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The Dead Zone, by Stephen King
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Viking
Published: 1979
Review Posted: 10/16/2005
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

The Dead Zone, by Stephen King

Book Review by Jeff Edwards

Have you read this book?

A car accident throws John Smith through the windshield and into a coma that lasts nearly five years. When he wakes up, the world has changed around him: his mother has slid deeper into religious mania, his girlfriend is now married and has a child, and Johnny is cursed with second sight - a strange and terrible power that overwhelms him with psychic images when he touches people. After shaking hands with a rising politician and being struck by the certainty of "approaching doom, perhaps even the Armageddon," John faces the ultimate moral dilemma: How far is he willing to go to prevent his vision from coming true?

The Dead Zone is a masterpiece, drenched in an atmosphere of foreboding from its first sentence to its closing paragraphs. One critic described the book as having "a sense of high Greek tragedy." John Smith suffers through the entire story, agonized by a seemingly God-given talent that brings him nothing but sorrow. He remembers his mother's words ("What a power God has given you...He has a job for you") and he saves lives with his talent - but those around him regard Johnny with more fear than gratitude.

Weaving symbolism through his narrative as he did in earlier novels like "The Shining," Stephen King includes serpent similes here to represent John's aversion toward his psychic power ("He had thrown the scarf on the floor where it lay like a twisted white snake," "Touching that coat had been like touching a writhing coil of snakes," "He looked at [the phone] the way a man might look at a snake he has just realized is poisonous"). King also uses the Wheel of Fortune to imply that life is like roulette and the odds are against us. But the book's central image is a half-Jekyll, half- Hyde face ("His arm cast a shadow and she saw with something very like superstitious fear that his face was half-light, half-dark," "That red left eye - and the scar running up his neck - made that half of his face look sinister and unpleasant"). Foreshadowed by a Halloween mask that Johnny wears briefly as a joke, the image becomes more complicated and disturbing as the book progresses. Although John is compelled to do the right thing for the greater good, his outward appearance deteriorates into a scarred and haggard young man, obsessively filling notebooks with newspaper clippings and nighttime scribbling.

Perhaps in an attempt to lighten the mood while writing such a dark book, King playfully scatters references to his own novels: Tibbets' Garage, a Marsten gravestone, and a mention of Jerusalem's Lot are all nods to "Salem's Lot"; Flagg Street is named after a character from "The Stand." King even has a character shout, "It's his fault, that guy there! He made it happen! He set it on fire by his mind, just like in that book 'Carrie.'" The Dead Zone also includes seeds of ideas that King later nurtured into full-length novels. A dog near the beginning of the story might have inspired "Cujo" ("[A] big mean farm dog advanced out of the barn, its ears laid back...It kept coming, big and mean"), and another passage must have intrigued King enough to write "Christine" ("[M]usic like some mad, dented hot rod that was too tough to die, rumbling out of the dead and silent fifties like an omen").

Within The Dead Zone, a character says, "[S]ome things are better not seen, and some things are better lost than found." But Johnny can't close his eyes to his destiny, no matter how difficult it may be. John Smith never could control the Wheel of Fortune; he only had a premonition about where it would stop.
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