The Dead Zone (Stephen King 1979)

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Another Stephen King novel. I seem to be on a roll when it comes to Stephen King at the moment, so without any further delay let’s review The Dead Zone. The Dead Zone is a classic Stephen King horror which pushes the boundaries of the genre, to the point where wikipedia even describes it as a supernatural thriller, which given what I’ve read seems like a fair assessment. The book follows a young man, Johnny Smith who is sent into a coma for five years and wakes up with the ability to see people’s future whenever he touches them, an ability which he struggles to deal with. It also steadily propels him towards a confrontation with the dangerous politician Greg Stillson, whose ambitions seem to be never ending.

The plot starts out simple enough, focusing a bit on Johnny’s childhood and a pre-existing injury which appeared to play some role in the eventual development of his psychic abilities following his coma. It also introduces us to Greg Stillson during this time frame, showcasing his psychopathy. This was a nice touch and introduced the villain nice and early. Until the accident the novel mostly seemed to progress at a nice pace, setting everything up well. From the first moment you know that Greg Stillson is the villain, in part because he has all the traits of one with his psychopathy and tendency towards violence. After the accident I seemed to think that they spent a bit too much time focusing on the other characters and their story arcs in the years between the accident and Johnny waking up, in part because it seemed to delay the story’s main plot, though not to the point where it felt too boring.

In terms of point of view, we seemed to see too little of our main character in some parts, such as after the mentioned as I’ve just mentioned. However the later parts of the story more than make up for this but do so at the cost of relegating certain characters into extras, such as his ex girlfriend Sarah. We saw little bits of Greg Stillson here and there but overall he didn’t seem to get too much development and in the final leg of the novel we only saw what Johnny saw through his research and visions. As mentioned before he has all the traits of the villain, or rather all the traits of a Stephen King villain. As I’ve noticed before King likes to use sadist villains who are a bit over the top in their cruelty and some extent this ruined my immersion into their character, and this was also true of Greg Stillson.

I was also disappointed somewhat by the lack of development between Johnny and Sarah. The whole character arc seems to be about them being awkward around each other and dealing with lingering feelings, while dealing with the fact Sarah has moved on and married with a kid. Aside from a few scenes the story arc is left depressingly underdeveloped, and the events of the climax ensure that the couple never get any true closure aside from a single letter sent from Johnny to Sarah shown in the novel’s epilogue. The climax as a whole was fairly weak as well, offering the bare minimum closure and the way the confrontation was set up seemed arbitrary at times, like Johnny was compelled to confront Stillson by the power of plot. It raised some good themes though, especially the whole would you kill Hitler before he ever became a threat kind of debate that it raised.

The novel raised a lot of complex philosophical debates and in some ways I can’t help but compare the novel’s plot with Greg Stillson to the debate about Donald Trump and the US Elections at the moment. As a novel I can’t help but think that it was lacking a bit towards the end and it seemed to fall short on its promises, though it delivered a few good twists in the process. It was a decent novel but I wouldn’t say it was Stephen King’s best work. At times I think that maybe it could have been a bit shorter or improved in other little ways but overall I think it could have been worse.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: PHILOSOPHICAL

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