Let's play spot how many brand names Stephen King can name!: Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Sears, Hallmark, McCulloch chainsaws (which, by the way, as King points out, costs only $79.95 and works better than the more expensive brands), Mobil, Texaco, Exxon, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz Light, Budweiser, Busch beer, Lancers wine, Ripple wine, Parliament cigarettes, One Step at a Time filters, Fisher snow plows, Yamaha, Cadillac, Jeep, Chevy, Cricket Lighters, Jell-O, Texas Instruments, Beefaroni, Snowy bleach, Delsey, Gaines dog food, Dingo boots, Rolaids, Sominex, Nytol, Dristan, Stayfree tampons, The New Yorker, Hershey chocolate bars, O'Cedar mops, V-8 juice, Colt, Zippo, Ragu salsa, Raid bug-spray, Black Flag bug-spray, Campbell's beans, Hostess cakes, Dairy Queen, Special K cereal, Gatorade, Spaulding, Howard Johnson's, Delco flashlights.
Wow, wasn't that fun! All these brands and more were included in this book, which I should remind you is only just over 100 pages. Of course some of this is excusable; naming the brand of a gun or a car, for example, makes sense because it is something of interest; there are plenty of people who enjoy knowing what gun a character is using or what car they're driving; not only does it help for visualization but it's functional as well, for example: how many shots or how powerful a certain gun is, or how fast a car can go, etc. These are products of interest. But no one, and I do mean no one, gives a shit what type of salsa there is in this fantasy world.
King is a clever little bastard too. In what setting can one cram the most product placement possible? The super-market of course! which is where this entire story is set. Now I'm not saying that this is paid product placement, I don't know if it is, but paid or not it's still product placement nonetheless. My beef is that I don't believe that Stephen King could possibly know all these brands off the top of his head. Who knows this many brands!? And also, why did we need so many brands for the same thing? There are two different types of bug-spray (Raid, Black Flag), numerous non-prescription medications (Rolaids, Sominex, Nytol, Dristan, Stayfree), there are three different gas station chains (Mobil, Exxon, Texaco), two different types of wine (Ripple, Lancers), and here's the big one: four different types of beer! (Pabst, Schlitz, Budweiser, Busch). Why was any of this necessary!? One brand per product is enough, why multiple ones for each? It's ridiculous.
Now I'm sure there are those who could argue that it's truthful to its setting or that if he had used fake brands it would have ruined the realism, or something along those lines. First of all, just because it's set in a super-market doesn't mean he has to mention the brand of the salsa that just fell off the shelf and broke. Instead of saying Gaines dog food he could have just said dog food and the same thing would have been accomplished. And in regards to the realism argument: if he said dog food instead of Gaines dog food (to continue with this example) do you know what your brain would have done when you read "dog food"? It would have made you visualize whatever dog food you're familiar with (assuming you're familiar with any). Him specifying the brand is just preventing you from imagining for yourself; and if you're not familiar with Gaines dog food then it's preventing you from visualizing at all. A writer doesn't have to specify these types of things because readers have their own imagery that they can apply. If he had just said beer I would have probably imagined a can of Budweiser because that's what my dad drank when I was growing up. But when he says Busch beer he's telling me what I should imagine, and guess what? I have no fucking idea what a can of Busch beer looks like so I couldn't even visualize it accurately (and if there's no accuracy then what is the point of specification). And, besides, he does make up some brands in here on top of all the real ones! The shampoo brand he mentions for example (Golden Girl Shampoo) is not real!
No matter your stance on product placement (paid or not) in works of art, I think we can agree that this is a little much. One brand for each product is more than enough, and mentioning a product every other page is way too often. Well, that's enough ranting on the product placement; now onto the rest of the novel.
What people mostly complain about is this story's ending. People say that it is cheap, far too ambiguous, and doesn't answer any questions that the story asked. Essentially, it never goes anywhere and there is no climax or conclusion. This is true. The ending is unsatisfying and does feel cheap (even a character in the story mentions how endings that are too ambiguous are cheap). Everything that happens in the story feels like a tease that never goes anywhere. It's a disappointment but I wouldn't give it too much weight.
