by Richard Bachman
foreword by Stephen King
Published by Scribner
285 pages, 2007
That’s How We Roll
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
I hadn’t intended on reviewing Blaze, Richard Bachman’s posthumous novel. Not because it isn’t a good book -- I pretty much knew that it would be -- but because, on a certain level, there’s just no point in reviewing a novel by Stephen King or, as is the case here, a novel closely associated with him.
See, nothing I say or do here will alter your decision with regards to Blaze. You’re either already a big King fan and have read Blaze or ordered your copy or, at most, are waiting for the book to come out in paper. Or you’re one of those tight-lipped types who were warned about cholesterol when you were 12 and thus avoid it. You were told there were things that were better for you. And while King novels, like stuff with cholesterol, might be delicious, the possible downside haunts your joy, so you don’t stand in that line. And, either way, my words won’t alter your resolve. You’ll either read this and nod your head in agreement or toss your hair in indignation. I’m fine with either reaction. Or both. But, either way, most of the time I figure my energy is better spent telling you about books you might not have gotten wind of, rather than those you come to with predetermination.
So I decided not to review Blaze. But I’m a big fan of the work of Stephen King -- and with that, of course, Richard Bachman. I have been for as long as I’ve been reading grown-up books. And it seems that, the more sophisticated my palate becomes, the more I revel in the righteous wordsmithing of this continually controversial author. Actually, that’s just a super long way of saying that, even if I never wrote a word about the book, when Blaze tumbled out of the package, I pretty much mewed with excitement and pushed other hands out of the way so I could lay my greedy paws on it. That’s how we roll.
I revised my non-review decision about two-thirds of the way in. Blaze did not envelop me from the very first page, but it didn’t take long. Bachman brings us the title character with the skill we’ve come to expect from this author. We know almost from the beginning that Clay “Blaze” Blaisdell is headed for a bad end. He was born big and bright, but an abusive father dumped him on his head when he was a kid -- not once, but thrice -- leaving him a few lipsticks short of a makeup case. Blaze is at least slow, but he’s also disfigured: you could almost stand a coffee cup in the dent on his head. And it’s a big head. Blaze is six-foot-seven and close to three hundred pounds. A gentle giant in some respects, but certifiable in others. In short, Blaze is someone you’d feel sorry for, but you’d not want to do it at close proximity.
There are moments of complete tenderness in Blaze, but there are far more parts of the book when things are going down -- spiralling down -- and you just want to look away. He’s doomed. Blaze is doomed. And you just know it going in.
And then, as I said, two thirds of the way through, there is this moment of complete beauty. And, in the fullness of the book, it really is just a single moment: a medium-sized paragraph at the end of chapter 18, nothing more. And in this moment you know that, no matter what else is true, in the cosmic sense, in the eternal sense Blaze will be -- has been -- redeemed. The story will end badly for him, it has to, there can be no other conclusion. But at the end of time, when the counting is done, something will count in his favor.
I will not spoil this moment for you. I won’t tell you more about it other than to say it concerns someone named Rufus Wyatt who we meet in that paragraph and never see again. But Blaze’s redemption is total, his recovery here complete. And you know that, whatever else happens to him as the book runs its course -- and you suspect it will not come out well for him in the end -- no matter what else happens, one right thing; one good thing came of his life.
I read this single paragraph -- the one with Rufus Wyatt in it -- and I put the book aside and I wept. I just wept. For the beauty that is the work of Stephen King -- even when he’s disguised as a deceased Richard Bachman -- for his understanding of human spirit and the limits of both human pain and reader endurance.
There’s more that I could tell you about this book. Much more. And a lot of it is interesting stuff. About how it came to be published just now, even though the author died of “pseudonym cancer” back in 1985. There’s stuff I could tell you about -- you know -- the plot; about what happens in the book. Stuff that happens to Blaze, stuff he does and stuff that’s done to him. I won’t, though. Chances are you’ve already read all about it half a dozen times and, if you haven’t, if you’re the least bit interested, you don’t have to look very far to find it. For instance, the publishing history of this book -- the book that almost wasn’t -- is fascinating. But King himself tells that story in a foreword he calls “Full Disclosure” and it’s been written about extensively since.
Only one thing marred my joy in Blaze, and it has nothing at all to do with the author. I suspect I’m not the only reader who paces herself towards the end of the book, keeping on eye on how much story is left and leaving it for what I figure will be the right amount of time. However the last chapter is actually the short story “Memory” which we’re told has “grown into the much longer tale, Duma Key, which Scribner will publish in early 2008.” And as good as that short story is, and as much as I suspect I will enjoy Duma Key when I get a copy into my hands, the way the story was incorporated into the end of Blaze -- without warning -- diminished my joy in an otherwise wonderful tale. Or two wonderful tales, depending on how one counts such things.
But as far as gripes about books go, this is small potatoes. King is a wonderful storyteller and Blaze is a wonderful story. Get a copy, find a comfy chair, then let the magic roll you home. | August 2007
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and a contributor to The Rap Sheet. Her fourth novel, Death Was the Other Woman, will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in January 2008.