The Plant has had an unusual history, starting out in a series of three chap-books given away in lieu of Christmas cards in the early 1980’s, then canceled due to its similarities to The Little Shop of Horrors. In 2000, King apparently discovered a new path to the story and began issuing it installments again – over the internet – for a dollar or two a pop. If the method of delivering the tale seemed unique, the presentation of this "novel in progress" is even moreso: The Plant is told in epistolary format; that is, presented as a series of letters, memos, and journal entries. Perhaps the most famous use of this method of storytelling is Bram Stoker’s Dracula; King has dabbled with the format himself in the short story "Jerusalem’s Lot" and in limited use in novels such as The Regulators and Carrie. Here, however, the style is on a more ambitious scale, not simply accentuating otherwise straightforward text, but transcending it. It remains to be seen whether or not King can continue in this vein; the inclusion of a mysterious "manuscript" titled Z in Part 6 seems to point toward a reversion to more traditional prose. I remain confident that King had some greater reason for the shift into this type of storytelling, but having such a transition take place in the final section of Book One is a bit disheartening.
The story itself, however, leaves no such reservations. The first letter by Detweiller is far scarier to the reader than it is to John Kenton … and the fear never really abates. Make no mistake about it: this is King in full "horrormeister" regalia, fangs and all. One could read Zenith Rising with a checkoff list of basic fiction conflicts by one’s side: from the beginning, King pits man against man (Detweiller versus Kenton is not the only such matchup); man against nature (although, this being a King story, this version of "nature" has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft than Robinson Crusoe); man against the supernatural (not only the eponymous plant, but there are zombies, psychic phenomena, and a few mysterious "accidents"); and, most chillingly, man against himself. The lengths that Kenson and the others go to justify their actions is chilling in a far more subtle way, the final sections of Zenith Rising presenting the horror plainly and intimately, in the perpetrators’ own words.