Blaze—Clayton Blaisdell Jr.—is a big dummy, very big: six-seven, 270. But not exactly very dumb. He was a smart little boy until his drunken father threw him downstairs three times in a row. He relearned to read a bit, mostly comic books, but was thereafter an otherwise learning-challenged ward of the state with a horrendous dent in his forehead. Now a mid-twenties adult, he has just lost his bosom buddy and partner in petty cons, George, who still speaks to him somehow, especially about the big score, the one to retire on. Blaze realizes that George isn’t really haunting him; in fact, Blaze possesses an excellent, though highly selective, memory. In honor of George, he decides to do the big one, the kidnapping of a wealthy couple’s baby. He succeeds, albeit imperfectly enough that the state cops and FBI know whodunit within a day, and he surprises himself by bonding with the infant, which for readers makes the hunt for Blaze an Alfred Hitchcock–like exercise in moral ambivalence. It’s impossible not to root for Blaze, especially since Bachman flashes back copiously and with maximal sympathy to the damaged man’s past. Stephen King, who “buried” Bachman in 1985, here revamps a 1973 manuscript by his alter ego that he says is something of an homage to James T. Farrell, Jim Thompson, and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Powerful and moving, it’s a worthy tribute, especially to Steinbeck.
Thanks to Rick Urban