The important part of the novel isn't really the story (or, to use an old cliche, it's about the journey, not the destination). I've seen enough Horror movies to know that it's really about the mood it puts you in and the atmosphere it creates and the characters it familiarizes you with. And it does all those things fairly well. The atmosphere is very obviously comparable to Lovecraft's work. Like the ole' godfather of cosmic terror, King includes themes such as the unknown, insanity, and giant ass tentacle monsters. And, like a Lovecraft story, the horror comes not from any sort of conclusion but rather from the lack of one; from the idea that this unknown terror that has troubled you will remain just that: unexplainable. The mysteries are never solved because the story is told in the first-person and the main character himself never solves those mysteries. The story leaves you as clueless and unsure as it's protagonist. If you're the type of person who needs things to be explained and everything to be wrapped up neatly then this sort of story isn't for you. So, while I do think the ending could have been handled better, I don't consider it a major flaw at all, merely a minor one.
So the atmosphere is, for the most part, decent. However, I do have some problems with it. The story is about nearly one hundred people trapped in an enclosed, and scorching hot super-market for long periods of time, unable to escape because there are mysterious monsters outside that will kill them if they step outside and in fact they can't even see more than a few feet outside because of the dense mist. But where is the sense of claustrophobia? Because I didn't feel the claustrophobia at all. The super-market, which houses one hundred or more people, feels way too spacious. The characters have room for privacy, there's room for secluded cult gatherings, enough room for just about anything. Sure, there's a certain basic sense of entrapment, but never claustrophobia. Lovecraft made the antarctic feel claustrophobic, and King can't do the same for a super-market? Night of the Living Dead makes you feel the same claustrophobia as those characters boarded up in a house defending themselves against zombies felt; the same hopelessness. But The Mist feels about as open as the empty shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead.
The character development is pretty good, however. The main character is likable enough (mostly because he's sort of an everyman, with the cheap sympathy-getter of having a young kid with him). Sometimes it feels like King is trying too hard to be edgy though, like when the main character casually mentions the "half-ounce of grass that Steff and I bought four years ago and still had not smoked much of" or when the main character kisses his wife and "holds her buttocks firmly" or when he uses words like "shitfaced". You're not cool, Stephen. I must give credit where credit is due though, King does have a few lines that impressed me.
The other characters are very interesting, though. The character actions and dialogue is mostly very believable. Perhaps the novella's greatest achievement is in how it shows how different people react differently to the same situation. Some people just go crazy. Some people kill themselves. Some people look for simple problems to fix and convince themselves that somehow it is helping towards fixing the bigger problem. Some people convince themselves that the problem isn't true. Some people get drunk. Some people become fanatics and call it the doings of God. Some people follow that fanatic. All these reactions are interesting and eerily believable. And, for those interested in looking for deeper meaning in works by the like of King, there's plenty here to work with.
A quarrel I have though is we get to see all these people and how they react to an extraordinary situation, but how does the main character react? Sure, he gets a bit angry at times, but he doesn't have an interesting reaction. He's just a relatable guy who mostly handles the situation as many of us hope we would. Where is his vice that helps him cope, where is his delusion? His son gives him confidence, and he has the delusion that his wife may have survived, but it's nothing substantial or anything as interesting as many of the other characters' reactions. I suppose this is due to the main character being a sort of generic everyman, but it would have been nice to see a bit deeper into the main character's actions and motives, etc.
For a short novel there's a lot of unnecessary things that happen. What in the world was the point of the main character's adultery with some stranger? They were in the super-market for less than a day and this guy is already cheating on his wife? What the hell? It's weird un-necessities like these that make you question why they were even included.
There's also a lot of pop-culture references in here (though still less than there are product placements). This makes sense in some respect, being that this story feels very much like a love-letter/homage to monster movies and, more so, Lovecraft. There's mention of King Ghidorah and he even describes something using the term Lovecraftian. He even pokes fun at the story's own cheap ending by comparing the endings of Alfred Hitchcock films and calling them cheap in their open-endedness. But of course any Hitchcock fan can tell you that that same open-endedness is what makes Hitchcock's films so stimulating and remarkable (perhaps King was trying to redeem his own cheap ending?).
In regards to the "spookiness" of the story, I have yet to be scared by a novel. There's some solid suspense in here, and I will admit that in the last ten or so pages I was pretty anxious; though, to be fair, I always get anxious when I'm on the last few pages of a book.
That's really all I have to say about Stephen King's The Mist. It has way too much product placement, an unsatisfying ending, some good characterization, and a passable atmosphere. It's the first novel by him I've read, and though I didn't find it to be too spectacular I did enjoy reading it and I'll probably give the guy another shot eventually. I hear that the film adaptation has a superior ending, so I'll go give that a watch.