Reading FIRESTARTER for the first time in – gosh! – 25 years, I was struck by what a small piece it actually is.
It’s the tale of a father and his little girl, and the less pleasant other father figure who tries to groom her when her real dad is incapacitated. Yes, there’s pyrokinesis to provide fireworks and make sure that things occasionally blow up, but really, it’s a character piece. In the main there are only about three or four other properly drawn out people, most of the book takes place in one location and one could almost believe that it’s a strange dark drawing-room play masquerading as a door-stop novel. So much so, that even when the characters go to an airport or have flights arranged to take them elsewhere, you know they’re never actually going to get up in the air. The story is too grounded for anything else.
Andy McGee and his wife once took part in a drugs trial. It gave both telekinetic abilities. Their union also produced a daughter. Charlie McGee has abilities far in advance of her parents, far beyond anything the world has seen before. Now The Shop, the secretive government body which ran those experiments originally, want her for their own purposes, and she and her father are trying to escape its operatives.
Any criticisms I have are nit-picks (the narrative is very convenient about when it lets the protagonists escape and when it doesn’t; and you have to believe that a government employee who is already close to the sack has no one near to question his orders even when they’re absolutely crazy). The thing is though I had such a great time reading it that I’m going to let any qualms I had flicker and burn away.
At his best, King is magnificent as combining the fantastical with the mundane of everyday life, and capturing that munadnity in a way which isn’t boring and tedious and – well – mundane. The trick is harder to pull off in FIRESTARTER as there’s only a very short flashback section of the book where these characters are living a normal life. Being on the run isn’t normal. Yet, even in those heightened circumstances, King still captures the central pairing so well and so credibly. The reader believes in them as people, believes in them as father and daughter, believes in their relationship. So much so, that the real horror of this piece doesn’t come from the mind control or the fires, it comes from the possibility of their relationship being threatened. It’s a very human story, and it’s one of King’s best!
Fancy a free terrifying FRJ short story? SOMETHING WENT WRONG is available here.