Let’s start with the cover, shall we? My God, it’s horrible. Apart from still not being sure what the heck it represents (the little girl in the book is 7-8 years old, not like the face on the cover; and that can’t be her mum), the drawing is ugly. Mystery. Also, in the lower part, it says Épouvante (French for dread) – but there’s nothing scary in this book. A few gory details, but that’s nothing to do with fear. So far for empty marketing of a book from the Eighties (it’s too easy to criticize that from our point in time).
But let’s discuss literature. I recognize Stephen King. There are elements in him that recur in many of his books (at least, the ones I’ve read:
- The Shining (great)
- Bag of Bones (absolute best)
- Misery (very good)
- something from the Dark Tower, the one with the love story between the guy and a girl that gets killed in the end
- Storm of the Century (meh)
The one that strikes me the most is the sentence that goes like He/She didn’t know this was the last time he/she saw him/her alive. It’s literally in every book. It’s a great device and makes you realize who you’re dealing with, in case you forgot. I think that King is also the one writer I’ve read the most when it comes to a writer’s reflection on his craft, so I can detect a few of his acute observations. In this case, for example, the mark of blood on the map, left by one of the participants in the infamous experiment, is one of those: A seemingly minor detail that can haunt you and your imagination (and the character’s too).
Plot – HUGE spoiler alert!
The story: It’s the Seventies and the government pays a bunch of students to do tests with some drug on them. Most of them die or go crazy. Two survive (Andy McGee and Vicky) and get married, and give birth to a child, Charlene (Charlie). Both Andy and Vicky have psychic powers as a result of the experiment, but with severe limitations (Andy gets crippling migraines when using his mind domination power, Vicky barely has any power at all but some mild telekinesis), but Charlie got pyrokinesis without any side-effect, except the sense of guilt that her parents try to instill in her in order for her not to cause huge damage.
Flash-forward 7 years, Andy is wanted by a secret branch of the CIA, Vicky has been killed to get information about the whereabouts of Charlie, and father and daughter are running away from their pursuers. Who at the end get them with the help of a Native American, some John Rainbird, who has been disfigured in Vietnam. Andy and Charlie are made prisoners in a secret government facility but resist on not showing any superpower. Rainbird deceives Charlie into believing he’s a friend (he hadn’t been seen at the time of the capture) and convinces her to collaborate with the scientists conducting the experiments in order to get something in return, eventually to meet her father. The only interest of Rainbird, however, is to kill the little girl in the hope of capturing some alleged secret in her eyes at the moment of her death.
Needless to say, father and daughter almost escape the facility, but Rainbird kills Andy. Charlie gets mad and burns everything down, then flees. Then goes to New York to tell her story to Rolling Stone.
I think it’s a good book, despite the subject bordering the ridiculous. King, as everyone knows by now, has a huge talent for storytelling, and that’s what it is: A very improbable story that can capture your attention. It feels at times very slow because the author tries to reveal little by little, even though I don’t think he ever gets away from the core. A few passages might be more convincing than others, some characters work better than others, but the overall works quite well.
I recommend it.