My Year of King, #6-The Dead Zone

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

...or, alternately, "John Smith's Unbelievably Bad Luck". The Dead Zone, one of King's earliest books, may be best known to some readers as the title of a show loosely based on King's work starring 80s teen movie nerd turned hunka hunka hotness Michael Anthony Hall. Like many movies and television shows based on King's work, the writers went pretty far afield from the source material, though the basic premise stayed the same.

In The Dead Zone, Johnny Smith, twenty-something high school teacher and genuinely nice guy, isevent, and sees the terrible future that awaits us all if the man is elected to office. John has a choice to make; ignore his vision, try to get people to believe what he saw is true, or take matters into his own hands.
feeling at the top of the world. He has a job he loves teaching English, and a girlfriend he is quickly falling in love with. He has a rather complicated relationship with his parents, especially his ultra-religious mother, but generally speaking, his life is going in what is, as far as he is concerned, the right direction. Due to a fall he took as a child, which he doesn't even remember, he occasionally gets flashes of insight (read: glimpses of the past and future) from people or objects that he touches. When he and Sarah, his girl, take a late fall visit to a visiting carnival, Johnny gets one of his flashes at the Wheel of Fortune (a bit on the nose, Mr. King), and wins $500, a fortune for a young teacher in 1979 (and frankly, 2018). But this good luck came with a price. On his way home from the carnival, he is in a head-on collision with a drag-racing teenager, and spends the next four years in a coma. When he wakes up, his girlfriend has married someone else, his mother's religiosity has become a mania, and his ability to see the past and future is amped up by a magnitude of a lot. Every time he touches a person or an object, there is a chance that he will see that person's future in his mind. This is a terrible burden, and his use of this ability to save a woman's house from a fire and catch a serial killer gain him notoriety he is neither prepared for nor happy about. But these events pale in comparison when he shakes a politician's hand at a campaign

It is impossible to dislike John Smith. He is a good guy. He's enlightened by 1979 standards. He is a teacher, a good one according to King's description. He treats his girlfriend with gentleness and loving care. And then, this thing happens to him that completely derails his life.  I spent the rest of the book feeling sorry for him in one way or another; he loses his girl, he loses his career, he's hounded by the media, his mother goes insane. This ability that he never asked for and doesn't want destroys any real chance at happiness that he had.

I did feel as though this book is almost three loosely related novellas rather than one cohesive book. The first is the period of Johnny's love affair with Sarah, accident, and recovery. The second, the hunt for the Castle Rock Strangler. The third is his plan and showdown with Greg Stillson, politician extraordinaire and sociopath. It surprised me how quickly the Castle Rock Strangler storyline was resolved. It seemed, from the way the character of Frank Dodd was introduced, that he would be the "Big Bad" that Johnny had to battle. When he was caught so easily, I wondered where the story was going. King is a known political junkie (very liberal, thank you very much), so I'm not really surprised by his decision to make a politician the ultimate evil in the book. He often portrays politicians as vain, venal, and corrupt in his novels. But it seems like the average reader would be more interested in catching serial killers than in stopping sociopathic politicians. But I guess I don't give the average reader enough credit, because this book was a huge best-seller just like almost all of his books are.

This is the first appearance of Sheriff George Bannerman, who works with Johnny to find the Castle Rock Strangler. Bannerman plays a much bigger role in later novel as the sheriff of Castle Rock, until his tragic death a few books from now. This is not the first book to mention Castle Rock, but it is the first book where Castle Rock is an important location in the arc of the story. One of the things I have always appreciated as a Constant Reader of King's work is the way he works references to his other books and stories into the novels and stories that follow. As someone who has read almost all of his work, it feels like a reward every time I understand a reference to some other character, event, or location and know that other readers who aren't as well-versed in King's oevre might not. I suppose that's super nerdy, but in these days when fandoms and nerdgasms are a regular part of pop culture, I'll own that label.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Penny for your thoughts...