Book #34: Blaze

Blaze, the long unpublished final novel from Richard Bachman (otherwise known as Stephen King) plays exactly like you would expect based on the circumstances of its publication.  Languishing for years in an old box because he didn't think it was very good (the manuscript dates back to 1973), King thought about picking it back up to serve as a second offering for the Hard Case Crime book series (The Colorado Kid was published in 2005).  Upon reviewing it, however, something must have sparked his eye because he smoothed out the rough spots and sent it out on its own merits under the Bachman name.

If you're expecting typical King you'll be disappointed.  Even if you're expecting the pulp feel of his other Bachman books you'll be disappointed.  Blaze is set firmly in the soft-boiled genre, and plays on John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men almost to a fault.  Clayton "Blaze" Blaisdell, jr. is a towering hulk of a man who, after being thrown repeated down a flight of stairs as a child, is left mentally challenged.  But that's okay because his enormous size protects him and he has George, a small-time con man to look after him okay.  George's dream is to get out of the game for good by pulling off one big score: kidnapping a baby that's heir to a family fortune.

So where's the kicker?  Well, the problem is that George, the brains of the outfit, happens to be dead on page one.  That doesn't stop him, however, from continuing to talk to Blaze and get him to pull the caper anyway.  The story alternates between Blaze's present circumstances and his life story, and both tales weave together beautifully with that old King magic of characterization.  Just like Of Mice and Men's Lenny, you feel nothing but compassion for Blaze as his kidnapping turns into something quite different when he begins to love little Joe, the baby.  And if everything played out as a straight crime novel, this would have been a perfect little gem of a story - an early, youthful, and exuberant example of a future master.

There's just one small hitch that downgraded Blaze from really good to okay.  For most of the novel you're led to believe that the voice of George is merely inside Blaze's head.  Never for a moment do you think that George is actually communicating with Blaze from the dead.  Which is perfectly fine by me.  Then, near the novel's end there's a very brief passage that may lead to another reason why Blaze can hear George.  This element, whether present in the original manuscript or later added by King, feels more than a bit disingenuous, something ladled on to appease fans who only accept King's horror novels.

It doesn't knock Blaze down, it just staggers the book a bit, which is a shame because I personally think right now Stephen King is enjoying a new-found sense of freedom since the conclusion of his Dark Tower series.  Blaze is ultimately a fun, quick read, but don't go looking for greatness in a novel the author himself admist wasn't good enough to see the light of day for over 30 years.