(April 19 – 28)

Firestarter paperback cover
Another fairly routine cover in a series that is admittedly growing on me. I like that this is vaguely reminiscent of the iconic Drew Barrymore focused film poster.

We’re currently in a bit of a plateau in the Stephen King bibliography:a run of books that are still regarded as King Classics (at least by me) but are nevertheless caught between the twin shadows of The Stand and It.

Once again, Firestarter comes bereft of any author’s notes, forcing me to resort to rampant speculation in determining how this novel came to be. It’s quite a different book for King; like The Dead Zone, it leans more towards thriller than horror; and also like The Dead Zone (which was strongly episodic) it finds the author playing with structure. Firestarter plunges right down to business, with us readers joining the plot about halfway through. Most of the missing pieces are filled in through various flashbacks scattered across the first half of the novel. 

Due to this spirit of experimentation (and given that The Dead Zone was King’s first novel to become a top ten bestseller), I suspect this plateau is showing us a relatively confident Stephen King trying out different ways of telling stories. However, I also wonder if Firestarter perhaps started out as a short story and simply continued to grow. Given the efficient opening, you can almost imagine the opening chapter being a self-contained short story until it’s author decided this one had legs.

There are few overt tie-ins to other King novels that I noticed–no Castle Rock this time, no manically religious characters, no alcoholism, no main characters who also happen to be writers–but obviously the concept of a young child with supernatural powers, and that power being sought after by another entity, is not a million miles removed from The Shining.

As with The Dead Zone I’d probably say this is not Essential King, but as we’re still at a stage where it seems impossible for the man to write a bad book it’s definitely worth a read if it takes your fancy.

The Adaptations

There is only one adaptation of Firestarter; a 1984 movie that by all accounts is a complete stinker. I have not watched it, and I’m not planning to make any room in my schedule to do so.

More excitingly, there is a second movie adaptation in the works: produced by Blumhouse and starring Zac Efron. Given the typically high quality of Blumhouse productions, I will almost certainly be checking this one out. 

Also: Zac Efron playing a Dad???

The Reading

This one was a bit of a slow starter for me (see what I almost did there? No wait, I should have gone with ‘slow burn’ .. dammit!). I remember having read it way back when I was first discovering Stephen King, but almost everything else about it had since escaped my memory. Not a great endorsement, and accordingly I went into this book with some apprehension.

As mentioned, it didn’t start off great. The big problem with starting a story with people already on the run is that you have nowhere to go. You’re already in a tense place, so you can only decrease the tension. Plot-wise you’re in a dead-end–they carry on running, which gives you more of what you’ve already been reading; or they get captured or escape, which potentially ends the story.

Luckily, Stephen King is a bit smarter than that. The plot of Firestarter, while engaging enough, isn’t especially original; but what King does have going for him is his superb ability to craft characters. It didn’t end up taking that long for me to get caught up in this story of a father and his daughter, and all the while King slowly introduces a small handful of other characters. All of this leads to a second half of the book which is completely different to where we’ve been previously, and is entirely driven by the relationships between the characters (two in particular).

It’s safe to say there are some parts of this one that will stay with me much longer than following my first read.