It must be difficult to write a biography of someone who is still living, who has not donated his papers to a library where one can get access to them, who is still active in his career, and who has a healthy sense of privacy. Even when the subject agrees to an interview, a biographer has to be aware that the subject is telling what he wants to tell and leaving out that which he does not care to discuss. If the interviewee is sufficiently charming, or is completely forthright on a particular subject that casts him in a poor light, the interviewer can easily lose sight of questions not asked. And when the subject has himself written a book or two about his past, you have to wonder just what you can come up with that’s new and interesting.
Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart, a biography of Stephen King, is interesting and entertaining, but does not provide any information that is in the least new. It is surprising that this book landed on the Edgar ballot in the Best Critical/Biographical category because, while it is competent enough, it is not in the least revelatory. There are no revelations about King’s drug and alcohol use, because he already told those stories himself in On Writing (see review above). There is nothing new about King’s writing habits, because King has described those in many an interview. And there is no critical analysis of King’s writing, because Rogak limits herself to telling the story of King’s life, and apparently has no ambition to offer commentary on King’s many novels beyond the fact that they were published and, quite often, filmed.
Moreover, Rogak offers no insights into King’s marriage, parenting, friendships, business relationships, philanthropy or politics. Some subjects seem to beg for explication. For instance, it becomes apparent at some point in the book that King’s daughter, Naomi, is a lesbian. In conservative Maine, was that a problem for her? How did Stephen and Tabitha react to their daughter’s sexuality when they first learned of it? How do the Kings feel about the gay marriage movement that is so much in the news these days? And these questions lead to larger questions: what are King’s politics? We know he is a philanthropist, especially in and about Maine; but does he donate to one or the other political party? He sounds in some places in the book as if he’s a conservative, and in others as if he is a liberal; does he fit into either category?
As the years covered in the book get closer and closer to the present, the discussion of King, his family and his career gets less and less detailed, until we are brought into the present and find we have learned almost nothing about King’s last 20 years except that he wrote a lot, threatened to retire or at least stop publishing, was very rich, gave away a lot of money, and was nearly killed in an automobile accident. Did anyone interested in King not know these things already?
In 243 pages of text (the remaining pages are devoted to a timeline and an index), Rogak competently summarizes everything in the public domain about Stephen King’s life. While that might be sufficient to satisfy the curiosity of someone who is just today discovering King’s writing, it is frustrating to anyone who has been following King’s career since Carrie first came off the presses in 1974. I suspect that the definitive King biography will not be written until decades after his death — which I hope, for the sake of my reading life, is many, many years away indeed.