I admit to not being a Stephen King fan, and Cell did little to change that. Any premise that involves cell phones turning people into zombies involves some risk to pull off. What could have been a biting, darkly humorous satire on society’s fixation with technology instead turns into typical zombie fare and general absurdity, though fans of King and of horror novels in general shouldn’t be disappointed.
The novel starts off with a bang in Boston, where Clayton Riddell, an artist and soon-to-be graphic novelist—and obvious mouthpiece for King’s disdain for cell phones—is waiting in line at an ice cream truck suddenly the woman standing in line before him, having been talking on her phone a second earlier, lunges at a teenage girl and rips her throat out with her teeth. Not far from this incident, a man in a business suit bites a Labrador retriever’s ear off. Clayton evades the sudden uprising of “phone-crazies” by taking cover in a nearby library, where he teams up with a man named Tom and a teenage girl, Alice, who accompany him on a dangerous odyssey to Maine to locate his ex-wife and son. During their journey they come to realize that a brain-altering phone signal known as the Pulse is responsible for morphing the population into flesh-eating, telekinetic zombies.
Needless to say King wastes no time in getting to the zombie action, which will have young fans itching to go battle zombies in their video games. Though the over-the-top nature of it all veers towards satire at times, Cell never quite decides what it wants to be: a parody with social commentary, a survival drama or a generic zombie thriller. Equally inconsistent are the characters, which are thinly drawn and lack depth beyond the archetypes of the Everyman, the Token Gay Guy and the Precocious Teen.
To his credit, King does have a knack for readability, and Cell’s 384 pages zip by pretty quickly. I would recommend this for a light read, mainly for the good use of suspense and the enjoyable action sequences involving a good bout of blood and gore. Even so, be warned that the ending has drawn much criticism for being a deus ex machina, therefore is anticlimactic and thoroughly unsatisfying.
Overall Cell is not my idea of a good time, though I’m sure many readers will find it fun and entertaining. I know zombies are all the rage now (though I still struggle to understand why), and I imagine this book would make a good blockbuster film; perhaps directed by ever-indulgent Michael Bay, who is currently involved in a film by the name of Robots vs. Zombies.