Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
There is just something about a new year.
I know that the calendar is simply a human construct, and really pretty meaningless, maybe even random, if you really think about it.
But I still love the concept of a new year.
It reminds me of when I buy new art supplies, for example. I know that I have bought most of this stuff before, and I am just recharging my already ample supply (luckily, my husband is understanding, although he would not agree that it’s not hoarding if it’s art supplies.)
But still, every time I
hoard buy new art supplies, I get that feeling of new possibilities. No limits. And I can start anew.
And that is how I feel about 2017.
Especially after the horror movie otherwise known as 2016, that will probably be struck from the history books.
Seriously, those school kids in the future will likely have some gap in their books (or whatever will pass for books in 2297) that covers 2015, 2017, 2018 and so forth.
But yet there will be a gap, in that 2016 will be skipped over. And I am sure that the parents (or robot nannies) of the future will have fun trying to explain that one.
In other words, 2016 was pretty scary. I mean, who wrote 2016…Stephen King or somebody?
Oh, speaking of which…
In case you forgot which blog you were reading…
Yes, we are starting out 2017 with a review of a Stephen King book…who knew?!
And for this month’s review, we are going back in time…
All the way back to the beginning, in fact.
Now, I know that King started off his writing career at a fairly young age, and spent years trying to get his work published.
In other words, I am sure there are lots of early works by The Master somewhere out there, for our reading pleasure.
But, for the purposes of this humble lil ole blog, we are going to focus on The Master’s first published book (and also the first of his books to be turned into a movie, which is still a classic.)
So, we are going to be reading and dissecting the novel Carrie.
The book with the infamous shower scene.
The book that makes you want to get a T-shirt that says “I survived my high school prom and all I got was this bloody T-shirt!”
(See what I did there?)
Carrie was the first published book by Stephen King.
It set the precedent for horror and also for book-to-screen adaptations.
Even non-King fans (gasp) can probably recite lines from the movie, and probably even know that is based on a Stephen King book.
Carrie is a huge part of popular culture. And there is a reason for that: it discusses themes that everyone can relate to, including puberty, bullying, parental abuse and a few others.
So, strap in, Constant Constant Reader, and get ready for the wild ride otherwise known as Carrie!
And, as always:
The book begins with an account of stones mysteriously falling from the sky, in the proximity of a house that a woman named Margaret White lives in, along with her toddler daughter Carrietta White. No one is ever able to explain why the stones fell from the sky, although people do not seem to be surprised that such an odd phenomena would occur in the vicinity of that particular house.
The story then jumps forward several years. Carrie White is now a teenager attending Ewen High School in Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie does not fit in at her high school and is bullied mercilessly by her peers.
The bullying reaches a peak one morning, when Carrie begins her first menstrual period at the age of nearly 17. Carrie does not understand what is happening to her and thinks that she is bleeding to death in the showers of the gym at her school.
Almost at once, the other girls begin to torment Carrie, throwing tampons and menstrual pads at her, demanding that she “plug it up.” Susan Snell, who generally does not bully other students, participates in tormenting Carrie, although Sue realizes that Carrie may not actually understand what is happening to her and that Carrie may also be genuinely terrified.
We then learn the story of Carrie’s birth. Her mother, Margaret White, was in denial that she was pregnant, as her religion proclaims that any sexual intercourse is a sin. Margaret gives birth to Carrie at home, with no medical assistance. Margaret was alone, because Carrie’s father had passed away several months earlier.
Ms. Dejardin, Carrie’s physical education teacher, puts a stop to the attack. She does not punish Sue and the other girls right away, but dismisses them so that she can help Carrie.
Ms. Desjardin then escorts Carrie to the principal’s office. She tries to explain menstruation to Carrie, but Carrie is too upset to listen. The principal, Mr. Morton, then dismisses Carrie for the day, after Ms. Desjardin gives him an explanation of what happened. Ms. Desjardin also states that she will punish those responsible for the incident, and Mr. Morton allows the punishment to be her own.
Carrie walks home from school, upset about the treatment she has endured from her classmates over the years. Carrie is also aware that she is different because she has the ability to move objects with her mind. This was demonstrated earlier when she forced a light bulb to explode and an ash tray to fall off Mr. Morton’s desk. Carrie is able to knock a child off his bicycle when he torments her as she as walking home, and realizes that she may be able to control this gift, with practice.
We then read the account of the incident from Carrie’s childhood when the stones fell from the sky. The incident is told from the perspective of Carrie’s former neighbor, who is being interviewed for a publication.
Carrie arrives home that morning, and finds the sanitary napkins her mother has hidden in the house. She is no longer frightened, as she realized that menstruation is a normal part of growing up, although she is embarrassed, as she previously thought that sanitary napkins were used to remove lipstick. Carrie also desires to break free of her mother’s constricting religious beliefs, and to fit in with her peers.
However, Carrie is also angry, and breaks a mirror in an expression of her anger.
The story then switches to the perspective of Sue Snell. Sue is dating a boy named Tommy Ross, who is the most popular boy in school. The two have recently become lovers, and Sue begins to contemplate a future with Tommy and realizes that she has fallen in love with him. That night, when the two are on a date, Sue confesses what happened that morning in the shower to Tommy, as she is upset with herself. Tommy listens to Sue and suggests that Sue apologize to Carrie for her part in the incident. However, Sue is unable to come up with a solution to her problem, and still feels badly for what happened.
That evening, Carrie faces the wrath of her mother, Margaret. Margaret believes that her daughter has sinned because she is now menstruating, and forces Carrie into a small closet to pray for forgiveness. Margaret also strikes her daughter. However, Carrie pushes back, threatening to make the stones come again if Margaret does not stop the abuse.
The next week, Ms. Desjardin confronts the students responsible for the attack on Carrie. Sue Snell is among these students, and accepts responsibility for her part in the incident. However, Chris Hargensen, one of the other responsible students and a school bully, refuses to accept the punishment, and tries to convince Sue and the others to walk out in protest of Ms. Desjardin and her punishment. Sue refuses, and Chris’ refusal results in a suspension and refusal of her prom tickets.
Chris’ father also refuses to accept his daughter’s punishment and attempts to bully the school administrators into reversing the punishment so that Chris can attend prom. The administration, however, stands up to him, and he backs down after he learns what his daughter did to Carrie.
Sue is also forced into a confrontation with Chris, as Chris is angry that Sue did not stand with her in protest of Ms. Desjardin’s punishment. However, Sue tells Chris that she accepts responsibility for her actions. Chris counters, telling Sue that she is a hypocrite and only accepting the punishment so that her prom ticket will not be refused. Sue realizes her hypocrisy, and wonders how to counter it.
