Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Return of the King

I have been going around with a big smile on my face but an ache in my heart this week, and all because I finally got my hands on a copy of Stephen King’s 1973 novel Blaze, which he is about to release under his pen name, “Richard Bachman.” The book is set to reach bookstores on June 12 in both the UK (from Hodder & Stoughton) and in the States (from Scribner).

The reason for my grin is my knowledge that Blaze was completed on February 15, 1973, at around the same time King was writing his better-known Salem’s Lot. That was also the period when I first discovered King’s work, which helped me to appreciate the written word with a fever. Blaze is really a novella written in the same haunting style as the stories contained in King’s 1982 collection, Different Seasons: “The Breathing Method,” “Apt Pupil,” “The Body,” and “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” In fact, Shawshank Penitentiary receives a few mentions in the very moving and engaging Blaze. I consider the stories in Different Seasons to be amongst King’s best, and Blaze easily matches that quality. I couldn’t have been happier than to learn that King was releasing a “lost” work from that period. On the evening I found this book in the mail at home, my wife and children heard me yelp--and I mean a loud yelp--as I realized what Hodder & Stoughton’s Kerry Hood had sent my way.

But the ache in my heart comes from this author’s announcement, in a new introduction to Blaze, that this will be his last work under the Bachman guise.

King aficionados had known about Blaze for many years, but never thought he’d actually release such an early work. However, last year, as he toured the UK talking about his latest novel, Lisey’s Story, the plot of which revolves around a writer’s wife clearing out her late husband’s office, King made mention of Blaze and the return of Richard Bachman.

From King’s Web site, November 28, 2006:
Many of you have been asking for more information about publication of Blaze following Steve’s mention of it on his recent Lisey’s Story book tour. This is another Bachman novel which he recently rediscovered. The original manuscript of Blaze was 173 pages long and was written in 1973. He has rewritten the first 100 pages. A lot of it needed editing to make it more timely since the 1973 references no longer worked. He’s hoping to get it done by the end of the year. No publication deal has been signed, but he’s sure there will be one.
Then followed this quote from King at the fan site Lilja’s Library:
I have been thinking about [Blaze] off and on for a while and every time I would think about it ... you know I did the early books as Richard Bachman books and this is going to be a Bachman because it came from the same time. It was written right before Carrie, and finally I thought to myself ... the reason I’ve never done it was because, in my memory at least, it was a tearjerker of a book, you know it was kind of sentimental and just kind of ... every now and then I think of what Oscar Wilde said about “The Little Match Girl.” He said that it’s impossible to read about the little match girl without weeping tears of laughter and ... you know something that is so sad it’s actually funny.
Blaze is a heart-wrenching melodrama about the misadventures of Claiborne Blaisdell Jr., aka “Blaze,” a boy brought up by an alcoholic and abusive father. Blaze is the victim of a dreadful incident, which leaves him brain-damaged and slow-witted. Blaze, however, is a big lad, a giant if you will, but a gentle giant perplexed both by the terrible things that haunt our world and by the cruelty inflicted upon him. We see Blaze sent to an orphanage where he is mistreated, but survives by his good nature, and then how he befriends a more intelligent but weaker boy named John Cheltzman. Depending on each other, they survive the rigors of the orphanage. Amidst all of this cruelty come moments of magic, such as when the orphans pick blueberries in the summer for the kind and fair-minded Harry Bluenote. In terms of structure and theme, Blaze shares a chord or maybe more with “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” which was about how friendship and hope can get you through the hardships of life. But you can see how Blaze is heading toward tragedy, after the naïve boy befriends a criminal, George Rockley, who thinks he’s worked out the perfect scam: to kidnap a baby from a wealthy Maine family and hold it for a multimillion-dollar ransom. The gentle giant Blaze, though, hasn’t the intelligence to pull this plot off, and his love for the child will be his undoing.

For me, this story is a gem and I am so glad that Stephen King found and issued it. For the few hours it took to unravel, I sat mesmerized before Blaze, my hands glued to the covers of this little treat. I was only sad to finish, knowing that this is probably the last of King’s early work I will ever read, as opposed to re-read.

You think I’m making too much of this? Sample the first two chapters of Blaze here, and then let me know if your opinion is changed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For some reason Carrie didn't grab me the first time I read it. But Salem's Lot made me a King fan forever. He's done more to throw off the shackles of popular fiction than any writer I can think of. Ed Gorman