by Jay Wilburn
The plan is to reread all of Stephen King’s novels and collections and assorted other publications in their order of publication. Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance set out the challenge for himself and invited others to join in. It is an idea which indulges my obsession with King’s writing. I’m doing it because I am a writer and I want to improve my long fiction and storytelling. I think there are secrets to be discovered or rediscovered in it too. As Chizmar posts his after read posts and Bev Vincent posts his accompanying history, I will add links to those in my corresponding posts. I’m starting to speed up my reading again, so I may pass them and end up having to add their posts in at later dates.
Read Bev Vincent’s fascinating historic essay about the origins of The Dead Zone.
Read Richard Chizmar’s thoughts on the book.
Check out Chet Williamson’s essay on The Dead Zone.
You can also go back to the beginning and read Before Carrie and follow all the blog posts through each book.
Much of what I write in these posts will really be notes for me. I will do my best to make them into coherent observations for you. I will also style my comments to be as spoiler free as possible for those who haven’t read the book, but that will also work for those who have read the books. Be warned though that I am discussing the content of the book and the writing.
So, let’s enter The Dead Zone.
This book is different than I remember. It apparently entered my own Dead Zone. I have dealt with memory loss in a couple different capacities. Memory comes and goes in very strange ways. Numbers slipping the main character’s mind is something I can relate to. I lost memory temporarily after anesthesia during my kidney transplant. I couldn’t remember why I was in the hospital. For a short while, I didn’t remember Trump had been elected President. I thought people were messing with me.
A disclaimer precedes the story about real figures set in the seventies, no third congressional district in New Hampshire, and no Castle Rock in Maine. That’s funny. I feel like I know Castle Rock so well …
The book is dedicated to Owen.
This book has a prologue.
Naming a character John Smith always struck me as an interesting choice.
A dog at a farmhouse temporarily holding a Bible salesman in his car may be a precursor to Cujo. A bad guy who kicks a dog and slaps a girl. What more introduction do you need? Maybe grabbing her by the pussy. Even King didn’t think a politician would do something like that.
The Jekyll and Hyde mask and Sarah’s struggle with identity kick the body of the story off nicely. The half face of a stroke “a shock” along this same theme comes later. Eyes changing color during his episodes.
“I used to think Eugene McCarthy was going to save the world. At least the Baptists don’t have Jesus running for President.” Interesting line.
John’s mom’s religious fervor. A judgement. A caricature until he adds in the other paranormal obsessions. Her bought with tumors. Foreshadowing. Now she has dimension to her. The mixing of the religious with the other supernatural is interestingly complex. Adding in tabloid psychics is so definitively 70’s and early 80’s.
John’s hair goes white. A King favorite. He often uses headaches as a consequence for dabbling in the supernatural.
References to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked more than once. Tolkien again. ee cummings gets a nod. James Brolin is referred to as a young, vital man.
The phone nook is fun. “On hold” is a recent phenomenon at the beginning of the novel. Direct dialing was new. The doctor smoking cigarettes. A stamp costs 13 cents. Gas is given to knock out delivering mothers. Gasoline went from 32 cents to 54 cents.
The mother making a kid put a clothespin on his penis as punishment for having an erection. This comes up again in 11/23/63. A killer christens the town of Castle Rock with his violence. A strong potential novel within a novel. This killer’s bedroom is such a disturbing scene. Moreso than the bathroom business later.
It threw me at first when King had John go public with his ability. I thought I remembered it being secret. It played into the rest of the story nicely though.
A hospital is mentioned north of Jerusalem’s Lot.
A Chief Wiggins is mentioned in this story.
“Everyone will think I’m kidding around.” A developer with dirty and dangerous ways. This is a bit haunting in the light of recent politics. King tweeted about the Republican Party sowing dragon’s teeth during this past election cycle which is referenced in this book first in King’s work. Hotdogs!!! King imagines the “clown candidate” who surprises everyone. Only in fiction, he ran for Congress first instead of straight to President. The candidate in this story lies about past positions which can be checked in plain print. Still he is elected. He is a teflon candidate. The “America Now” Party gains some traction on American pride and clearing out the bums. I’m surprised King didn’t reference his work more during the actual election.
One of the doctor’s has a distinct verbal tick played out in the dialogue.
I knew phial was a word, but I didn’t know it was spelled that way. “Sighed her letter” Instead of signed. Not sure if that was on purpose. “noting moved” instead of nothing. If these aren’t typos, I’m not familiar with these wordings, if they are on purpose.
The way out for our hero was a chance not to shake hands. He almost escaped his fate.
“Set it on fire just like in that book Carrie.” Carrie is just a book in this universe and apparently King is self-conscious he might be copying himself a little here.
King uses dreams to deal with symbols in the story.
King goes a long way in trying to use an assassin as a sympathetic character. It is interesting to explore partial success through failure as this story plays out.
I hope these observations serve some interest to readers and fans. The Dead Zone is an interesting divergence of sorts at this stage in King’s career.
Next on the list is Firestarter, so Before Firestarter will be the next post.
Thank you for following along,
Jay Wilburn, writer, constant reader, Survivor of The Dead Zone.