Sue continues to feel remorse for her responsibility on the attack on Carrie, and finally has an idea of how to atone. Sue convinces Tommy Ross, her boyfriend, to ask Carrie to the prom. Sue is convinced that if Carrie attends prom, she may finally be able to fit in with her peers. Tommy is reluctant, but finally agrees to Sue’s request. After he agrees, he tells Sue that he loves her.
Tommy approaches Carrie one day between classes, and invites her to the prom. Carrie is skeptical, but is finally convinced and agrees to attend the prom with Tommy. After speaking with Carrie, Tommy realizes that she is far from repulsive.
Carrie decides to use her talent for sewing to make her own prom dress. Carrie also develops her other talent, known as telekinesis, and is able to move larger objects using her mind. She informs Margaret that Tommy has invited her to prom and that she has accepted the invitation. Margaret is furious and attempts to forbid Carrie from attending. Carrie fights back, using her newfound powers, and wins the battle. Carrie emphasizes her desire to fit in with her peers, much to the shock of Margaret.
Word spreads that Sue will not be attending prom and that Tommy will instead be taking Carrie to the prom. It also becomes evident that Chris Hargensen is planning something, although no one is sure what she is planning.
Billy Nolan, Chris’ boyfriend, breaks into a farm one night. Billy and his friends kill a couple of pigs, and drain the bodies of blood, taking buckets of blood with him when he leaves the farm.
Carrie sews her dress and begins to get ready to attend her senior prom. Margaret again fights with her, attempting to persuade Carrie not to attend, but once again, Carrie uses her powers to stand up to her mother. Carrie also tells her mother that she loves her after the confrontation.
Tommy arrives to pick up Carrie, who is extremely nervous, and has even considered not attending the prom. However, Carrie is pleasantly surprised even from the beginning of the evening, as her classmates and her date treat her with respect. The girls are impressed with her dress, and surprised by her talent for sewing. Carrie is further surprised to learn that she and Tommy have been nominated for Prom King and Queen.
While Carrie is attending the prom, her mother Margaret comes to the decision to kill her daughter when she comes home later that night. Margaret has noticed Carrie’s talent for moving objects with her mind from the time when Carrie was baby, and believes that Carrie’s gift is a sin. Margaret contemplated sacrificing her daughter many years ago, but did not. This time, however, she is determined to carry out her plan.
Chris and Billy also carry out their plans to play a prank on Carrie that evening. They sneak into the high school, where Billy has hidden buckets of the pig’s blood in the rafter. They plan to dump the blood on Carrie if she is crowned Prom Queen.
Carrie and Tommy are then nominated as Prom Queen and King. They are crowned onstage. However, when Carrie and Tommy enter the stage to accept their nominations, Chris pulls the strings, and Tommy and Carrie are doused with the pig’s blood. One of the buckets hits Tommy on the head, and he is rendered unconscious. The impact is so severe that Tommy dies in less than an hour.
The audience is first shocked, and then begins to laugh at Carrie, who is also in shock. Carrie escapes from the gymnasium, but uses her powers to unleash the sprinkler system. This causes an electrical fire, and students and teachers frantically attempt to escape from the school, which is now engulfed in flames.
Carrie wanders the town, in a state of madness. She begins to cause more destruction, using her powers to wreak havoc in the town of Chamberlain, Maine.
Eventually, while the town of Chamberlain burns to the ground, Carrie returns to her home. She is met by her mother, Margaret, who is armed with a butcher knife. Margaret then stabs Carrie, believing that she is committing an act mercy in ending her daughter’s life.
However, Carrie is not killed by her mother, as she envisions her mother’s heart coming to a stop. Margaret then dies after her heart comes to a complete stop.
Word of what has happened in Chamberlain reaches Billy and Chris, and they head back into town. However, they also run into Carrie, who takes revenge on them by using her powers to overturn their vehicle. Carrie is hit by the vehicle, and Billy and Chris are killed almost instantly.
Sue Snell is wandering the streets of Chamberlain. She appears to have some sort of telepathic connection with Carrie and knows that Carrie has killed her mother. She also realizes that Tommy and most of her friends have been killed.
Finally, Sue finds Carrie and realizes that Carrie dying. She still shares a telepathic bond with Carrie, although the bond is weakening because Carrie is dying. Carrie is convinced that Sue tricked her and is responsible for the events that occurred that night. However, Carrie probes Sue’s mind, and realizes that Sue bore no ill will towards her and only wanted to help her.
Carrie traps Sue in her mind as she is dying, so Sue also experiences Carrie’s death. Finally, Sue escapes Carrie’s clutches, and realizes that she has gotten her menstrual period, which had been a week late.
At least 409 people have died due to the destruction of the high school and the surrounding town. An autopsy of Carrie White has revealed unusual formations in her brain, and the governor appoints a committee to study the tragedy.
Sue Snell survives the devastation and writes a book about the events.
The town of Chamberlain effectively becomes a ghost town, as people begin to leave. More bodies are discovered, and the funeral business becomes the most active business in Chamberlain.
Some years into the future, a woman writes a letter to her sister. The letter describes an incident with the woman’s infant daughter, who apparently has the ability to move objects with her mind. However, the woman does not fear her daughter, but reveres her instead, believing that the little girl will accomplish great things in the future.
Well, you know what they say…
Big things come in small packages.
Yes, this cliche may be overused, but I cannot think of a better description of the book Carrie.
It may not be a big book, but it packs a big wallop.
Carrie is King’s first published work. King has compared it to a cookie baked by a 6 year old: you can tell it’s a cookie, and it has some nice flavorings, but that cookie is misshapen, burnt on the bottom, etc.
Well, that cookie is some mighty fine eating, and an appetizer for great things to come!
There are so many great things about this little book that it is hard to know where to start our discussion.
First of all, all Carrie has some great villains. And no, the title character is not one of them, although we will discuss her in a bit as well.
No, the villains in this story are Carrie’s mother and her classmates, which mainly include Chris Hargensen.
As I have stated before, one of King’s major strengths as a writer is his ability to write about “real life.”
Making the statement that King writes horror is a severe underestimation of King’s work, almost like making the statement that Aaron Rodgers plays football.
In other words, there is so much more to King (as there is to Aaron Rodgers, as the Dallas Cowboys found out this weekend.)
King writes horror stories, but when you strip away the horror, his stories are about people.
And one of the things that people do is not be nice to each other.
You know, like sheltering your kid her whole life, locking her up in a prayer closet when she does normal kid things and oh, not telling her about the “birds and the bees?”
Margaret White is one of King’s best human villains.
When one says the name Stephen King to most people, they may think of Pennywise the Clown, a girl who can start fires or maybe of the title character of the book we are discussing, who “lost” it and destroyed her high school.
