A poignant homage to Steinbeck. Once again King shows his sentimental side as he takes up the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., a mentally challenged small time con artist who tries to pull off the one "big caper" worked out by his late partner George before heading off into a sunny and warm retirement. As you can imagine, just about everything that can go wrong, does and the reader is left perpetually giving themselves the face palm as Blaze bumbles his way into rather serious business. Through the cracks in your fingers, when you can bear to watch, you gain a real sympathy for the big lunk, and his story is indeed a sad one. Building on themes of belonging and acceptance, you become really emotionally entangled in the briefs ups and the depressing downs of Blaze's life. His dependence on Johnny and, later on, George, indicates a debilitating desire to be accepted and leaves him at the mercy of people who are willing to take care of him, for better or for worse, and we get examples of each over the course of the narration.
This novel struck me as more in-tune with the hard-case crime genre. Here we have a miscreant anti-hero with some hard luck who commits some down-right deplorable acts of violence, but you can't seem to hold it against him. In spite of the murder of an old lady and several police officers, you can't help but be on Blaze's side. I liked this novel because too often the anti-hero schtick tends to follow a formula; the protagonist is gruff and a misogynistic, but appeals to the inner-male attunement to bad-assery so we're willing to put aside the negative qualities of the anti-hero. The life of violence and action has a sort of ritualistic appeal to it in the midst of our routine existences. Blaze is different. He's not a bad-ass. He's a screw-up, but the lovable giant kind. It's the genuine pity you feel for him that makes you sympathize and want him to succeed, even when you know from the outset what the inevitable conclusion is going to be. His life is not glamorous or exciting - it's a nightmare, and you just want the poor guy to catch a break. Kudos to King because that's a lot more complicated and difficult to pull off than creating a James Bond like character with a screwed up childhood and making him drink martinis while pulling off heists. This story had a sort of intimacy that makes it more enduring and less interchangeable with the rest of the anti-hero crime genre.
I can kind of see why this one was shelved by King for so-long. It basically is Of Mice and Men
with King's edgier mark transforming it for more modern audiences. Yet in spite of this sense of derivation, or perhaps because of it, the novel succeeds quite spectacularly. You're forced to compare with Mice
intentionally at several junctures and that connection adds to the drama and poignancy. In fact, I'd go so far to say that if you haven't read Steinbeck's classic first, you probably wouldn't get as much from Blaze
. That's not a bad thing necessarily. Think of it as a companion piece that is more of an updated social commentary of the post-World War II era to Steinbeck's homage to the working life of pre-World War II America. And at the core of both: the idea of friendship, companionship and brotherhood.
Oh! And do yourself a favor and read the foreword.