In Haunted Heart, her unauthorized Stephen King biography, Lisa Rogak presents a straightforward look into the major events of King’s life, from his birth into an impoverished family to the multi-millionaire lifestyle he lives today. Despite how heavily the book depends on secondary sources, and all the media attention given to King for more than three decades now, even passionate Stephen King followers should come away from it with a better understanding of the man.
Any potential revelations in the book originate in Rogak’s speculation about how King’s childhood shaped him into the writer and the man he is today, not from the well-known facts about his youth and his career. Stephen King does not remember his father who, as the story goes, went down to the corner one evening for a pack of cigarettes and never returned. King’s mother never remarried, and it was only by working multiple jobs when they came her way and with substantial help from her sisters that she was able to keep Steve and his brother together.
The resulting insecurity King felt as a child convinced him that the world is a dangerous place filled with countless scary things wholly deserving his fear. He admits that he fears most of them and that the only way he can escape those fears, even temporarily, is to write about them - something for which his fans should be grateful.
Rogak describes the depth of King’s addiction to drugs and alcohol in great detail. However, the surprising thing is not King’s alcoholism or past drug use, neither of which is much of a secret these days. Rather, the surprise is how productive King was during even the worst years of his addictions. To put it into perspective, consider that he has no memory of the exhaustive editing process he went through to finalize Cujo or the fact that he was almost constantly drunk or stoned during the entire time he directed his first motion picture but still managed to finish the project.
Haunted Heart does well in its chronological presentation of Stephen King’s life, and Lisa Rogak’s assessment of what made King into the superstar writer that he is today is an interesting, if not new, theory. Readers looking for the basic Stephen King story will not be disappointed, but one has to wonder what King’s take would be on all the speculation about what makes him tick. Unfortunately, without King’s participation or response, we will never know how close to the truth Rogak and others have managed to get.