Most people are not going to think of religious fanaticism and how dangerous that fanaticism can be be to an impressionable teenager who only wants what most teenager want, i.e. to fit in with her peers somehow, and to not be the butt of EVER SINGLE horrible practical joke every bully somewhere has dreamed up.
What is great (or is it horrible?) about the character of Margaret White is that she is so plausible.
Margaret White exists in this world today.
Any time I read an article about some kid dying because the parents refused medical treatment for religious reasons, or some adult that escaped a household run by religious fanatics who insisted on homeschooling their children and not allowing their children to date before marriage, I think of Margaret White.
Granted, the outcome in Carrie may be a bit extreme, as most kids don’t kill their abusive parents and many are able to flee those conditions and eventually make better lives for themselves.
But Margaret White still exists. And she is dangerous, as most people do not recognize the actions of the Margaret Whites in our world for what they are: child abuse.
Child abuse does not always mean that a parent hits his/her and leaves bruises (although Margaret was guilty of this, and this is still tragically all too common.)
Instead, child abuse can be more insidious, as when the parent controls all actions of the child, and does not allow opposing viewpoints in the child’s life.
Child abuse can also consist of a parent forcing their viewpoints on their child, and punishing the child for daring to have an opposing viewpoint (the prayer closet in action.)
The book Carrie also has another villain, besides Margaret White.
Or should I say, a set of villains?
In case I am not being clear, I am referring to Chris Hargensen, along with the other sickening half of the dynamic duo…
Yes, Chris is some sort of demented Batman, and that would make Billy some kind of creepy, greasy Robin, I suppose.
When I read about the bullying experienced by Carrie, and the actions (and lack of actions) by her classmates, I was reminded of one of my favorite books as a child.
Judy Blume is similar to King, in that she writes “real life.”
Along with educating me about my anatomy, Ms. Blume also discussed bullying at length in almost all of her books.
However, Blubber was a book devoted to the subject of bullying.
In this book, children gang up on a particular classmate, bullying her ostensibly due to her weight (the title is the cruel nickname they have come up with for this child, in fact), although the real reasons may be a little deeper.
However, Blubber is not told from the perspective of the bully. Nor is it told from the perspective of the victim.
Rather, it is told from the perspective of a bystander, Jill. Throughout the book, we watch Jill evolve, from a fellow bully to a victim to finally someone who becomes enlightened and a more compassionate person.
When I was reading Carrie, I was struck by the similarity between Chris Hargensen and the bullies in the book Blubber, along with the similarity between Sue Snell and the Jill character in Blubber.
Like the bully in Blubber, Chris is charismatic. At the beginning, Chris able to get others to do her bidding.
This includes her not very bright, but very cruel boyfriend, Billy Nolan.
In fact, unlike Chris, Billy does not care very much about Carrie White. He just wants to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on someone, for the thrill of it. Interestingly, Billy also seems to be the only one who understands that criminal charges would be brought against him and Chris if they were caught.
However, throughout the novel, Chris’ “friends” begin to turn away from her.
One of these friends is Sue. Much like the Jill character in Blubber, Sue goes along with the crowd at first.
She wants to be accepted and does not want to “rock the boat.”
However, much like Jill in the book Blubber, Sue begins to evolve.
She does not want to miss her prom, but realizes the effect that the bullying has had on Carrie White.
As the events of the story unfold, Sue begins to evolve.
She realizes that there is more to life than high school, her friends and even Tommy, her boyfriend.
Sue is able to put herself into the shoes of Carrie, and realizes what a horrible time that Carrie has had throughout her life.
This prompts her to “loan” Tommy to Carrie for an evening, so that Carrie may have a few hours of happiness.
And when things go horribly wrong, Sue begins to feel a sense of responsibility.
Sue also reminds us that Carrie was a person, with real thoughts and feelings.
Carrie also seeks out Sue, as her life is ending, and realizes that Sue is not to blame for what happened.
In fact, it seems if Sue is able to offer Carrie one of the few bits of compassion that Carrie has ever received in her life, which eases Carrie’s suffering just a little as she dies.
And last but not least, let’s talk about the title character herself, Carrie.
Now, I know that Carrie is not a terribly long book, and there is not a lot of room to get to know characters on an in-depth basis.
However, King does a good job with the character development in this book. In fact, he does more than good, considering the length of the book.
In the past, people have indicated a dislike for Carrie as a person. Or they simply pity her. Even King has indicated that Carrie is not really a likable character.
However, I respectfully disagree with The Master on that (gasp.)
Maybe it’s because I was bullied as a child. Or maybe it’s because I survived an abusive marriage.
But I find the character of Carrie White to be fascinating, and to me, she is one of King’s more interesting characters.
Throughout much of the book, we see Carrie through the eyes of Carrie herself. And the picture is not flattering, as it would appear that she is overweight and suffering from acne.
However, I was struck when I read the part where Tommy asks her to the prom, and notices that she was “far from repulsive” but this was “the first time he had really looked.”
So was Carrie just invisible when she was not being bullied? I tend to believe this, because I spent most of my childhood being bullied and trying to remain invisible so I would not be bullied. In fact, when my ex boyfriend told me that the guys at our college thought that I had the best legs on campus, I was struck speechless. Really, I don’t think that I even knew that I had legs, much less legs that others may consider to be attractive.
But that’s how it is when you try to remain invisible: you lose sight of yourself, and become invisible to even your own eyes, so you don’t see what others may marvel over.
Throughout the book, Carrie does begin to emerge from her shell. And I began to like that girl on her own merits, much like Tommy Ross.
For starters, I thought Carrie to be a strong woman.
She survived bullying and abuse (from both her peers and her mother) for years, and basically did not flinch. In fact, she tried to take some of the bullying with good humor, even though she (understandably) lost her sense of humor pretty quickly.
To top it off, Carrie did not have a support system at home. Most of us who are bullied have family and friends outside of school, so that we have something worth living for. Carrie did not, although she had a mother who considered anything that may bring her daughter happiness to be a sin.
So anyone who can survive as long as Carrie did under those circumstances is somebody to be admired, not pitied. And I like strong people, as well as admire them. I like people who somehow find a way to push through it, even when the circumstances are not good.
“Hurt people hurt people.”
This is a quote from Laverne Cox, in regards to bullying and harassment. And it applies so well to this book.
Carrie was definitely one of the hurt people.
Her bullies could not even allow her a few moments of happiness, when she was invited to prom by the most popular boy in school and then crowned Prom Queen. At that point, even some of her classmates, like Tommy, had begun to like Carrie on her own merits.
But then a horrible prank was played on her, and as they say, the rest was history.
