“Did you know that you could sit in front of a screen or a pad of paper and change the world?” asks a character in Stephen King’s Billy Summers, having just written her first work of fiction. She could easily be describing King himself, the legendary storyteller responsible for over sixty global bestsellers, who has changed the world seismically from behind a screen.
King’s latest endeavor begins with a familiar premise: ex-Marine sniper Billy Summers, a principled hit man on the eve of retirement, agrees to do one last job. With an astronomical $2 million payout looming, Billy goes undercover to assassinate a criminal, but the cover his employers dream up hits a nerve: while masquerading as a novelist renting space in an office building, avid reader Billy sets to the task of writing his own lightly fictionalized autobiography, unspooling the wounds of a traumatic childhood and a bruising tour of duty in the Iraq War. It’s no spoiler to say that when Billy carries out the hit, things go south in spectacularly bad fashion, sending him on the lam. Billy’s escape from the wreckage of the job is complicated by Alice, a young woman he rescues after her brutal gang rape, who becomes an unlikely partner in his plans to get even. Billy and Alice travel everywhere from Reno to Long Island to King’s familiar Sidewinder, Colorado; all the while, Billy interrogates the stories he’s internalized about his profession as “a garbageman with a gun,” wondering if someone who ends the lives of others, even bad people, can be considered good. Remembering a Tim O’Brien aphorism, that fiction “was a way to the truth,” Billy writes his way through the morass of his past and present, making for a poignant story about how fiction can redeem, heal, and empower.
King super fans may be surprised to discover that Billy Summers contains little of the supernatural, but to see the undisputed master of horror shift seamlessly into the realm of noir thrillers is proof that King can still surprise and astound us, all these decades later. King spoke with Esquire from his home in Maine about how his novels are connected, how the pandemic will change fiction, and how Billy Summers took him back to his own beginnings as a writer.
Read more HERE.