Wizard and Glass may have the record for length of flashback, but Wind Through the Keyhole goes Inception* on that flashback with a flashback** within a flashback.
*It's still accepted to reference Inception right?
**Okay, really it's a story within a flashback, but the story is a flashback to an even younger Roland technically so...I'm going with it anyway.
As someone who has been reading this series chronologically (i.e., I've read the first four in the Dark Tower series, but have yet to read the last three), I'm having a really hard time picturing what it's like for a Dark Tower book to have plot progression with the main Ka-tet (Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy).
This book's been quite the divisive one and to be honest, I can't really disagree with what a lot of people have said who didn't like it nearly as much as I did.
So, having only read the first four books, reading The Wind Through the Keyhole was just a continuation of the last book, Wizard and Glass (W&G). I'm sure there are some things in Wind that I missed having not read the last three, and knowing this, of course we know our friends are going to be okay...right? Or are they? (yeah, they're fine)
And yet, that doesn't mean there's no dramatic tension. If you've read any of my reviews, you probably already know that I really don't know what I'm talking about. I didn't major in English and I've easily forgotten anything I've ever learned in high school or undergrad about anything literary-related.
Given that, I want to talk about literary devices for a sec. Just because we know the ending already (well, not me), doesn't mean a story lacks tension. While we know they'll be "all right," one, we don't know how other characters will fair, and two, we're still looking for how they get back to "all right" because they're not at this point. So, it's really just a focus shift.
Okay, I'll quit talking about things I know nothing about...well, probably not.
We pick up just after the events from W&G as our fearless Ka-tet is on their way from the glass tower in the first section titled "Starkblast." This doesn't last long, as you can imagine, and we're back into a flashback story from Roland's youth, which actually takes place just after the flashback from W&G. This flashback is called "The Skin-Man."
Roland is sent on anther mission to another remote area of the world where a gunslinger is needed. Sadly, he takes another young gunslinger with him, not Alain and Cuthbert. I was SOOOO disappointed, I thought for sure we'd get those guys back, but in retrospect, I have a HUGE man-crush on them so that may have clouded my perception.
(Not sure if those are even Alain and Cuthbert, but the picture's pretty cool anyway.)
But wait, there's more...flashbacks that is. During the flashback in "The Skin-Man," Roland tells the titular tale, "The Wind Through the Keyhole." This tale actually makes up the bulk of the book and was easily my favorite part.
In "The Wind Through the Keyhole," King is in top form writing-wise. The story is independent and only mildly relates to either of the two other stories, but it's still a great one and I loved every minute of it.
It's a great old-timey adventure story about a kid who braves impossible odds to help his family. I have to say this again, the writing is top-notch (or "tip top" as the Swiss would say). He fits it to the story perfectly and puts me in awe at the talent this man possesses. He is the King in name and writing.
And just like a Matryoshka (or Russian nesting) doll, we head back to the first flashback in "The Skin-Man Part 2" and then back to our Ka-tet. In summary, the story goes like this (not necessarily using the given titles):
Ka-tet (present story timeline) > Flashback to Young Roland > The Wind Through the Keyhole (main story) > Flashback to Young Roland > Ka-tet (present story timeline)
As much as I loved the main story, I didn't love the ending to the Young Roland flashback and the ka-tet portion was just a reference point if anything.
As someone who considers Wizard and Glass one of his all-time favorite books (inside and outside of the Dark Tower universe), I love me a good flashback. Not everyone does and I'll even admit that I thought this book would be a tale of the Ka-tet, not another flashback within a flashback. I'd still recommend this to fans of the Dark Tower and even non-readers alike.
4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)
Worth checking out: Here's a detailed list of all of King's books from worst to best with semi-detailed descriptions of why the article's author thinks so.