And my question is: why wouldn’t Carrie “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
In fact, why wouldn’t anyone “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
Throughout the book, the scientific articles are focused on the telekinesis aspect. Should something be done to prevent children from being born with this ability? Can we isolate this gene that is responsible for “Typhoid Mary’s?” Should we test children for “TK ability,” as we test them for tuberculosis? And so forth.
But never once is the most important question asked: What causes people to lash out, as Carrie did?
Personally, I was amazed that Carrie did not lash out sooner, due to the abuse that she endured.
Throughout the book, Carrie is not portrayed as someone prone to violence.
She may have fantasies in regards to revenge on her tormentors, but that would be perfectly normal, in my book.
But constant bullying changes people. I am living proof of that. My childhood ought to be behind me, but it isn’t.
I spent my life being told I was not good enough. So I married an abusive man, because I didn’t think I deserved any better. In other words, I internalized that message.
I still have difficulty making friends. Bullying causes major trust issues, so it is hard to open to people so that they can really get to know you.
So it is no wonder that Carrie used her powers to destroy her school and her town, along with killing her mother.
She had nothing left to live for, as Tommy was killed by the falling buckets. And no friends, as everyone laughed at her when she was hurt. And her mother was the cause of this humiliation, as she failed to educate her daughter in regards to her own body.
So it seems to me that telekinesis is not the problem.
Rather, the problem is man’s inhumanity to man.
The telekinesis is a distraction.
We don’t need to worry about testing kids for TK or isolating any type of gene.
Rather, we need to test kids for bullying tendencies, along with testing parents for abuse tendencies.
Until we recognize bullying and abuse for what they are, hurt people will just continue to hurt people.
And the legacy of the Carrie Whites of the world will continue to live on, with horrific consequences.
Well, that’s it for that tiny package known as Carrie…what a start to the new year!
Join me next month for the read and review of the greatest love story of all time between a boy and his car, aka the novel Christine!
Tune in next month…
Same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though Carrie is the first published Stephen King novel, it connects to his other works, just like nearly every other King novel. Here are some of the connections I found:
-The events in Carrie are referenced by a character in the novel The Dead Zone, and mention is made of a movie based on those events.
-Carrie’s telekinetic abilities are similar to abilities possessed by several other King characters, including Ted Brautigan in Low Men in Yellow Coats (part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Kira DeVore (Bag of Bones), Jake Chambers (The Dark Tower series), Danny Torrance (Doctor Sleep and The Shining), Abra Stone (Doctor Sleep), Tyler Marshall (Black House) and several others.
-In the King universe, Breakers are people who possess psychic abilities and are recruited by the Crimson King and his Low Men (Hearts in Atlantis, Black House and The Dark Tower series) to destroy The Dark Tower, the nexus of all existence. If Carrie had lived, it seems she most certainly would have caught the eye of The Crimson King and his Low Men.
-Religious mania is a running theme in King’s work. Margaret White is similar to several other religious maniacs, including Sylvia Pittson (The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass) and Mrs. Carmody (The Mist, part of the collection Skeleton Crew.)
-Margaret White is employed by Blue Ribbon Laundry. This establishment is featured in the short story The Mangler (part of the collection Night Shift) and in the novel Roadwork, which was originally published as a Richard Bachman novel.
I have read this particular book more times than I can count (and seen the movie, too.)
The themes resonate with me, and I just love the story line. I also love the characters, as they are unforgettable. Stu Redman, Tom Cullen, Nick Andros, Nadine Cross, Harold Lauder…they are forever etched into my brain. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So imagine my excitement when I heard about a “new” The Stand. Not better or anything like that (as if, right?) but another re-imagining, if you will. The same kind of story, just told in a new way.
Sign me up, I said! I’m there, no questions asked!
Well, after the months of anticipation, I finally got the “new” The Stand, aka The Fireman. And The Fireman is written by none other than The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill.
I have read everything that Joe Hill (the son of The Master, aka Stephen King) has ever written. And he has quickly established himself as one of my favorite writers. He comes by the moniker The Master 2.0 honestly. Joe is certainly a chip off the old block, and may (gasp) even do some things better than the old block, although only time will tell on that statement.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Joe Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman.
And, as always:
At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to a young woman named Harper Grayson. Harper is a school nurse, and loves her job. We also learn that there is a massive epidemic that is slowing taking over Harper’s world. The doctors and scientists refer to this plague as Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To the general public, it is known as Dragonscale. Anyone afflicted with Dragonscale first develops black and gold marks across his/her body. At some point, the person afflicted with Dragonscale bursts into flame, dying an agonizing death. There is no known cure for Dragonscale.
One day, Harper and several of her students witness a man burst into flames, due to the effects of Dragonscale. This is a traumatic experience for Harper. She returns home later that night and speaks to her husband, Jakob, who insists that she not continue working at the school, as Jakob is deathly afraid of becoming infected with Dragonscale.
Some months later, we learn that Harper is volunteering at a local hospital that mainly houses patients with Dragonscale. The job is hard, as so many have died from the effects of Dragonscale, but Harper sticks with it.
One day, a man in a fireman’s suit brings in a little boy who is very ill. The man becomes belligerent, stating that the boy’s case is an emergency. After some arguments with the head nurse, the boy is examined and found to have a ruptured appendix. It is also discovered that the boy’s name is Nick, and he is deaf. The doctors operate on the boy, and he stays in the hospital for three days. On the fourth day, the boy has disappeared. The staff at the hospital is puzzled over this, as his room was located on an upper floor, and there are no signs of any forced entry.
While volunteering at the hospital, Harper meets a woman named Renee. Renee is positive and upbeat, doing her best to make sure that those afflicted with Dragonscale get some happiness during their last days. Renee reads to the children, and is not afraid to comfort the dying. Harper becomes friends with Renee, and is devastated to learn that Renee is infected with Dragonscale. One day, while reading to the children, Renee realizes that she will be overcome by the Dragonscale, and makes an exit from the hospital. It is presumed that Renee passes away from the disease, but her body is never found.
Shortly after Renee’s death, the hospital where Harper is volunteering burns down. Her husband, Jakob, offers her comfort, and tells her that he is determined to enjoy life, even if there is not much of that remaining for them. That night, Harper and Jakob make love, and conceive their first child.
Harper soon finds out that she is pregnant. Shortly afterwards, she she also finds out that she has somehow contracted Dragonscale. Upon learning this news, Jakob becomes hysterical and leaves their home. Jakob also begins to pressure Harper to end her life, even though Harper is opposed to this, as she is pregnant.
As the weeks pass by, the hysteria mounts. Infected people are rounded up and put into concentration camps. Some people take it upon themselves to rid the world of infected people, and resort to violence to do so. Harper even receives a visit from some mysterious people in Halloween costumes, who somehow know that she is pregnant and offer prenatal vitamins to her. Harper sees a man in a fireman costume when she sees these people.
