Tracing The Trails : Blaze
I came to this book with fairly low expectations. The previous Richard Bachman offering, The Regulators, had left enough of a sour taste in my recollection that it was difficult to be optimistic for this. I had no idea what Blaze was about and in fact, looking at the remainder of King’s books I have left to go this was one of the few remaining ones that I had no idea what I was going to be reading. I actually remember this when it came out, seeing it on the shelves at my local grocery store with and finding it amusing at the time that King had chosen to release another book under the Bachman name. Even then, it seemed to me like little more than a marketing gag to try and entice a few more people to buy the book.
King made an interesting choice with a forward, something he doesn’t often do for his books. In it, he almost apologizes for the book. He says upfront, or he warns us, that this is a trunk novel. This is essentially writer speak for books which the author has given up on and doesn’t believe is good enough. I thought it was an odd choice and I’m not sure why he felt the need to set people’s expectations low, coming right out of the gate. Certainly he has had plenty of experience reading bad reviews and criticism, so I don’t know why he felt unsure about simply putting this book out into the world as what he intended to release. I suppose there is always going to be a certain lack of confidence when it comes to a book that you have felt wasn’t working. But I would also think that a writer of his caliber, after however many millions of books he’s sold, would feel more sure of his ability to go back and polish the book to the point where it would be good enough to distribute.
Interestingly enough, the premise of Blaze is on one hand simple while on the other I think goes to a little bit too far in terms of the scope of the narrative. In a way, I found the relationship between the two main characters to be an odd mix of both John Goodman and John Forsyth’s characters from Raising Arizona and George and Lenny from Of Mice And Men. Blaze, as we are introduced to him is being prodded by either the memory of his former partner or the actual spectral presence of the man to attempt one grand heist in the form of kidnapping the infant child of a local business owner.
Blaze himself is an interesting character but I think that Stephen King made somewhat of a mistake in devoting so much of the book to his history. While I understand the reasoning behind it, when you have a character who is kidnapping a baby, you want to take some efforts to humanize him and make him more sympathetic in the eyes of the reader. As a result though, I think this takes some of the potential edge off of the story.
As I read this book, I found myself instinctively bracing for some awful moment that the narrative seemed to be driving towards. I’m obviously not going to reveal whether or not that moment does happen, but I think that sense of dread was the most potentially powerful aspect of the book and every time King devoted another chapter into delving into Blaze’s personal history, I felt like he chipped away at the one biggest weapons the book had, namely the mystery around Blaze and what he is or isn’t capable of. Is he actually going to kill this child? That question and the terror around it is what props the whole thing up, it is the most essential element that in my mind needs to be preserved and could have been heightened had the book been a bit shorter and not given such a broad scope.
Still, despite the occasional narrative departures into a history I wasn’t as interested in, I still found the book to be entertaining. And if in the grand scheme of things this ends up being the last Richard Bachman book, I think he was sent off in fine form. While I had trouble getting through Regulators, this book had a clean and organized feel to it, even with the pacing issues. I felt sorry for Blaze and I also kind of despised him. I could see the inherent tragedy in a man who had lived a life, neglected by parents and various agencies who should have been helping him. At the same time, my soul felt crushed at the notion of a baby’s life in the hands of this clumsy idiot.
It’s a clash of the worst kind of circumstances which is what I think great drama should be built on. There’s no ghosts or ghouls or goblins, none of the fantastic or supernatural you might come to expect from Stephen King. What it is however, is a perfect example of how a story device can be filtered through someone. Reading this, it was almost like someone had taken a buddy heist movie and turned it from funny to dark and morose.
It was a transition and translation made uniquely possible being from the mind of Stephen King.