Blaze by Richard Bachman
A couple of months ago I read an advance copy of Richard Bachman's—aka, of course, Stephen King's—Blaze for a quick freelance gig. Here was my report. The book is due to be released on Tuesday, June 12th.
What you want to know about Stephen King's self-described "trunk novel"—first written in 1973, recently discovered and slightly revised for 2007—is this: Yes, Blaze reads and sounds like a (short) King book, and is a worthy addition to the bottom half of his oeuvre. Although the main story is thin to say the least, and only one character—the titular Blaze, a low-IQ giant with a horrific childhood who turned to crime—is really fleshed out, and there are narrative-driven inconsistencies which threaten credibility at times, the backstory is engaging in a "my God what a terrible life" kind of way, and there are enough moments of genuine suspense and honestly-earned emotion here to keep you turning pages.
As I said, Blaze, nee Clayton Blaisdell, Junior, is King's borderline-retarded protagonist, whom we first meet stealing a car in a snowstorm, and talking to his dead partner George. George "appears" throughout the book, but King seems to not really know what to do with this voice in Blaze's head, and it often feels more like an excuse to inject some dialogue into the proceedings than a necessary (or interesting) device.
Anyway, Blaze steals the car as the beginning of his (unlikely) master plan which forms the book's main narrative: to kidnap a six-month old heir to a local Maine shipping fortune. About half the novel is given over to this story: Blaze's insecure and inept planning; the actual crime itself, which involves a murder, lest Blaze become TOO sympathetic a character (again, much of this strains credulity, but is lively enough that we forgive); the inevitable love and bonding Blaze feels for his lifetime meal ticket, Joe Gerard III; the hunt and chase (through a blizzard) by cardboard cops, and so on to the obvious, rushed-feeling end.
Better than the main arc is Blaze's backstory, told in alternating chapters. Here we see the bleak childhood with the drunken Dad, who throws his child down the stairs several times, causing Blaze's brain damage and forcing the authorities to ship him off to one of those grim orphanages in which everyone's a sadist: fellow orphans, administrators, and especially the teachers, who whip these kids at the slightest provocation. Once Blaze blossoms into a 6' 7" 300-lb dim-bulbed giant, however, things change. Two of the best sections of the book are the happy ones: when Blaze and this smart kid he protects find a wallet in a movie theater and run away to Boston for a two-night vacation; and when Blaze joins a dozen or so other orphans to pick blueberries one summer, an earns the respect of the farmer, and the affections of a young woman. King can definitely do sweet, even when he's writing as Bachman.
This is a small, quick book that, however uneven, is not likely to disappoint anyone with an inclination to read it. In other words, if you think you'll enjoy a newly discovered, 1973 novel by Richard Bachman, then you will enjoy this.