Blaze by The Writer Formerly Known as Richard Bachman (pssst, it’s Stephen King!)

King up and admits in his forward that this is a trunk novel but it’s not something he has to apologize for in this case. The horror aspect of the novel is never clearly developed regarding the actuality of the “ghost” that haunts the protagonist, Clay Blaisdell, jr., throughout the novel but it doesn’t really matter with the pace and energy devoted simply to pushing the story along. It moves along at the wonderfully quick pace of other shorts works by King like The Gunslinger, The Shining and ‘Salem’s Lot. While it is not as polished or as fundamentally solid as any of those novels, the foundation for such a work can be easily found and it is this foundation that the reader walks (or runs) along to the unexpectedly gentle ending.

Which might be the only real down point of the work. While not entirely surprising, it feels sort of like the ending that was clearly tacked onto AI after Haley Joel Osment took a plunge into the cold waters. Which isn’t something I can blame King for. Ending on a grim note isn’t something he has made a living at and it’s not something I’ve  exactly complained about in the past after enjoying The Tommyknockers, The Stand or pretty much any damn Stephen King book I lay my hands on.

There’s an obvious connection that can be drawn to Of Mice and Men. The smart one, in both novels, is named George though the George in Blaze decidedly uses his big dumb friend for quite different means though for not altogether different ends.Instead of wandering from farm to farm, breaking their backs to try to work up enough money to buy their own place, George and Clay wander from con job to con job, trying to score enough to get out of the business and just settle down.

It also made me think of the old Cagney flick, Angels with Dirty Faces. In Angels, Cagney plays a criminal who grew up with Pat O’Brien who became a priest. They were friends and shared many of the same adventures as youths, including petty theft and what not – except Cagney got caught while O’Brien got away. And this went on to form the rest of their lives. Blaisdell is the one who got caught, not by the cops but by life in general and an abusive, drunk father in particular. Blaze talks not just about the desperation of the dumb and criminal but the inherent roles of chance and fate in our lives and how our existence is shaped and altered by events that lie largely out of our control. When Blaisdell is given the massive dent that comes to define the rest of his life, and loses any hope for the life he was on the path for, it is at a moment where he was effectively powerless to alter events or to prevent them from happening. His existence was at mercy to the gods.

Given the ending of the novel, it could be argued that King makes a further case for the essential goodness of people. Blaisdell was a good kid who fell to horrible circumstances but, in the end, he returns to a basic goodness where his means might be horribly flawed but where his intentions are essentially positive. This could open up a rather messy look into human nature and whether we are born good/bad or whether we are made that way, and it is something that King largely flits across without truly delving into such as when he talks of the farmer who brings in a bunch of youths who, today, would be called disadvantaged and then would have simply been called Trouble.

This could also be seen as a precursor to later works by Stephen King, notably The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. The lovable (or at least agreeable) con at the hands of the unfair system has become a bit of a standby for King and they often result in some of his best work. It’s not hard to look at someone like Blaisdell and see a bit of John Coffey, from Green Mile, there or to look at Law, the headmaster at the school Blaisdell attends, and see the cruel warden and guards of Shawshank.

In the end, Blaze is a solid read from an entertaining writer. It has its rough spots but it’s a good novel for just ploughing through the day with.

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