Stephen King’s latest novel, Blaze, is being released under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. It’s a trunk novel, written in 1973, during the time the other Bachman books were written.
King wrote Blaze just before Carrie. There’s a similarity between the two because both share an outcast protagonist who is a hero and also a villain at the same time. In Blaze, Clayton Blaisdell Jr., known as Blaze, is a mentally slow man. His condition and hardships throughout his life bring out strong pathos in the audience. In the beginning of the novel, a terrible incident of child abuse causes his condition. From then on, the audience feels for him through every mistreating he endures. He’s the hero for them. But he’s also a con man, hence being the villain duping some of the other characters.
His con partner and friend, George, dies before the story takes place, yet Blaze continues to communicate with George, and George talks back. It could be his ghost, or it could all be in Blaze’s head. It’s mostly left to the audience to decide. Either way, this aspect of the story quickly becomes accepted.
Blaze goes for his biggest con yet — the kidnapping of a rich couple’s baby for one million dollars in ransom. To go about it, he uses plans George made before his death, and the help George gives him in their “conversations.”
Blaze is half about everything relating to the kidnapping, and half about Blaze’s earlier years. With the baby, he’s caring, a gentle giant. King shows the point of view of the kidnapping from multiple sides — it’s a very hot case for the police and FBI.
Regarding his early years, as a child, Blaze grew up in Hetton House, a state-run orphanage. He led a hard life. Throughout it, he had only two real friends — George, and his childhood friend, Johnny. A lot of the flashbacks are about Johnny. There are quite a few about George as well, including some about the clever cons they pulled together.
Blaze feels like an homage to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, both having similar main characters — physically and mentally — and both having friendship as a theme. With its strong characterization and action, Blaze is hard to put down and a very fast read. It ranks up in the best half of King’s works.
November 9, 2007 – Angela Crockett for Senses Five Press