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FIRESTARTER – review

October 1, 2011

Andy McGee really messed up. It’s not his fault, though, not really. That honor goes to the goons at the Shop, the secret government agency tasked with protecting America. Andy’s mistake was participating in that double-blind psych experiment back in college.

About a dozen students got dosed with the Shop’s mysterious and experimental Lot Six, including Andy and Vicky, the woman Andy would later marry and together have a baby girl named Charlie. When the Shop sees that Charlie shows talents beyond those of her parents, well, they’re not about to let a thing like that slip away, right?

Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER is Charlie McGee’s coming of age story. It’s a thriller. It’s the origin story of how she grows from a child afraid of her scary pyrokinetic curse into a young woman with a responsible command of this powerful talent. It’s also Andy McGee’s story–Lot Six made him a telempath who suffers each time he “pushes” someone into feeling a certain way. Together these two protagonists keep the story full of tantalizing possibilities.

King covers a lot of ground in this novel and throughout it he keeps the story taut. It opens on Andy and Charlie shuffling down New York City streets hotly pursued by Shop agents. While they’re on the lamb, King works their backstory in with scenes rich in detail and complimentary in tone (and sometimes foreshadowing) to the drama unfolding in the present time-line.

One of the ways King makes this such a rich read is his attention to secondary characters like the hard-ass Shop agent Orville Jamieson. OJ’s visceral hatred for all the small towns of rural New York (wonderfully explained) makes him one sympathetic bastard. He’s a bully with a badge and a foil for Charlie’s power.

When he runs from her in terror at Manders’ farm, OJ helps establish the man-on-the-street perspective of her terrible ability. And later, when he runs from her again, I had to laugh. “That bastard knows what’s up,” I thought. By hooking me into OJ’s motivation, King ups the tension. He’s saying, “If this guy’s running, then the shit’s about to fly.” He’s whetting my appetite. King let OJ grow and then used him to reinforce the plot, wringing the most out of this side-character.

I enjoyed FIRESTARTER for the mixed protagonists (father, daughter,) tertiary characters, and their distinct voices, and for the thriller and super-hero genre elements. Most of all, it’s just a well written solid novel.

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