One day, Harper makes the call to her brother Conor to let him know that she is pregnant and also infected with Dragonscale. Conor and his wife become very upset at the news, but Harper begs them to take care of her baby, as she is convinced that she can still deliver a healthy baby.
Shortly after the conversation with her brother, Harper receives a visit from Jakob. Jakob is hysterical and is convinced that he has contracted Dragonscale, even though Harper is not convinced of this. Harper is frightened of Jakob, as he has come armed with a gun.
Jakob attacks Harper, but she retaliates by attacking him with a wine glass and is able to escape. She then encounters the mysterious fireman she first met at the hospital, along with a woman named Allie who is wearing a Captain America costume. The fireman fends off Jakob, and Harper realizes that he is also infected with Dragonscale. However, the fireman appears to be able to control the effects of Dragonscale, and is even able to use the affliction as a sort of weapon.
The fireman and Allie lead Harper to a refugee camp that has been set up for those afflicted with Dragonscale. There, Harper encounters Renee, the nurse who she thought had died from the effects of Dragonscale. She also meets a man named Tom Storey, who is referred to as Father Story. We also learn that the fireman’s name is John. Harper is treated for her fractured ankle at the camp, and others also tell her that the Dragonscale can be controlled, and that death is not automatic. Harper also learns that Nick, the deaf boy who was suffering from appendicitis at the hospital, is also a resident at the camp. She also meets a woman named Carol, who is the daughter of Father Storey.
Later on, Harper speaks to Renee, who tells her the story of how she survived the Dragonscale and learned to control it, as opposed to letting it control her. It appears that the Dragonscale responds negatively to distress and positively to happier emotions.
As the months go by, Harper struggles to adjust to life at the camp. The camp begins to run low on supplies, and begins rationing food. Harper also learns that the members of the camp were forced to kill another member, Harold Cross, who was going to betray them to the outside world. This would allow the Cremation Squads, a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to destroy those who are infected with the Dragonscale, to find the camp. Harper also begins to exhibit signs of infection, such as smoke coming from her skin, but still is not able to control the effects of the Dragonscale.
One morning, Harper awakens. Her clothes are burning and she begins to feel that she is going to succumb to the Dragonscale. She heads outside for a walk, and thinks that she hears John, the fireman who secludes himself from the rest of the camp, telling her not to give up. This encourages Harper, and she returns to the camp, feeling somewhat at peace with herself.
Harper volunteers for kitchen duty the first day the rationing comes into effect. She feels a joy when she realizes that people are volunteering to skip a meal so that others may eat. She begins to sing a song from Mary Poppins, and feels a sort of euphoria that is so intense that she even temporarily forgets her own name. At this point, Harper has learned how to control the effects of the Dragonscale, and begins to feel more optimistic.
It is soon revealed that someone is stealing items from women’s dormitory. Father Storey makes a plea for that person to come forward, but no one does. Harper becomes a victim of the thief, who steals the care package that she has made for her unborn child. However, Harper momentarily forgets about the thief, when the fireman, John, makes his way into the camp and tells Harper that he needs her assistance, as there are two more refugees who have made their way into the camp.
While searching for medical supplies to assist the refugees, Harper finds a notebook that had been kept by Harold, the traitor who was killed a few months earlier. Harper puts the notebook aside for the moment, and makes her to the rescue mission.
The rescue mission proves to be difficult, as the group is attacked by a Cremation Squad, which is a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to kill anyone who they believe is infected with Dragonscale. John the fireman is able to distract the squad, and is able to escape with Harper’s help, even though he is injured. Harper notices her husband Jakob on the squad, but he does not recognize her.
Harper helps John back to his cottage, and does her best to tend to his injuries. She is summoned back to the main camp, however, because Tom Storey has also been badly injured. Harper attempts to save Father Storey with her makeshift equipment. He does not die, but does slip into a coma for two months.
The two convicts are accused of attempting to kill Father Storey, despite the lack of evidence. Harper and Renee speak out against this, stating that keeping the men as prisoners in inhumane conditions is wrong.
Harper then heads back to her house, as she needs supplies. She is surprised by the appearance of her husband, Jakob, and two fellow members of his Cremation Squad. One of these men is the Marlboro Man, who is also a conservative radio talk show host. Harper is able to hide from the men, and heads back to the camp several hours later.
After she returns to the camp, Harper heads over to John the fireman’s house. She treats him for his injuries to the best of her ability, and learns the story of how he came to know Carol’s sister Sarah, who was the mother to Allie and Nick. Harper begs John to teach her how to control the Dragonscale, but he refuses. John tells Harper that he can use the Dragonscale to provide a distraction, so that she can obtain some desperately needed medical supplies.
When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out the other residents are angry with her, as they feel she could have betrayed their secrets. Carol has punished Allie for neglecting her duties and letting Harper leave by placing a stone in her mouth so that she cannot speak. Harper tells Allie that she will not accept the punishment, and Allie doesn’t have to either. However, Allie ignores Harper and continues to play martyr.
Harper speaks to Renee, and the two worry about the direction that the group is taking, as they feel that Carol has become a dictator.
The next day, Harper is brought to Carol. She also encounters one of the convicts who was previously rescued, named Gil, in Carol’s quarters. Gil tells the story of how he and his friend Mazz escaped from prison, as they realized that people who were claiming to help them actually intended on killing them, as they witnessed several infected prisoners being shot. Carol tells Gil that he still must remain in the camp’s prison, as she believes that Mazz was actually responsible for injuring her father and that Gil was an accomplice. Harper also outlines John’s plan for obtaining medical supplies. Carol is reluctant, but still tells Harper to put the plan in motion as soon as possible.
After the confrontation with Carol, Harper is attacked by group of girls, who pelt her with snowballs and force a stone into her mouth as punishment. Allie is among the group, but does nothing to stop the attack.
The attempt to obtain medical supplies turns violent when the group hijacks an ambulance. Several people are murdered and injured. Harper attempts to help the injured, but is rebuffed by other members of the group. Harper and her group are then attacked by a group led by Jakob and his friend the Marlboro Man. Several members are killed, but Harper and a few others manage to escape, as what appears to be a phoenix shows up at the right time.
When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out that Father Storey has a close call with death but is still alive. Carol is distraught, and tells Harper that she is only allowed to stay at the camp to care for her father. Carol tells Harper that if Father Storey passes away, she will be forced to leave the camp.
Harper then receives a letter from Allie apologizing for her actions. She speaks with another member of the camp, Michael, and learns that it was Allie who told the John the fireman what was happening when the group hijacked the ambulance, and that John sent over the phoenix to distract the Cremation Squad. Michael talks of leaving the camp with Harper, Allie and other members who are unhappy with Carol’s rules.
