the novel, the characters live in a time after "the world moved on," whatever that means, and Roland Deschain of Gilead is chasing "the man in black," whoever he is. I mean, he sounds like Mephistopheles, but who knows. Ultimately, Roland wants to reach "The Tower," where all universes? dimensions? converge.
His quest takes him through a town whose citizens are figuratively poisoned by "the man in black" and across a desert, and throughout we learn through flashbacks of Roland's previous life in the court of his parents. Intrigue and brutality are the order of the day there, and it seems like that world, too, is gone, and Roland is only one of a few people left.
Certain songs, objects, and colloquialisms have bled into Roland's universe from our own, but it's unclear how this universe is positioned in relation to ours. In a fascinating turn of events, Roland meets Jake, a kid who remembers getting run over by a car in our reality and then waking up in Roland's reality. Whah?? So...is King suggesting here that when people die, they enter other universes and pick up where they left off? Freaking cool.
Roland does eventually catch up with "the man in black," and they have an interesting little tête-à-tête, which I won't spoil for you.
It's King's thoroughly unique mixture of multiple genres (western, horror, fantasy/speculative fiction) that makes this series so compelling for me. King insists that we constantly use our brains to think about where characters fit in which universes. The gunslinger's western-style dress, guns, and demeanor merge seamlessly with his past in a royal court, and the multiple universes are tantalizingly mysterious in their connection to the Dark Tower.
I've just started the next book in the series, The Drawing of the Three, and it is so crazy great that I just want to listen to the whole thing in one sitting. Stay tuned for that review soon.