What I'm Reading: Firestarter - Update
What's that they say about assuming? Whenever I do a new volume of "What I'm Reading" I like to start with my expectations (if any) for the book, but when I'm making expectations on a book I know so little about, I'm going to make assumptions based off the little knowledge I do have.. Back to back books, I certainly have proven myself the ass in 'assume'.
"Firestarter" is not a horror book. It is written by Stephen King, and although he is the king of horror, I know he writes other genres. None of this information prepared me for the book I read. That isn't a critique good or bad, just an observation.
I've realized a flaw in my attempts at reviewing a Stephen King book; he writes so fluidly and provocatively that he can write in detail about the process of having a cyst removed, and it would be engaging and be the best thing you've ever read. That may be an exaggeration, however until he writes about it, we'll never know.
In any case, I will attempt at objectively reviewing this novel.
IT WAS AWESOME, THE BEST THING I'VE EVER READ!!! Joking, joking
The story is about Charlie McGee and her father, Andy. In the opening pages of the book, the two are on the run from The Shop, while it won't be confirmed for many, many more pages before we learn The Shop is government related, it is strongly hinted at from early on. Why this organization is after the duo is revealed fairly early on. Andy has telepathic and hypnotic (or push) abilities, and Charlie is a pyromancer, meaning she can create and control fire.
While in college, Andy and Charlie's mother, Victoria, participated in a scientific experiment for some quick cash. Several of the other participants died rather horrific deaths as a result of 'Lot 6' and others were unaffected. Andy and Victoria both believe they had a shared hallucination as a result of the drug, but later discover the deaths they saw were real, and they develop their abilities. Victoria gains telekinetic powers. They decide it best that neither fully display their abilities in public, but a new wrinkle appears in their lives when their baby daughter displays pyrokinetic abilities.
When The Shop, who has been watching the family all these years, discovers Charlies abilities, they move to capture her. Victoria, is tortured for Charlie's location when they discover she isn't home, and Victoria perished in the struggle. Andy's telepathic abilities warn him that something is wrong, and he races from work to find his wife slain, and daughter missing.
I'm going to pause here for a moment to say, this all sounds like the beginning of a horror story.
Andy is able to use his abilities to find the two men in a van that took his daughter, and frees her; they now have to live on the run, constantly moving from place to place, never having the proper time to mourn for Victoria.
After making various temporary friends along the way, the duo is finally captured and taken to The Shop, where Andy becomes addicted to drugs that help suppress his abilities, and Charlie refuses to display her powers until she sees her dad.
Now's a good time for me to introduce you to John Rainbird. He's a native that does some of the 'dirty' work for the Shop. With an imposing figure and disfigured face, his distinct look aids him in the various underhanded tasks that are asked of him, mostly killing people. He's a killer. He kills a lot. For the most part, that's all you need to know about him, until he's asked to bring Charlie in alive, her father on the other hand can be brought in dead or alive.
An attempt to bring the duo in goes horribly wrong, and many Shop agents are killed when Charlie unleashes her abilities. In a different, less violent attempt, Rainbird is able to tranq both her and Andy, bringing them in to the Shop facility. However, Rainbird's deal with the Shop Captain is that during her incarceration he be the only one allowed to interact with her in a friendly manner.
This is where I have some trouble with the book. It posits that all these scientists and psychologists that are studying Charlie can't crack her defenses, but this veteran assassin, who admittedly doesn't like kids, is the only one who understands how to befriend and gain her trust. It doesn't seem logical, even when King tries to explain that Charlie sympathizes with Rainbid for the horrors he lies to her about. It all seems wishy-washy at best, but doesn't hurt the overall telling of the story.
It all ends in a fiery escape attempt of the father/daughter duo, after Andy orchestrates the break out by 'pushing' the Shop scientist and officer assigned to him, which leads to multiple suicides. In the mess of the escape plan Rainbird kills Andy, which triggers Charlie who in turn kills Rainbird (but a body is never found, and I expect there's a story in the King-verse that shows he survived) eventually leading to Charlie's freedom.
She makes her way to a friendly couple that took her and her father in for a time, and their home was the location of the fiery battle where Charlie killed several Shop agents. From there she writes her story in detail, and travels to New York, to publish all the info about the Shop in the Rolling Stones magazine.
The story ends there, and we never learn the effects of the publication, or if they ever actually published her story, but I'd like to think they did.
On to the rating...
I'm not the kind of guy who likes surprise parties, or surprise plans sprung upon me, but I like literary surprises, and reading a 'horror' story that isn't a horror story at all, was quite a surprise. However, not a bad one. Knowing full well that Stephen King has such an incredible range he can write in, I shouldn't ever really expect a horror story if I don't know better, but I always will.
In any case, this was a good story, told extremely well, with some great character work, even if the majority of the characters are forgettable. Charlie McGee and John Rainbird are the only two characters that really stood out for me, which is a shame, because I feel like I was supposed to care about Andy McGee, but I just didn't.
If you're looking for different work from King, or think he can't do anything but horror, I strongly recommend this. However, if you already know King isn't your kind of author 1) what's wrong with you and 2) this won't change your mind.