Harper then visits John, and finds out that he has pneumonia. She talks of leaving the camp, but tells John that he should lead that group, as she feels that she needs to stay to give birth to her baby. Harper administers what treatment she can to John, and learns the story of how John, Allie, Nick and Tom learned to control the effects of the Dragonscale through singing. However, John does not give any details as to how Sarah, who was never infected with the Dragonscale, died.
Back at the infirmary, Harper reads the journal of Harold Cross, the man who was thought to be a traitor. She learns that there is an island for those infected with Dragonscale, known as Martha Quinn Island. An internet search on a contraband cell phone confirms that this island is real. Shortly after Harper digests this news, she receives another surprise: it appears that Tom Storey has awakened from his coma. However, Harper is not able to get any information from Tom, as he appears to go back to sleep.
John, Harper and several other members meet at John’s cottage one night to discuss plans for a possible escape from the camp. Harper is chosen to be the leader of the group, due to her calm manner. Harper stays behind when the others leave. She shares a kiss with John, and learns the full story behind Sarah’s death. Apparently, Nick had figured out how to fully control the Dragonscale, and taught John how to do so. Sarah deliberately infected herself with Dragonscale, as she considered it a blessing, and not a curse. However, Sarah did not allow for the infection to be in her body for a long enough time (according to Harold Cross’ notes, one needed to be infected for at least six weeks before the Dragonscale spread to the brain) and burned to death before she could control the infection. However, not all of Sarah burned, as a part of essence remains in John’s cottage.
When Harper awakens the next morning, she finds out that Tom Storey has regained full consciousness. And Tom has news to share: he tells Harper that Carol, his daughter, deliberately set up Harold Cross to be murdered by a Cremation Squad, in order to make an example of him. Father Storey asks that John be brought back to the camp, along with Allie, Nick and Carol, so that he may have his family by his side.
After receiving this information, Harper pays a visit to John’s cottage, and brings him back to the camp, so that he can speak to Tom Storey. However, they are attacked by Michael, who actually is on the side of Carol and is not interested in fleeing the camp. Michael also set up Harold Cross to be murdered by the cremation squad. Michael also attempted to have Harper killed, as he was the one who set the Cremation Squad upon her when she returned to her home for medical supplies. Michael has killed Tom, and plans on framing Harper for the murder. He forces Harper to inject herself with insulin, to make it look like a murder and attempted suicide.
When Harper awakens, she faces Carol, along with an angry mob. Harper, John and their followers are accused of conspiring to kill Tom Storey with intent of turning the camp into a prison camp. Mazz, one of the rescued prisoners, also comes forward as a double agent. The mob then begins to pelt John with stones.
Harper begins to fight, and finds that she can use the Dragonscale to do so. She is able to rescue John, and she, Allie and John attempt to escape. They realize that Nick, the young deaf boy, is also helping them, as Nick uses the Dragonscale to create a giant hand that is termed the Hand of God.
However, all is not well, as Nelson Heinrich, thought to have been killed in the heist of the ambulance and medical supplies, has led a Cremation Crew to the camp. Harper, John, Allie and the rest of the members take shelter in the empty church. There, Carol and her followers commit a sort of mass suicide, going up in flames while singing.
Renee and Gil find a firetruck, and use that to defeat the Cremation Squad, which includes Harper’s ex husband Jakob, and the Marlboro Man. However, Gil is shot in the process and loses his life. Nick leads Harper and the rest of the survivors to a sandy pit, and confesses that he was the thief who had been stealing supplies. John does not come along, but promises Harper and the others that he will meet up with them in a day or two.
At the hideout, Nick tells the story of how Michael tricked him into stealing the items. Shortly afterwards, John the fireman returns. John makes another trip to gather food and supplies, and the survivors also hold a funeral for Gil. John and Harper make plans to leave for Maine for Martha Quinn Island, as there are still Cremation Squads hunting the group.
The next morning, John, Harper and the rest of the survivors head for Maine via a truck, in an attempt to get to Martha Quinn Island. Renee sees a cat that she thinks to be her cat, Mr. Truffles, and the group votes to bring the cat along, although John is not happy about this, as he feels the cat may be a danger to them. After a tense inspection, the group passes a checkpoint and arrives in Maine, which has been destroyed by the Dragonscale.
The survivors are then attacked by Harper’s ex-husband, Jakob, who has tracked them down to Maine. Harper battles her ex-husband, and is saved by a woman of flames, who is the essence of Sarah, Nick and Allie’s mother. Jakob is literally burned alive. John also survives the attack, but is badly hurt. The essence of Sarah bids her goodbyes to John, Nick and Allie, and then literally winks out of existence.
Harper and her friends continue on their way to Martha Quinn Island. However, Harper grows increasingly worried about John, who contracts pneumonia in addition to the rest of his injuries.
As the group makes its way to Martha Quinn Island, they find supplies and provisions along the way. However, the healthy people greet them with mistrust, and do their best not to make any contact with those infected with Dragonscale. Someone also leaves antibiotics for John, who then begins to show signs of recovery.
Finally, the group makes it to Martha Quinn Island. However, on the boat ride to the island, Harper finds out that they have been tricked: there is no island for survivors. Instead, the infected are euthanized, in attempt to rid the world of Dragonscale. John confronts Jim, the captain of the boat, and is shot in the stomach. However, John uses the power of the Dragonscale to burn the boat and their attackers, saving Harper and the others. The group is then rescued by Don Lewiston, another survivor from Carol’s camp who had previously gotten a head start to Martha Quinn Island. Once they are on Don’s boat, Harper gives birth to a baby girl. The baby is also infected with Dragonscale. Harper names her Ashley.
Don speaks of other islands for those infected with Dragonscale, and Harper and her friends agree to set sail for them, in the hopes that they will be able to survive in the new world they now inhabit.
Well, let me just say this much:
Joe Hill, you are on fire!
Seriously, this book was smoking, and fanned the flames of my love for Joe Hill and his writing!
Ok, we got that out of the way, aka the obligatory fire puns that I intended to burn you with (see what I did there.)
So, let’s get something else out of the way…
As I have said before, Joe Hill may be the son of The Master, but he is definitely his own man. And I love that about him.
However, there were so many nods to The Master, and I had so many fan girl moments…
So let’s talk about those…
First of all, the homage to The Stand. My favorite King book of all time. So of course, the fan girling was intense.
For instance, a deaf kid who just happened to be named…Nick?! You bet! My number one book boo exists on the Joe Hill level of The Tower…who knew???
The many references to Watership Down!, and the guy who claimed he couldn’t get into into a book about rabbits, but loved the book anyway…sound like our favorite redneck from East Texas, anyone?
A character named Harold Cross? Is he the unfortunate lovechild of the couple we loved to hate in The Stand?
