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Firestarter, by Stephen King Book Review | SFReader.com
Firestarter, by Stephen King Genre: Dark Fantasy Publisher: Viking Published: 1980 Review Posted: 7/4/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10
Firestarter, by Stephen King
Book Review by Jeff Edwards
Have you read this book?
Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie are on the run, barely staying one step ahead of a shadowy government organization known as The Shop. Back in college, Andy and his girlfriend participated in an experimental drug test for some quick cash - and although they both gained some telepathic abilities as a result, it's their daughter that The Shop wants. Her talent is pyrokinesis - starting fires with her mind. Andy has taught Charlie to suppress her power, but agents of The Shop plan to persuade the little girl to see things their way.
Only six years into his career as a best-selling novelist, Stephen King's well of ideas briefly ran dry with Firestarter, published in 1980. The author who later wrote a short story about auto-cannibalism seems to be cannibalizing his own work here - as if King asked himself, "What would happen if a man like John Smith from 'The Dead Zone' had a daughter like the girl from 'Carrie'?" Firestarter often feels like reheated leftovers from earlier books. After Andy overuses his mental powers, King writes, "[B]lood seeped from a minute rupture in his brain and a number of brain cells grew white and died." The passage could just as easily be describing Smith's physical degeneration in "The Dead Zone." And when King mentions that Charlie's "fear, confusion, and desolation had begun their perhaps inevitable change into a bright, hard gem of anger," he is echoing the emotional roller coaster that preceded the final scenes of destruction in "Carrie."
Firestarter begins in medias res, and while this method throws readers into the chase on page one, it also robs them of the slow build-up so effective in earlier King novels like "Salem's Lot." The rich imagery often found in King's previous work has also been abandoned - the metaphors are few and far between. Passages like, "[T]he May wind beat strongly through the elms...as if an invisible river ran through the air" are the exception rather than the rule.
Stephen King has been criticized for his portrayal of "Magical Negroes," such as Dick Hallorann in "The Shining" and John Coffey in "The Green Mile." In Firestarter, King adds another stereotype to the crowd: the "Mystical Indian." John Raintree - half Cherokee and scarred Vietnam vet - is an assassin-for-hire obsessed with death. At first, he speaks in an oddly formal, chilling way: "I look at my new wristwatch in the dark of night. It tells me that I am closer to my death, second by second. That is good news." But his folksy interactions with Charlie later in the book dilute his potency: "It's like poker, Charlie. If you ain't dealin from strength...why, you just ain't dealin...This is your uncle John talking to you. Do you hear what I'm sayin?" Misleading Charlie in order to gain her trust, Raintree reveals himself as just another deceitful man who would lie to a little girl in order to achieve his own selfish goals.
One of the characters in the novel knows "as every adult knows in his secret heart that nothing is really all right, ever." First in "The Dead Zone," and then in Firestarter, King turned his attention away from vampires and ghosts and toward a more modern, post-Watergate evil - government officials pursuing their own hidden agendas. While frightening, King's conspiracy theories pale in comparison to the more primal horror found in his previous books. Firestarter is one of the least satisfying novels of Stephen King's early career.
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