No Menace an Island

Guess who's coming to dinner? Colm Feore, uncalm eye in Stephen King's Storm of the Century.Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/ABC

While what follows is by no means intended to suggest that Stephen King is a secret reader of Claude Lévi-Strauss, there can be no question that he’s an anthropologist in his very own rain forest, sending back monographs on the table manners, kinship patterns, linguistic systems, and symbolic folderol of the aboriginals. In parsing his six-hour novel for television Stephen King’s Storm of the Century (Sunday, Monday, and Thursday, February 14, 15, and 18; 9 to 11 p.m.; ABC), you might think of Maine as Brazil; and of the offshore island Little Tall as an Amazonian atoll; and of its 400 fish-eating indigenes as Tucuna Indians stuck in a malefic variation on their ancestral myth of the baby-snatching frog and the honey-gathering cycle.

You think maybe I’m kidding. But only sort of. You haven’t seen the munchkins of Little Tall burst into a creepy chorus of “I’m a Little Teapot” before succumbing to a mass coma. Nor the snowmobiles like Valkyries. One man’s attic is another’s bricolage. From children’s games (those encrypted riddles) and the Holy Bible (a how-to manual on abusive sex and crazy violence in the goat-munched desert), plus some gothic weather and a desire to shock, King manufactures nightmares so adhesive that they could be Grimm and so primitive that they must be structuralist. For the purposes of Storm of the Century, he has conjoined the Mother of All Nor’easters in the winter of 1989, the Gadarene swine in the Book of Mark, Dürrenmatt’s The Visit and Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery,” the Pied Piper and Peter Pan.

A blinding snow begins to fall, a bitter wind whips up, and the telephones and electricity fail, cutting off Little Tall from the mainland. A dark stranger (Colm Feore) with a silver wolf’s-head walking cane rings the doorbell of an elderly widow (Rita Tuckett), who is drinking tea and watching the weather on television. Explaining, “Born in lust, turn to dust; born in sin, come on in,” he rips her eyes out, finishes her cup of tea, and waits for the police, to whom he eventually confides his odd name (Linoge) and his enigmatic message (“Give me what I want and I will go away”). Otherwise, when not blurting out the shameful secrets of the solid citizens who come to gawk at him, Linoge is content to squat in his cell, half-smirk and half-seethe, baring the occasional fang. But no bars can hold his wolf’s-head cane.

The police consist of a constable, Tim Daly, and his deputy, Casey Siemaszko. Daly and his wife, a ravishing Debrah Farentino, also run the general store. Jeffrey DeMunn, a bad-tempered town manager, thinks he runs the island. Other solid citizens include Steven Rankin, Soo Garay, Spencer Breslin, Nada Despotovich, Christopher Marren, Becky Ann Baker, Richard Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Chalfant, etc. – it’s a big, voluble cast, with many white-bread children. And except for the children, they all have secrets – adultery, abortion, child molesting, marijuana, cheating on a school exam. And they all dream the same dream – of flying and falling; of being “disappeared” like either Latin American dissidents or the “lost colony” of the first English settlers in Roanoke off the Carolina coast in 1587. And one by one, as if every time the Storm King ups the ante on gothic weather he must also pile on violent death, they pick themselves off – an apparent suicide by hanging, an ax splitting a skull, a drowning in a bathroom sink. And always, nearby, usually scrawled in blood, is the same message – GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I WILL GO AWAY.

Of course, I won’t tell you what Linoge wants. (Nor do I know what Roanoke means: Indian revenge?) But Linoge is an anagram for legion – as in the “unclean spirits” exorcised by Jesus in Chapter Five of Mark, whose names are Legion (“for we are many”) and who “entered into the swine; and the herd ran down a steep place into the sea … and were choked in the sea.” And what Linoge wants, Little Tall will give him, with a single dissenting vote, at one of those storied New England town meetings where these crusty fisherfolk prove to be as toad-ugly as a bunch of Deep South or Old West lynch-mobsters, only wearing nicer sweaters. I must say that as much as Colm Feore satisfies as a satanic zombie, I’m truly disappointed by the wimping-out of Debrah Farentino, who was such a stand-up woman warrior in both Earth 2 and EZ Streets. But the Storm King doesn’t disappoint at all. As we have come to expect from his novels and his mini-series, he is Walt Disney’s Evil Twin.

No Menace an Island