And the homage went way beyond even The Stand…
Nozza-la, anyone? Hey, you gotta take what you can get, you can’t be picky about soda in the post apocalyptic world. Now excuse me while I take a look at my Takuro Spirit, can’t seem to find anyone to service this particular vehicle for some reason…
The mention of Tom Gordon…a girl can love him, right?
Ok, enough with the bad jokes…time to take a stand against them…haha!
I also loved the references to pop culture in this book, along with the humor. Someone is definitely a chip off the old block.
I mean, he had Glenn Beck catch fire and burn to death…giggle snort…this brought a much needed smile to me that day!
Although he was bit harsh on JK Rowling. But somehow, it’s fitting that the masses would turn on her for trying to help those who contracted the ‘scale…
Time to talk about Harper Willowes, our main character.
This book may be titled The Fireman, but make no mistake about it: this is Harper’s book (sorry John, you are still awesome anyway!)
And now we have Harper Willowes.
In other words, Harper is a bad ass woman. Extremely bad ass. And she did most of this bad assery while she was pregnant…mind = blown!
Anyone who escapes from an abusive relationship is a bad ass, in my book. And Harper did that, relatively early in the story, when she got away from Jakob (really, this guy should top a list of book douches. Beats women and listens to conservate talk radio…real winner right there!)
While John the Fireman may be the camp’s X Factor, Harper Willowes is really the camp’s heart. Her fellow survivors come to depend on her, and not just for her nursing skills. Harper is able to remain calm and rational, when most people are not. She is even able to remain calm and rational in regards to her child, whom she considers turning over to adoptive parents once he/she is born, so she does not pass the ‘scale on to her child.
Harper is someone you want on your side at any time (although I will skip the Mary Poppins, thanks), but especially in a time of crisis. There is something to be said for someone of that nature, as I can think of few people that I know personally whom I could trust in a time of crisis…makes me actually wish Harper was real.
Joe Hill did a good job with his previous female characters, such as Georgia (Heart Shaped Box), Vic (N0S4A2), Merrin (Horns) and now Harper (The Fireman.) Finding a good female character in any book can be a problem, but so far, Joe Hill is stepping up to the plate nicely in this regard.
So, let’s talk about the structure of this book, and the ending.
Especially about the ending, but more on that later.
A prevailing theme in this book was the fact that our greatest enemy is…well…us. I was constantly reminded of that old Pogo cartoon, where one character tells another that he has met the enemy, and the enemy is us.
This book did not need an evil wizard (although there is nothing wrong with those) in order to be scary. Nor did it need need an infectious horrible disease that kills people in horrible ways (nothing wrong with that though, either, natch.)
Instead, humans were the bad guys in this book. We had the members of The Cremation Squads. Just the name of that is horrible enough. They also carried out that first word, burning those believed to be infected with Dragonscale, in the name of keeping everyone else safe. So definitely pretty horrible.
But we also had fanaticism, aka “Mother” Carol and her band of zealots. And these guys were supposed to be on the side of the good! However, their treatment of those who had the nerve to disagree with them was almost as bad as what the Cremation Squad did those infected with the ‘scale.
Fanaticism is something that comes up often in the works of Papa King, and Mr. Hill seems to be a chip off the old block in that regard as well. I was constantly reminded of Ms. Carmody in The Mist, and how her religious fanaticism was almost as big a threat as the inter-dimensional monsters. Her fanaticism was also about as useful as Carol’s fanaticism when the big showdown came, and both women ultimately proved themselves useless in the fight against the greater enemy.
Joe Hill spent a great deal of time discussing how those infected with Dragonscale were treated, and the parallels I drew were disturbing, to say the least.
Throughout time, there has always been some sort of threat. At least, we are led to believe we need to be afraid of something. After all, if there is not someone or something to fear and persecute, then what good is being human, right?
We have had Ebola virus. The internet gets really interesting, when it finally becomes public knowledge that there have been people infected with Ebola who have been traveling in and out of our country (and others) for decades. Suddenly, everyone becomes an expert in biology and obtains medical license, and knows the best way to handle those infected (hint: it usually involves something much more inhumane than offering the sick chicken noodle soup.)
There is the Islamo-phobia that Glenn Beck, Donald Trump and the rest of the Faux News crowd is intent on perpetuating. After all, if I am not in constant fear of a terrorist attack by Muslims (since white Christians never commit those, natch), then I am just not a good American!
Way back when, we had the Jewish refugees. Many requested refugee status when things started to go south in Germany, and were denied. Or if they did manage to migrate here, they were shunned, almost as if they had a disease that people feared because most did not understand it.
Sounds pretty familiar, huh? I have said it before and I will say it again: human fuckery is the worst kind of horror there is. And Joe Hill drives home that point again and again, in The Fireman.
Ok, let’s talk about the ending to this one.
I admit it, I grew complacent.
What can I say, it was last week…I was naive back then!
This ending has left me to conclude that Joe Hill is a genius. Seriously, he needs to win a Pulitzer prize!
Now, I should have had a clue. They were calling the so-called sanctuary “Martha Quinn Island”, after all. Not that there’s anything wrong with Martha Quinn, but she is sort of a relic (gah, I just got old.)
Joe Hill was born in 1972, and is only six years older than I am. In other words, we are of the same generation.
And my generation tends to idealize the 1980’s, in much the same way that my parents continue to idealize the 1960’s.
So naming the so-called sanctuary after an 80’s icon is just somehow fitting. We want to believe that the 1980’s were a simpler time, in much the same way that we want to believe that there just has to be a sanctuary somewhere that will take care of in our time of need. How could there not be?
I was struck by how easy it was to lull (most) of the survivors, once they had escaped Carol, along with the defeat of the Cremation Squad. It reminded of the rabbits in Watership Down! who are actually captives of a farmer who raises them for food, but they don’t know they are captives. Like Harper and the other survivors, they become complacent. And of course, they don’t come to a good end.
Honestly, the ending shocked me a bit, but in the end (see what I did there), I was not entirely surprised by this ending. And I believe that this ending was the only ending and therefore the right ending.
Unfortunately, nothing is ever so cut and dried in “real life.” We want to believe that there is still good out there, and that there are people who have our best interests at heart. Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to be fooled, even though we know that we should be more aware. We don’t want to believe that we will lose that job that we have had for years. We get married, and think that we will live happily ever after. We don’t want to believe that anyone we love can die, much less die before their time. And we would like to believe that if there was a plague that resulted in us contracting a disease that could potentially result in a painful death, that there would be people out there dedicated to possibly curing the disease, as opposed to simply eradicating those afflicted with the disease.
But again, human fuckery rears its ugly head. It probably started with human fuckery, and then it ends with human fuckery. Joe Hill reminds us this yet again.
