Blaze by Richard Bachman

Title: Blaze

Author: Richard Bachman (pen name used by Stephen King)

Hardcover: pages 286

Publisher: Scribner (A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc)

Publish Date: June 2007

ISBN: 9781416554844

One hungover Saturday morning when not much was doing, Clayton Senior staggered out of the bedroom in the second-floor apartment he and his son shared while Clay was sitting crosslegged on the living room floor, watching cartoons and eating Apple Jacks. “How many times have I told you not to eat that shit in here?” Senior inquired of Junior, then picked him up and threw him downstairs. Clay landed on his head.

His father went down, got him, toted him back upstairs, and threw him down again. The first time, Clay remained conscious. The second time, the lights went out. His father went down, got him, toted him upstairs, and looked him over. “Fakin sonofabitch,” he said, and threw him down again.

“There,” he told the limp huddle at the foot of the stairs that was his now comatose son. “Maybe you’ll think twice before you tote that fucking shit into the living room again.”

Unfortunately, Clay never thought twice about much of anything. He lay unconscious in Portland General Hospital for three weeks. The doctor in charge of his case voiced the opinion that he would remain so until he died, a human carrot. But the boy woke up. He was, unfortunately, soft in the head.

So began the life of Clayton “Blaze” Blaisdell, Jr. the main character of this noir homage to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Stephen King, Richard Bachman’s real name, writes in the foreword that Blaze is a “trunk novel,” which is to say a manuscript written long ago which the author decided was unworthy of publication at the time, but now that he’s a famous author he’s pulled it out, dusted it off and shipped it to print. Well… not exactly. Actually, Blaze went through some rewriting and editing and updating. Where as Blaze had grown up in post WWII America, the new-and-improved, modernized Blaze grew up in “America, Not All That Long Ago,” as King calls it. It’s an interesting mix of old and new: George says “Shag, baby,” others say “far out” and the money goes a LOT farther in the book with dime payphones and $200 buying a complete baby outfitting, from the ground up (crib, changing table, clothes, formula, the works!).

Blaze is, as I said, a noir homage to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Just imagine what that classic novel would have been like if Stephen King had written it: George is a small time con-artist looking for that big score he can retire on, Blaze… well, he’s still a huge hulking man with the mentality of a 10 year old who doesn’t know his own strength and who relies on George to know what to do. George is still a gruff, insulting, small man for whom (Lenny) Blaze would do anything for, including jump off a building or in Blaze’s case, take 2 years in prison and not rat out his friend. And oh yeah, in King’s version of OMaM, George is a ghost and Blaze has a sixth sense about things.

Blaze is a character you can feel sympathy for. A rough childhood in Hetton House, lovingly dubbed “Hell House” by John, Blaze’s only friend, the state-run orphanage. He’s huge, standing 6’7″ and 270 lbs, with the power of life and death literally in his strong hands. As a kid and teen he stands up for his friends and protects them, even pursues vengence for them from their bullies. He’s lonely and alone, with George as his only friend. Blaze could have turned out to be a good, law abiding person had he had the right influence, as it was he fell in with criminals and therefore became one himself, though never really grasping the morality of the right and wrong of their activities.

When Blaze decides to carry out “the big score” that George had planned out before his untimely death, which was the kidnapping of a wealthy couple’s six-month-old baby, he inevitably fails to cover all his tracks, thus dooming the caper before it’s even begun.

Blaze has no desire to hurt the baby, but George tells him he has to because the baby will just slow him down. He grows very attached to little Joe and decides to collect the ransom and run away with the money and the baby, like he’s a puppy to carry off (and remember what Lenny did to his puppy ;-) ).

As I loved Of Mice and Men, and Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, you will no doubt guess that I also loved Blaze. Though it’s more like a crime thriller than say, a psychic psychotic murderous prom princess, it’s still noticeably King. And though it’s not my favorite SK book, it’s definitely an excellent read that never gave away it’s ending. The book also includes a short story called “Memory,” which later became Duma Key, the book that I believe is King’s masterpiece. Well written and constructed, Blaze gets 4 out of 5 stars.

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