Saturday, February 02, 2008

Blaze by "Richard Bachman" (Stephen King)


Before the story of Blaze begins, author Stephen King explains why a new novel under his pseudonym "Richard Bachman" is now being released: it is a trunk novel from his Bachman days, rejected by the author as "...great when I was writing it, and crap when I finished." Other Bachman novels were written before, but published after King's Carrie, which fixed the name Stephen King firmly in the horror-genre frame.

Thirty years later, King returned to the draft of Blaze to begin a re-write, ruthlessly stripping sentiment and purple prose to leave a strong noir-objective narrative, influenced strongly by the crime stories of James M. Cain, and the character-rich style of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. (More than character-development comes from the latter novel — King says the novel is " homage to Of Mice and Men — kinda hard to miss that."

Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., or "Blaze" as his associates call him, has always been bigger than the others around him, but he wasn't always dumber. A series of misfortunes, including a deceased mother, an abusive father who threw him downstairs repeatedly (leaving a cup-sized dent in his forehead and a larger gap in his mental faculties), a tyrannical headmaster at the orphanage, and a series of unfortumate foster-home experiences, have shaped him strangely.

Blaze has survived through having a series of partners who help him cope with life despite his feeble mind, from his buddy Johnny's signals in Arithmetic to his partner George's planning in their career as petty con artists on the streets of Boston. Now, though, George is dead. Blaze is having trouble remembering that, though — he hears George clearly, urging him to do that one last big crime they had been planning before his death.

So Blaze sets out to kidnap the six-month-old son of a wealthy family. This mentally-numb, socially-frozen giant connects with his own childhood of deprivation, the kidnap victim, and the still-functioning depths of his own mind in a story as compelling as any of King's later fiction. I was reminded of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, calling on her inner resources to survive in the wilderness — Blaze's wilderness is in his own mind, and his rescue is also driven by what he finds within himself.


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