But with this ending, Joe Hill also gives us something else: hope. After all, Harper safely delivers her baby. And she will keep her baby, as the baby is also infected with Dragonscale. Harper may have lost John, but Nick, Renee, Allie and the others survive. And if they survived, along with their rescuer Don, there may well other survivors. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance to rebuild.
Fire can be used to destroy. But like almost everything, fire has a dual nature. Fire can be used to create as well. And sometimes, everything must be destroyed, if we are ever to have a chance to emerge from the ashes, much like a phoenix, and attempt to rebuild.
Stephen King has said that if he passes away and leaves any unfinished manuscripts, he is not worried because he knows that Joe Hill is more than capable of finishing those manuscripts. And this is a comforting thought, indeed.
And it’s also a comforting thought that Joe Hill is just getting started, and that we are only at the beginning of a great writing career. And I can’t wait to find out where that career will lead.
As in long books, you pervert! What else would you be thinking of???
But yes, Stephen King is known for writing some long books. The first book of his that I read was It, which clocks in at almost 1100 pages. The Stand is over 1100 pages. 11/22/63 is somewhere around 800 pages. His most recent full length novel, Revival, was only a little over 400 pages. For King, that is light reading.
However, King is one of the greats. And like one of the greats, he is versatile. In other words, he does not have to write a 1000+ page novel (although I appreciate those as much as the next Constant Reader) to be great. He can write shorter books, like Carrie and Dolores Claiborne, and still tell a fantastic story.
And The Master can condense himself even further. King has a large collection of short stories, from N, to The Reaper’s Image, to The Little Sisters of Eluria, to Popsy, that are simply gems. And there are countless more to choose from, even if horror does not strike your fancy (1922 and Big Driver immediately come to mind).
And King’s latest collection of short stories, titled Bazaar of Bad Dreams, does not disappoint. There is a little something for everybody, and even the pickiest shopper will probably walk away satisfied.
With that being said, I have chosen to review the stories in the collection that have jumped out at me, for whatever reason. So all
both of my readers will be able to indulge in their voyeuristic tendencies, and will be treated to multiple close-ups of those kisses in the dark.
I am reviewing in no particular order, just reviewing what may strike me at the moment. And Batman and Robin Have an Altercation struck me in a few places, so sit back and get ready to analyze one of those kisses up close.
Batman and Robin Have an Altercation centers around Dougie Sanderson, and his elderly father, known as Pop. Pop is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and lives in nursing home. Dougie is one of his main caretakers, and tries to spend as much quality time with his father as possible.
Every Sunday, Dougie takes his father to lunch at Applebee’s. Pop pretends to study the menu, even though he can no longer read, but always orders the same thing for lunch. Some days are better than others in terms of Pop’s memory, as he is given to confusing Dougie with his brother Reggie, who was killed by an errant driver 40 years ago. Pop has also become somewhat of a kleptomaniac, stealing items such as knives and other eating utensils when he thinks that no one is looking.
On one of their outings, Pop recalls a time in Dougie’s childhood when he and Dougie dressed up as Batman and Robin, respectively, and Pop took Dougie trick-or-treating. Both father and son recall the memory as a happy one, even though Pop’s costume was makeshift. Pop also reveals that he was unfaithful to his wife that night, reminding Dougie of the double-edged sword that is Alzheimer’s Disease: the memory becomes unreliable, but can still be relied upon to remember what may best be forgotten.
Dougie and his father leave the restaurant, and Dougie drives his father back to his nursing home. On the way back to the nursing home, Dougie is involved in a car accident. A driver attempts to change lanes, but carelessly hits Dougie instead. The driver tells Dougie that he is uninsured and his vehicle is not registered, and tries to convince Dougie to not call the authorities or his insurance company. Dougie refuses, and the driver attacks him, beating Dougie badly.
Dougie sees blood and fears that it is his blood. However, it is the blood of the other driver (referred to as Tat Man). Dougie sees his father standing over the other driver, and realizes that his father has come to his defense and stabbed Tat Man. He also realizes that his father had distracted him earlier at the restaurant, having him look at the birds outside, while Pop stole a steak knife. Pop almost immediately forgets where he is and who the other driver was, and demands to go back home and take his nap, leaving Dougie to deal with the authorities who have finally arrived.
Um, thanks for the throat punch, Uncle Stevie? For once in my life (and mark your calendars, this is rare indeed), I am having trouble finding the words to express my feelings on this story…
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, sometimes a good story can hit you in just the right place!
First of all, Batman. Batman is the alpha and the omega…I mean, he’s the goddamn Batman!
Yeah, I am a fan of Batman, if that wasn’t obvious. And I love that this story referred to Batman. I mean, Stephen King and Batman. Kind of like peanut butter and jelly. Or bacon and Kool Aide (sorry, private joke between me and some other crazy Stephen King nerds).
But, as much as I like Batman (and if you don’t like Batman, we are not friends!), the inclusion of Batman in this story was not responsible for the throat punch. Like almost everything else The Master has ever written, this story was…unexpected…I think that’s the word I want.
Dougie’s father is an Alzheimer’s patient in this story. My beloved grandmother is also an Alzheimer’s patient. She has been suffering from the disease for nearly 4 years now.
King often writes about “human horrors”, such as domestic violence, child abuse, addiction and even unemployment. And all of those are definitely horrors, and give his stories that touch of realism that makes them believable.
Well, now we can add Alzheimer’s disease to that list. Seeing my grandmother suffer from the disease is truly one of the most horrific things I have endured. She calls out for my grandfather, who died over 13 years ago, and we have to tell her that he is on his way. Of course, she cannot remember our names any more. She wants to go home, even though her home was sold last year, and she does not understand why she lives in a nursing home, and not the home where I spent so much of my childhood. Horrific, indeed.
But one of the biggest throat punches in regards to Alzheimer’s Disease is that the person who suffers from it will emerge and convince you that he/she is his/her “old self.” This has happened with my grandmother on more than one occasion: she will remember names, places, dates and hold a conversation with us that is not one-sided. And this happened with Dougie’s father as well: Pops remembered the Halloween he dressed up as Batman with his son, and took him trick-or-treating. And Pops put on that Batman costume once again, when Dougie was under attack from the enraged motorist and literally fighting for his life. And it was beautiful: Batman was there when needed, and he defeated the bad guy, just like how he was supposed to. We don’t always get rescued by heroes. People let us down, and they are not there when needed. But this was Batman, and he did the job admirably.
But, unlike some super heroes, Batman is human. He is fallible. And even he can’t beat all the bad guys, all of the time. Like the rest of us, Batman must eventually come back to earth. But even as he falls, he is still the glorious hero, the caped crusader who looks out for the little guy. After all, he is the goddamn Batman.