The Mist (Stephen King)
This novella, the basis for the 2007 film of the same name, is an excellent horror story due in part to the general fear of the unknown that permeates this book, but also because of the realistic portrayal of people under extreme duress.
The book starts off well, introducing the major characters and keeping a sense of dread throughout the first few acts (before things really get bad.) This is easily achieved through the past tense narrative, and the tension is fairly high before the mist even falls over the supermarket and the real story begins.
Once the story takes off, it hardly slows down. The author does a great job of mixing more personal moments with the monster stuff without sacrificing the pacing. We get a good feel of the "pulse" of the survivors while simultaneously being treated to a great action scene every few pages. The action scenes have a great sense of urgency as our heroes attempt to stave off creatures from an alternate dimension with nothing more than brooms, tools, and one small pistol.
The monsters aren't the only antagonists here, however. As the situation grows increasingly dire, some of the more disillusioned people fall under the sway of Mrs. Carmody, a deranged fire and brimstone loon. As her following grows larger, they too begin to oppose our heroes, leading to a massive confrontation at the book's climax. This is an excellent "meaty" sub plot that serves as an insight into humanity, and provides much of the emotional and literary depth contained in the novella.
The book does differ from the movie in a few key ways. Firstly, the insanity of the semi-religious cult that springs up in the super market is apparent, but never demonstrated as in the movie. They threaten blood shed but never follow through. In this respect, I prefer the deadly, more unhinged group from the film. The film's ending cannot measure up to that of the book, however. The book's ending is a sharp contrast to the movie in that it both makes sense, and finishes on a brighter note that rewards the daring of our main characters. Unlike the movie, which made no sense and seemingly rewarded those who sat in fear at the supermarket, the book ends with atleast a shred of light. Like many of King's books, it ends in ambiguity, but this is preferable to an outright terrible ending.
Characterization is rather limited, but this is due more to the writing style than anything else. The point of view remains with one character, David, for the entire story. David is an adequate, but uninspiring character through which we see the events of the story. His love for his son is touching, but other than that the character is rather flat. The same can be said of every other character in the supermarket, there just isn't much character development in this book and very few characters stand out as more than just names.
The highlight is in seeing how people deal with the crisis. Some drink themselves into oblivion, others commit suicide, still others join irrational groups, while our main protagonists display a resolute will to survive. This doesn't make them interesting characters, per se, but the whole look into a group of everyday people in an unthinkable situation is an entertaining aspect of this book.
The only character that develops a truly memorable personality is Mrs. Carmody. Her insane demeanor and fiery speeches are a stark, but effective, contrast to the more shallow terror of the monsters. The characterization is not a major focal point, as the book is more of a study of people in general rather than a small group of people.
The prose is top notch for much of the Mist, effective conjuring a sense of dread and using the concept of the mist to its maximum potential. The mist is utilized as not only a deterrent to the plans of our characters, but also a fearsome entity in its own right. Meanwhile, the creatures are suitably horrifying and well described. They run the gamut of various stereotypical monster designs, though they are vividly detailed and frightening nonetheless.
Other aspects of the novel are fairly standard for King. He incorporates his signature world building and pop culture references, though to a lesser degree than usual. The book is fairly gory, with various descriptions of decapitations, bisecting, acid spider webs, and so on. The gore isn't a crucial element to the true horror at the heart of this story, but it does help catch the reader's attention.
A short but sweet experience, the Mist is a great simulation of a legitimately terrifying situation. There are some flaws and omissions, but as a simple horror story with a darker underlying theme, the Mist is wildly successful. I do reccomend purchasing it as part of the Skeleton Key short story collection, as it costs just a bit more and you get the Mist, plus 20 other stories.