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"...any good marriage is secret territory, a necessary white space on society's map. What others don't know about it is what makes it yours."
A 1998 novel by Stephen King. Michael Noonan is a popular novelist who is living an idyllic existence with his loving wife Johanna, until she unexpectedly dies one hot summer day. Losing Johanna leads directly to him losing his ability to write--grief has so crippled him that the mere act of writing causes severe panic attacks.
Haunted by memories of good times and by terrifying dreams taking place at their long-neglected summer home, Mike decides to finally attack the problem and see if returning there might help him get his life back on track. He returns to the summer home, named Sara Laughs after long-ago blues musician Sara Tidwell, to find it haunted with several different ghosts, which seem to have different agendas.
He makes immediate acquaintance with little Kyra Devore and her young mother, Mattie. They are the target of Mattie's extremely wealthy, extremely old, and extremely wicked father-in-law, who is determined to take Kyra away from Mattie. Michael's chance encounter with them draws him into the struggle. Charmed by the child, deeply attracted to her mother, and sitting on a few million dollars of his own, he decides to help Mattie fight back.
What Michael doesn't realize is that what appears to be a simple custody battle is really the final act of a vindictive ghost haunting the town, bent on avenging itself on the descendants of the men who murdered her a hundred years ago... and the seemingly nice country folks of this town are more than ready to let her finish.
Contains the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: Averted. The main allegation against Mattie Devore in Max Devore's custody case is that Mattie is abusive and neglectful towards her daughter. The charges are ridiculously false, but money has a way of making people ignore this.
- Adaptation Decay: The A&E miniseries.
- Arc Number: "Go Down 19". 19 is Stephen King's Arc Number.
- Arc Words: "Well, that's all right, isn't it?"
- Badass: George Kennedy gets shot in the leg during a scene of particular carnage, yet calmly gets to his feet and returns fire, ensuring that one of the two assailants dies and the other is brought to justice.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Though Mike describes himself as more-or-less normal, Mattie is very beautiful. Max Devore and Rogette Whitmore, the villains, are both the scary-looking variety of old people.
- Big Bad: Max Devore.
- Bigger on the Inside: In a dream/living projection, Mike and Kyra are chased into a county fair's haunted house which is much bigger than it looks from outside.
- Bittersweet Ending: Mike not only loses his wife at the outset, he also loses Mattie to an act of post-mortem revenge, the stupid brutality of which turns him off writing (though, Lisey's Story implies that he later changes his mind about that). All he has left in the world is Kyra, and at the end of the story, Mike is equally optimistic and frustrated about the process which will allow him to adopt her.
- The Cameo: Ralph Roberts and Norris Ridgewick. A few other King characters are mentioned in passing.
- Canon Welding: It's a Stephen King novel. What did you expect? Several of his works are referenced, including IT, The Dark Half, and cameos by the main character of Insomnia and Norris Ridgewick, who appeared in several Castle Rock stories in various capacities.
- Chekhov's Gun: The Stenomask and bottle of lye.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Also Max Devore, though his business in TR-90 is strictly personal.
- Covers Always Lie: The American paperback version depicts a lake, which is the extent of its accuracy. The naked woman in the badly-done CG of the lake and the little shack in the distance bear no resemblance to anything in the story, and the denuded trees seem a bit unlikely considering that the part of the story set on the lakeside takes place in July.
- Cosmic Horror: It is implied that the intervention of an "outsider" is what caused the ghost of Dark Score Lake to become vindictive, though its nature or origin is never explored.
- Creepy Child: One of the ghosts haunting Sara Laughs is that of a crying child. It appears to disturb Mike more than the others.
- Dead Little Sister: Bill Dean. He doesn't like talking about it, either.
- Dirty Cop: George Footman.
- Distressed Damsel: Mattie Devore all over the place.
- The Dragon: Rogette Whitmore is one of the more unlikely examples in literature.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Mattie Devore's murder is sudden, brutal, and completely senseless. Michael later realizes he has written many fictional murders of this type, and is disgusted with himself.
- Driven to Suicide: The fate of most of Jared Devore's accomplices, though not Jared himself.
- Erotic Dream: Mike has an explosive and disturbing three-way orgy with Jo, Mattie and Sara Tidwell in one of his dreams.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Max Devore provided well for his children and truly seemed to love his youngest son, Lance, though even that love had its limits.
- Fauxshadow: Mike lives in the town of Derry, which will lead the savvy King reader to assume that its dark history will play a role. All of the creepy, supernatural stuff only starts to happen after he leaves, however, and he never goes back once he's gone.
- Face Heel Turn: The result of certain individuals becoming a Living Bodysuit. Max Devore appears to pull one of these late in the book, in the opposite direction.
- Genre Savvy: Mike is a novelist, so he knows a good trope and frequently identifies them when he comes across one in his life.
- Happily Married: Mike and Johanna.
- Mattie and Lance.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Frank Arlen seems to want this kind of relationship with brother-in-law Mike, but Mike's too much of a loner for it to really work out.
- Hive Mind: The residents of TR-90 fall into this near the end.
- Hope Spot: When Max Devore drops the case. Michael immediately recognizes it as such, and unfortunately, he's right.
- I See Dead People: Both Mike and Kyra see them all over Sara Laughs near the end, and have been communicating with them less directly throughout most of the story beforehand.
- It Got Better: Mattie's husband dies, leaving her a poor, single mother with few prospects. Enter husband's father, who intends to take away her daughter--mostly out of spite--and has more than enough money to make sure it will happen. Then, when things seem completely hopeless, a fortuitous encounter with Mike Noonan changes everything.
- Jerkass: Max Devore, again. Mike himself has a pretty cynical outlook, and his personal thoughts on people, even those he likes, have a tendency to be less than flattering.
- Living Bodysuit: When Sara's rapists/murderers go crazy and murder their children, it is not because they thought of doing it themselves. This may have been averted by Max Devore, who is taking it upon himself to carry out the ritual, knowing he'd be forced to anyway.
- Magic Feather: Michael believes that it was discovering his old IBM typewriter which enabled him to start writing again. His superstition regarding the apparent defeat of writer's block is so strong that he's afraid to even take it out of his office, which has no air conditioner and is uncomfortably hot in mid-July.
- Manipulative Bastard: Max Devore is throwing around scads of money at the townspeople of TR-90 to buy their good opinion and grease the skids for his custody battle.
- May-December Romance: Mike and Mattie. Almost.
- Meaningful Name: Devore = devour.
- My Death Is Just the Beginning: Max Devore, unfortunately for everyone on Mattie's house.
- New House, New Problems: Mike's life, none too good before coming to Sara Laughs, gets a whole lot more complicated once he does.
- Offing the Offspring: How Sara punishes the men who murdered her and her son.
- Rape as Backstory: Sara Tidwell, though she implies that it has happened to her before and it really is the least of her problems.
- Self-Deprecation: As with his other writer-characters, King uses Noonan to occasionally mock the habits and pretensions of writers.
- Town with a Dark Secret: TR-90.
- Trapped in Another World: Michael fears that if he and Kyra can't make it out of their shared dream of the 1901 Fryeburg Fair, they'll be trapped in it forever. He even speculates about what he'd do for a living if it happened.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Sara Tidwell.
- Write Who You Know: Michael Noonan is another of Stephen King's large group of writer protagonists.