Monday, October 28, 2013

The Dead Zone

The Dead ZoneThe Dead Zone by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Johnny Smith wakes from a coma with the psychic ability to read a person when he touches them. Will he use this ability for good or for selfish reasons? And what's the deal with this Greg Stillson character that's swiftly becoming a heavy hitter in the political realm?

Sometime in early 2013, I resolved to read some of the Stephen King books I missed during my binge around the turn of the century. Along with The Shining and It, the Dead Zone is something I'm surprised I hadn't read years ago.

The Dead Zone has a simple enough premise: Johnny Smith returns from a coma with clairvoyance. What King does is turn it into a story of a man deciding how to use those abilities, whether or not to play God. And he does it fairly well.

Some of Stephen King's books are so overwritten that I think if I was in an elevator with Stephen King and asked him what time it was, he would tell me how to build a clock. Not so with the Dead Zone. This is King at his leanest and meanest, when he was still trying to be Richard Matheson and John D. MacDonald rather than the author no editor could tame. It reads more like a crime book than King's later works.

From reading On Writing, I thought this book would focus on Johnny Smith vs. Stillson, but that only happens in the last 20% of the book. It's not a trial version of 11/22/63 like I originally thought. Mostly, it's a man trying to play with the hand he's been dealt.

It's a pretty gripping read but it's not one of my favorite King books. I like the story but the only characters I felt any kind of attachment to were Johnny and his father. I was surprised by the ending, though, but I guess I shouldn't have. Stephen King was just getting started tearing the guts out of his readers at this point.

One thing I'm not sure if I liked or not: One of the characters references the book Carrie. In the context of the Dark Tower series, does this mean The Dead Zone takes place in the Keystone world where Stephen King is writing the saga? I think it does. On the other hand, it also mentions Castle Rock. Does Carrie not take place in the universe as most of King's other books? Things to ponder...

The Dead Zone is a good early Stephen King book and probably the best book I've ever read that was turned into a movie starring Christopher Walken. That's about all I have to say about that. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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