Although there is nothing I like better than to pick up a 1000 page novel by this extraordinary storyteller, sometimes less is better. This is one of those times. A simple plot, great characters, and a perfect ending.
Blaze is a big hulking galoot who doesn’t have much going on in the brains department, complements of his abusive father. Irretrievably damaged with a dent in the middle of his forehead, he is removed from the home and plopped into the uninviting lap of the state orphanage. After a particularly horrendous placing in a foster home, he is returned to the orphanage. Surprisingly, Blaze grows up to be a gentle giant, eager to please and thus, easy to manipulate, a veritable tool in the hands of a smalltime con-artist, George.
Our characters are rather eccentric, and I think they were wrote this way on purpose, kind of like the good cop, bad cop routine. George, the evil go-getter who thinks he is entitled to everything, and then there is Blaze, who worships the ground George walks on and would do anything he says. King tips his hat to Steinbeck in this one, it being a shadow of Of Mice and Men
The links are very apparent when Blaze gets another break from the orphanage to work on a farm as part of a summer work program. He falls in love and gains the attention and respect of the farm’s owner, a Mr. Bluenote. It looks like things will finally work out for Blaze. Bluenote doesn’t want to send Blaze back to Hetton House. He wants to keep him on the farm as a hand, train him, and help him along. It sounds perfect, but on the last day of the program Bluenote has a heart attack and dies on the spot. All that hopeful future blows up in his face, and Blaze is back at Hetton House.
“Memories are contrary things; if you quit chasing them and turn your back, they often return on their own.”
Blaze is written in a way that readers will feel bad for him at one point, and then angry at him the next, so they end up on a fence, do I like him or do I not? Clayton Blaisdell Jr. may be a sweet, somewhat interesting character, but he has a dark, murderous side, and so much bad luck that Thomas Hardy could have created him.
The story slowly comes to its peak as Blaze meets a George who uses Blaze to work a series of low-level cons. George decides that kidnapping is the big score, a way to get rich for life. George picks a perfect victim too, the newly born son of wealthy parents who live in an all-too-easily-accessed gated community. The baby’s name is Joe Gerrard.
“Blaze himself was pretty sure he himself was going to hell, as were most other people. It was a dirty world, and the longer you lived, the dirtier you got.”
I don’t usually root for kidnappers, but I honestly do believe that neither Blaze nor George had any intention of harming the kid. So in a sense, I started cheering for Blaze, hoping that things would work out for him. Of course, given Blaze’s luck, we know that couldn’t happen. George is killed in a gambling fight before the kidnapping can even take place and Blaze is left to carry out the crime all by himself. What follows is a study in poor decision-making, disastrous mistakes, and more bad luck… though at least Blaze doesn’t listen to those voices that urge him to kill the baby. In fact, he learns to love the kid. But the outcome is just as disastrous and inevitable.
Much like some of the other Bachman stories, the brevity and focus on a single individual really shows how well King can flesh out a character when he’s not using them as props to keep a 600+ page narrative moving. Though not quite as edgy as “Rage” or “The Long Walk” this is right up there with Stephen King’s better shorter works. Despite being begun at the same time as those other stories, it has a much more mature feel (though, I’m not sure how much of that is original, and how much came from revisions prior to publishing).