The story is free of killing words and Kwisatz Haderachs, instead focusing on a magic island. No, it isn’t that island. There’s no smoke monster or polar bear. There is a hatch, though, and the main character, an elderly judge named Harvey Beecher, talks about how he feels the island is calling him back. Given that Stephen King himself is a fan of “Lost”, it was likely an intentional nod. When talking about magical islands, a lot of readers would make references anyway, so he likely just decided to roll with it a little while still letting the story follow its own path.
Like many of King’s stories, this has one character essentially telling the story to another person. In this case, Beecher is having his will notarized and decides to use attorney-client privilege as a cover to tell his rather tall tale.
You see, every so often, Beecher would come across mysterious writings in the sands of the island’s beach. Not patterns like crop circles or vague, quasi-profound statements; rather, names, names of people who die soon after.
The mechanics are never made clear. It could be that the beach is a bizarre manifestation of a death note and whatever entity (or shinigami if you want to take that reference to its logical conclusion) doing the writing is the one killing people. On the other hand, as the story theorizes, a “hatch” between reality and the universe’s cogs (the tower itself, maybe?) could have opened and that is allowing information to be leaked ahead of time. The fact that the reader never learns works for the better in this case.
Where most of King’s stories about a character telling the story work, this one may have benefited from being told in the present tense. Beecher’s story is glossed over,which makes some sense as he is the one doing the glossing. Still, he never seems to wrestle with the ramifications of the island and doesn’t seem too disturbed about knowing who’s going to die before it happens. At one point, his attorney asks him if he ever made any attempt to prevent a death, but that apparently never occurred to him. Even when Beecher’s longtime childhood friend is taken, Beecher seems to shrug it off when that should have been a devastating moment for both the character and the reader.
The story is engaging enough, but having everything unfold as it happened might have been a better means of intriguing the reader as they are just as unaware of the island’s nature as Beecher would have been at those points in his life.
It’s a fast read, which works as both a strength and a weakness. It’s brisk and you’ll breeze through it, but length limitations likely contributed to the flaws noted above.