Firestarter (Stephen King)

firestarterOne of King’s most emotionally compelling books. Back in the day (1980) when he had the golden touch, writing immensely visual novels. I rarely experience particularly strong emotional reactions to even very good books. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story with topics such as hallucinogenic drugs, a family on the run or secret government experiments that engaged my feelings deeply. They are such cliches that are over used. But this one did.

This is one of the few King books that has absolutely zero lulls in the narrative. When the pace does slow, King shows off his superhuman character development skills. He doesn’t simply make his character development engaging, he makes it entertaining as well. You have fun while getting to know these characters, and before you know it, page one turns to page four hundred and you want to start all over again. Books like this are the reason I’m rereading this man’s entire catalogue. I’ve heard the film adaptation of this novel sucked big time so I’m glad its something I’ve never seen. Lots of emotion in this one as a dad who gets cornered tries to assure his young daughter that she will eventually have a normal life, free of running and free to pursue her life goals without looking over her shoulders for the men in black suits.

Of course he is trying to do this without betraying his feelings and spilling out all the lies that he keeps bottled inside. On the other hand, you’ve got his daughter who eventually sees through him but does not say much about it in order to help him cover up his guilt. She doesn’t want to openly blame him for her plight. This book is a good example of why I like a lot of Stephen King’s earlier books; while it deals with horror-like themes we are not dealing with hordes of zombies or vampires plotting to take over the world but rather with an extra-ordinary girl who is on the run from the government. Most of the horror movies that I have seen, or the ones that like to have the moniker of horror, deal with a supernatural creature who pursues the mundane. King turns this concept on its head by having the supernatural creature running from the mundane. It is not so much supernatural abilities that create power, but rather the unknown and the mysterious.

There’s a strong sociological component to the novel. After all, the villain here is not a werewolf, ghost, or monster of any kind; it is nothing less than the government of the United States itself. In the 1970s, we began to learn about some of the heinous experiments the American government had perpetrated upon its citizens (among the least of which was the injection of psychotic drugs to unknown participants) and the equally awful manner in which they covered such things up. If anything makes Firestarter scary, it is the fact that the novel was inspired by actual government-sponsored crimes of the most despicable kind. I’m sure the impact of Firestarter resonated much more deeply in 1980 than it does now, but this is only because we now know how untrustworthy the government can be. Still, Charlie’s story is a most compelling one, and it shows us another side of Stephen King during the most productive phase of his unparalleled career. Needless to say, this is very hard to put down when you get into it. You can’t ask for higher praise than that.


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