(Zoe is a local blogger who is working her way through the works of part-time Florida resident Stephen King. In anticipation of King’s forthcoming sequel to The Shining — Dr. Sleep — I’ve asked Zoe if I could start reprinting her ambitious King re-read here at Reading Tampa. She agreed! Thanks, Zoe. You can read the original posts at From Carrie to the Keyhole, or follow her running blog at Slow and Steady.)
Firestarter feels like a blend between many of Stephen King’s previous novels. Kind of like Carrie meets The Dead Zone and combines it with elements of The Stand, with a teeny bit of The Shining thrown in. To wit:
We have a girl with telekinetic powers (Carrie)
We have a man with weird, undefined psychic abilities (The Dead Zone)
The government is evil and will imprison people that they feel are a threat, in direct violation of constitutional freedoms (The Stand)
The complexities of parent/child relationships, combined with elements of addiction (The Shining)
And there you have it. At one point, I almost wanted to yell at the book, ‘I totally see where this is going, SK!’ Except that I didn’t see where it was going. I was wrong. And maybe that’s what makes these books cool. They are often similar, but they are not the same. He has a good way of taking the story in a direction you are not expecting.
Although elements of this book are a little too close to parody at times. For instance, there is a mad scientist. He is nicknamed, ‘The Mad Scientist.’ He looks like a mad scientist. Hm. ‘I totally see where this is going, SK!’ And in this case, I did.
In defense of Firestarter, SK definitely succeeded in creating several very vivid images of the events that occurred. Some of these really stuck with me, perhaps more than in previous novels. It’s amazing to me that I can still remember–years later–images from some of his books and I think, in part, that this is why he has remained such a popular author. In Firestarter, there was the discovery of Vicky’s body, the exploration of the room in which the experiment was held, and the character of John Rainbird. Oh, and I do have to say that the death by garbage disposal did freak me out a bit because I am absent-minded and one of my great fears is that someday I will do something dumb involving my garbage disposal and my hand. Way to draw on those every-day fears, SK!
I don’t think that I realized when I started this project how directly these early books were tied to events in the US, and particularly a fear of how far the government might go in overreaching its power. In fact, that would seem to be what the past few have been about–even The Long Walk is essentially based on this theme, even if we don’t know the situation that caused that society to emerge. When I was younger and reading SK’s books, I guess I somehow missed these novels and stuck instead to the ones with terrifying vampires and clowns in the sewer (if you’re curious, the book spine of It is still freaking me out, sitting in my bookcase, even though I have rationalized that actually, It is more of a pseudo-monster than a claw emerging from the sewer). So that would make four in a row exactly on this theme. I guess when you churn out novels as quickly as SK did at this time, it would make sense that common elements would be shared between them.
Fun fact: in the movie version of Firestarter, Heather Locklear played Drew Barrymore’s mother. That seems wrong. I just did the math, and that means that Heather Locklear would have given birth to Drew Barrymore at age 13/14. Hollywood, you are cruel.