Reviews

Blaze by Richard Bachman

Confession? I have never read Of Mice and Men. I am well aware of how literarily shameful this is. No need to point it out.

However, I have read The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (the latter of which is best consumed as a sleep aid). This makes up for it, no? I don’t know how I’ve avoided Of Mice and Men thus far, but it is notably absent from my reading history. If you’re a Stephen King enthusiast, this is good. It means that I have, in all honesty, no idea what anyone’s talking about when they say Blaze is a rip-off of Steinbeck’s beloved novella. Although I do believe King preferred to think of Blaze as a modern homage to Of Mice and Men, I just found it to be a satisfying, rather sentimental story. If you thought the previous paragraph sounded like a sub-par justification for omitting the classics, you might be right (because who needs Charlton Heston’s Planet of the Apes when you can watch Mark Wahlberg’s instead…?).

Blaze

Blaze tells the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr. – known as Blaze. Blaze has the best of intentions, but he has a soft heart and an ever softer mind. A gentle giant if you will. At 6’7” and 300lbs, he has the size to intimidate the average person, but that’s never what he intends. He drifts along, always on the outskirts of society, until he meets George Rackley, a small-time, small-statured con artist who convinces Blaze to join him. Together, they pull a variety of small cons until George thinks up the big score. George, with the help of Blaze, plans to kidnap a wealthy man’s infant son and hold him for ransom. Unfortunately, George dies before he has a chance to carry out this plan, though his voice continues to haunt Blaze, working to convince him to attempt it alone.

It’s clear from the beginning that Blaze has zero chance of being successful. He is a hulking man-child who cannot remember to brush his teeth; he is in no way capable of initiating and completing a high-profile kidnapping. George’s voice continually berates him until he’s willing to do so. Through sheer luck, he procures what he needs to care for the baby and access to the property. Throughout the narrative, King weaves in flashbacks to Blaze’s abusive childhood. It is well-paced and heart-wrenching.

Of what I’ve read of his work, Blaze is the closest thing to sentimental that King has written. It’s subtle and surprisingly pleasant. This novel, written before Carrie and relegated to trunk novel status, is very fine, pared down storytelling. Blaze is not a bad man; he’s just a malleable one who ends up in a bad situation at the wrong time. Because King can be rather merciless, I was surprised at how moving the story of Blaze is. This is a well-done character study of a man who had no business committing this crime, but feels compelled to do so to please one of the only friends he’s ever had (the scene where he call collects to leave his ransom demands and leaves his name illustrates this particularly well). Despite looking like a simple thug to the outside world, Blaze more than earns a reader’s sympathies. I’m glad Stephen King pulled this manuscript out of the trunk (or the University of Maine’s Fogler Library Stephen King collection, as the case may be). If you’re looking to read Stephen King without reading what’s considered “typical” King, this is a good place to start. 3.5/5.

Do you read modern retellings of classic literature? Do you always read the classic first? Should you even redo something that was already done well? In this case, I didn’t read the inspiration, and I don’t know that this updated version has inspired me to do so. Tangentially related, I just found out that they are planning to remake Rosemary’s Baby. Just…no. Thoughts?

Salsa

Blaze’s favorite food is pineapple, he’s convinced he could eat it morning, noon, and night and never get his fill. While he prefers the kind in a can (because he can drink the syrup), I’m recommending this grilled tomatillo and pineapple salsa. However good you think it might be, I promise you it’s better.

1/2 (photo by Jennifer Causey)

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