The afterward of Stephen King's novella collection Different Seasons mentions a novel he'd written around the time of Carrie – early 1970s – called Blaze. The book was put away after King published Salem's Lot and went down the horror path. I came across that brief mention and for years I've wondered what that forgotten book Blaze was like.
Now I know.
As King tells it in the charming, self-deprecating introduction to Blaze, the novel was forgotten, more or less lost – King didn't recall it being very good and figured it was better off lost. But when a manuscript was recently found, King read it over and realized that while it was the work of a younger writer still mastering the craft, there was a solid book there that just needed a light rewrite. Now we have Blaze, and I for one am glad about it.
Because Blaze is not strictly a horror novel – in fact, it's one of the least King-ish King novels – it's published under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. King completists will be familiar with the Bachman name on the books Rage (out of print by the way, hold on to your copy if you have one), The Long Walk, The Running Man, Roadwork, Thinner, and The Regulators. The pseudonym is appropriate, for Blaze has been stripped of much of King's stylistic idiosyncrasies, sentiment, and (let us be honest) wordbloat. The result is a lean, effective tale that's both unsentimental and surprisingly compassionate.
Blaze is the nickname of Clayton Blaisdell Junior, a hulking petty criminal. Blaze's life has been a hard one – an intelligent child, he was thrown down the stairs by his abusive father and the resulting brain damage left Blaze mentally retarded. Now Blaze is at the end of his tether – his criminal partner George (note the Of Mice and Men reference), the idea man for their ruses, has been murdered and Blaze is, on his own, trying to pull off the proverbial Last Big Score. In this case, it's the kidnapping of a six-month-old baby, son of local millionaires.
The novel strikes a melancholy, affecting tone. Blaze's life is recounted in flashbacks that are the strongest scenes in the book. Abused by his father and by the head of the orphanage he grows up in, Blaze knows few moments of happiness and while his behavior is at times brutal, it's clear that if he were not so hampered by his retardation and life circumstances, he would be an admirable person. King wisely does not pour on the sentiment, and the spare prose cuts through the melodrama of Blaze's story. Thus the reader feels sympathy and sadness for a person who commits a terrible crime, kidnapping a child.
It's not a major book, nothing earth-shattering. But it's a nicely effective tale of a man forgotten by society and who would do right if he could. It won't frighten you but you'll probably feel a bit haunted after the story's conclusion.
All of King's royalties from Blaze will go to The Haven Foundation, which provides assistance to freelance artists who are unable to work because of illness or accidents. More information is at: http://www.thehavenfdn.org/.