My Song of Susannah Has Gotta Be “Midnight Train to Georgia”

It’s been less than twelve hours since I closed Song of Susannah and I’m still in a kind of whirlwind awe. It’s like being in the midst of a storm (complete with all that epic music playing in the background) and I’m coming up for air, realizing that the Dark Tower world isn’t my world. I think I scared the lady sitting next to me on the plane because every time a passage or prophecy came my way (When the King comes and the Tower falls, sai, all such pretty things as yours will be broken. Then there will be darkness and nothing but the howl of Discordia and the cries of the can toi) I had to look away, far out the window at the rising landscape of the Pacific Northwest and control my breathing because goddamn. Goddamn.

That sounds dramatic. Let’s back up a bit.

Song of Susannah picks up right on the heels of Wolves of the Calla. Roland, Jake, Callahan, and Eddie are desperately convincing the Manni to help them open the Unfound Door to take them back into New York where Susannah (possessed by the Mother, Mia) has escaped to birth her chap. Mia has very little understanding of how the world works and her and Susannah dance around each as Susannah tries to kill time and Mia tries to take them to the Dixie Pig where the others await the arrival of her child. The whole novel has a driving desperation to it (and we all knows I’m a moth to that particular flame) and I think it must be the book where the most questions are answered.

Below shall commence the spoilers and the gushing of my absolute love for this book. Beware, for if you read further, you’ll find things you may not have wanted to before reading.

Let’s start out with my most favorite topic of all: how I had to eat my words. In my review of Wolves, I complained vehemently that I did not want Mr. King to make an appearance in his own book as a central character. Yet, as Eddie and Roland (shoved back to Maine of 1977) closed in on the wordslinger (Yonder comes my maker. Yonder is he, aye, say true. And the voices sang, Commala-come-three, he who made me) I was completely drawn in, feeling that yes, this was exactly what the ka-tet needed to do. Not only did King create himself as one of the powerful forces holding up the Beam, he did it well enough that I didn’t question the decision for him to be in the book.

And there’s such delight in this scene. Roland’s close (so close!) to the Tower and it’s like he’s real, light fast feet after the Tower’s next clue:

He [King] saw Roland and stopped…For a moment the whole world hung on a hinge. Then the man turned and ran. Not, however, before Eddie saw the terrible thunderstruck look of recognition on his face.

 

Roland was after him in a flash, like a cat after a bird.

At the same time, I understand why King needed to be in the story—he’s such a central part of it in the first place. Not only for the characters themselves, but for the readers. As the Dark Tower story is part of what strengthens the Beams holding the Dark Tower, King also used the opportunity to answer the reader’s bigger author questions (where do you get the inspiration, why did it take you so long to write the rest of the series, why did you end it the way you did, etc), sometimes using it as an apology (I don’t think he’ll ever get over the woman dying of cancer who wrote to him, pleading to know the end of the story, a request he simply couldn’t fulfill) and while the answers aren’t completely concrete (a fascination with prime numbers, the wind blows, there were spiders in the chickens) I felt satisfied enough—compelled even—to let King be a character in this world, immerse him in my imagination so I wouldn’t be pulled out of the story and still have those real-world-questions answered.

Because I didn’t want to be pulled out of the story. Not at all. There’s too much that’s just too goddamn good—about the todash darkness and the monsters therein, how the Prim (a primal chaotic soupy ocean of magic) receded to leave demons and creatures washed up on the shore, how there was an age of Magic that fell to the Age of Mechanics and Reason, and when man fell there was nothing left to maintain the mechanics who crumbled and went insane in an apocalyptic world. There’s Roland, whose real quest isn’t to save the Tower (Save it! Save it! O delight!) but only see it, walk to the top of the Tower and attempt to slow its fall. The Tower, which at one time took Discordia and made sense out of chaos, will topple after all the Beams holding it have crashed and then the Crimson King will have his kingdom.

And, as a writer, I understand how the story demands to be written. Not bowing down to that force results in mental turmoil, even physical agony. There was a time, not too long ago, where I had a scene in my head that had no home, no story, just a man on a broken beach trying to survive. Then one night, after I had been to a place most resembling the setting, it must have been 10pm and I was editing my other story, and this sudden urge overtook me, almost visceral and commanding, like the instinct to puke or sweat, and I wrote the first fucking chapter of that new book like the hounds were after me, it came out so fast (the wind blows) I was exhausted after the final line. It sounds ridiculous, fantastical, but I swear to God it’s true and Song of Susannah sums it up like this:

I think telling stories is like pushing something. Pushing against uncreation itself, maybe. And one day while you were doing that, you felt something pushing back.

And the ending, as I’ve come to understand and accept, was another cliffhanger: ending with Susannah’s demon child—Roland’s biological child, damn you hermaphroditic demons!—entering the world, Jake & Callahan preparing to save her and preparing for death, Roland & Eddie ready to go through the ‘walk-in’ and be transported to 1999. Mordred Deschain is the Crimson King, he has to be! I can’t wait any longer. I’m supposed to book club Odd Thomas, but I have to read the next Dark Tower. I’m scared of it, because it’s the finale, the Final Act, and in a tragedy and quest such as this the wheel turns and the past repeats. I see my beloved characters dying. I see Roland standing at the top of his Tower with an empty victory. I see Mordred behind him, just like the fiery forge of the Crimson King in Mia’s world. I see me, cup of tea in hand in 2015, emotionally wrecked.

Every piece of the story was well done. Even with our ka-tet separated and given the despised semi-ex-machina ability of the touch to reach each other and transfer information (ka), it seemed like an inconsequential complaint. King utilizes repetition, he favors echoes, tending to reinforce the hard-hitting emotions relevant to the scene (I’m thinking of when Susannah shares a memory of her mother with Mia and how Mia experiences motherhood secondhand) and while one might think this would be annoying after a time (to me, it’s not), it has got nothing compared to his use of songs–some I know and others I don’t, but at least I’m getting an education (after I Spotify that shit). While Jake and Callahan weren’t in this tale very much, I think it was important for Eddie and Roland to have some ‘bro-time’ together, showing that Eddie has hardened and become more of a gunslinger than he would have realized, how Roland—the closer he gets to his goal, the more humane he has become—admits he’s afraid of the end because what then? There’s a lot of psychological issues in play with no time to flesh them out because the Tower is tipping. Obviously, the story focus is on Susannah, but that gives us a lot of answers as to who killed the world, something readers previously had to take on faith.

I feel like I’m babbling, but I don’t have anyone else to completely express all these emotions, it’s like I need my own ka-tet to just sit down and go completely nuts about the story. It’s probably a good thing I finished it because I’m heading to an NAI retreat and need to be able to sit through three days worth of talks and seminars without itching to get the hell out, curl up in a dark hole with a book light and read read read.

What am I kidding? I’ll be doing that with the next and final book. Probably sobbing too because it’s the end and goodbyes are always the worst, but I’m proud to say that I enjoy a conclusion no matter how much it hurts (I’ve got to go! I’ve got to go! On that midnight train!). I’ll look that goodbye in the face and get my closure.

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