Clearly, 2019 has been my year of reading Jane Austen reboots and Stephen King. I’m not complaining. For some reason, I just needed some cozy reading this year, and I didn’t stray too far from my comfort zone.
I first read Firestarter so long ago that I can’t even remember reading it.*** I know I did, because I’ve always been a completist like that, but I just don’t remember. I assume I was in 8th or 9th grade, which was NOT recently, so I was happy to revisit it.
***I do remember one detail from my original reading. I remember after reading about how Charlie’s mom was tortured and had her fingernails pulled out that I asked my mom, who was a nurse, about how fingernails worked. I had completely forgotten about that conversation until I reread that scene.
While the first few chapters are filled with uncomfortable 1980s racial/ethnic/gender slurs and commentary, the rest feels almost like it could have been written today. Its a pretty taut thriller, and has one of the few Stephen King endings that I wouldn’t change in any way.
I think most of us know the story:
Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie are on the run from a secret government agency called THE SHOP. Back when Andy was in college, he and his future wife, Vicky, took part in an experiment for money, and took a drug that ended up killing some participants, driving some others insane, and leaving the others with psychic powers like telepathy and telekinesis. The Shop, with help from the kooky psychology professor at their college, ran and monitored the experiement, and continued the monitoring for years after the fact, always keeping an eye on Andy and Vicky, especially after they had a baby. The Shop was obsessed with the potential powers that their daughter might possess.
And it turns out, The Shop should have been a little bit scared as well. Charlie did not have the mild powers of her mother (who could sometimes shut a door from across the room) or the “push” capabilities of her father (who could control people’s minds, but not without a negative physical reaction). Charlie was a pyrokinetic. She could start fires with her mind.
As Charlie and Andy run from town to town, trying to stay safe, The Shop always seems to be one step ahead of them, showing up just when Charlie and Andy think they are safe at last.
Eventually, Charlie and Andy are captured by John Rainbird, a hitman who works for The Shop’s defacto leader, Cap Hollister. They are brought down to headquarters in rural Virginia, immediately separated, drugged, and tested. They go months without seeing each other, until one day, Andy realizes he needs to wake up from his drugged state and save his daughter.
The last third of the book is more or less a huge battle scene — the McGees against The Shop, and it moves fast and furiously. And even when the battle is over, and the story seems to be winding down, the feeling of dread never goes away, and we know there’s more trouble coming for Team McGee. The bad guys will never let up until Charlie and Andy are permanently out of the picture. Until the very last page, we worry about poor little Charlie, until (SPOILERS FOR A 30 YEAR OLD BOOK) she walks into the office at Rolling Stone, and we know she’s going to be all right.
I went straight from this one into reading The Institute, so I’m all about kids with crazy powers and shady government agencies right now.