Firestarter is Stephen King’s ninth published novel and has generally been lauded as one of his middle ground novels from his extensive canon. The novel was nominated for the British Fantasy award in 1981 but lost out to Ramsay Campbell’s To Wake the Dead.
Firestarter is actually my first exploration into King’s work. So with a mind unclouded from previous fandom for his work (or hatred of if the case may have been) I leapt into the novel not really knowing what to expect. Five hundred and sixty-six pages later I got up, dusted myself off, wholly satisfied.
King’s style is everything the people say it is. His power with words is akin to a steel vice. It holds you and won’t let go until the inevitable and violent climax. Firestarter tells the story of Charlie and her father Andy McGee, the unfortunate victims of an underhand government experiment gone wrong. Andy and his wife were test subjects for a mysterious and illicit drug known as Lot 6. The taking of which imbued the two of them with psi powers. The novel begins in medias res after the murder of Andy’s wife while he and Charlie are on the run.
Andy is a mind suppressor who uses what he calls ‘the push’ to actively alter the thoughts of his targets, for example, he convinces a mystified cab driver a one dollar bill is a five hundred. Charlie is a pyrokinetic; a term coined by Stephen King for this novel. It is a specific branch of telekinesis (the power to move objects with one’s mind) which concentrates energy into the spontaneous heating of particles in the air, causing flames. Charlie is sought by the agents who administered the drug to her parents, the most threatening of whom is a wonderful ‘good cop’ American Indian man John Rainbird. Rainbird is pure danger personified and will stop at nothing to keep Charlie and her father under wraps. Charlie is a potent weapon. Her power can create a spot heat of thirty thousand degrees Fahrenheit and for that the government want to contain her before her story can get out into the public eye.
The story is a relatively typical action narrative but it still keeps your attention and keeps you wanting to continue to the end. King’s writing is flawless and believable despite the outlandish situation. The characters seem to hold humanity to them which you all too often don’t find within a thriller. Not one of them is what one could call a plot device. Each has their own story, problems and must overcome or succumb to them. It makes for a fascinating ride and has certainly convinced me of King’s ability as a writer. And if this is only average for his style, then what am I missing out on?