Blaze is a book that holds more than one story. That is not to say it is a book of short stories (because it isn’t). Allow me to clarify: one story is the novel itself; another story is how the novel went from draft to published; and there is another, unrelated, story after the novel portion ends. This may sound confusing, but it’s actually quite simple. I’ll explain.
It is good to begin at the beginning. The cover of the book says that Blaze was written by Richard Bachman, and that it contains a Forward by Stephen King. Most, if not all, Stephen King fans know that Bachman and King are actually the same person. King was writing under the pen name Bachman for a while, and eventually got discovered.
Although I cannot recall which magazine I saw the news from, I do remember the photo that accompanied the article. Stephen King stood, with shovel in hand, next to Richard Bachman’s freshly dug grave. Officially, Richard Bachman died of “cancer of the pseudonym”.
Blaze was published long after poor Richard Bachman’s unexpected demise. The Forward, written by Stephen King, explains just how this novel went from a draft written by Bachman (and/or a much younger Stephen King) as a crime novel was eventually transformed into what we see in the published form. King mentions that he has an unfortunate tendency to “lose things”, including the original draft of Blaze.
Obviously, the manuscript was found (otherwise there would be no book for me to write this review about). If you are interested in what happened in between those two points, I recommend you read the Forward.
So, that explains one of the three stories in this book. The second, and largest, one is the novel itself. When I looked at the cover, with the large house in the distance, and the word “Blaze” written in bright orange across the photo, I figured the book was going to be about an arsonist. Wrong!
Instead, the book is the story of the unfortunate Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., who just can’t seem to catch a break in life. He started out as a very bright boy, and big for his age. This changed one day, when his father, and abusive alcoholic, threw him down the stairs (more than once) in a fit of rage.
Clayton wakes up living in Hetton House, as a ward of the state. He ended up with a large dent in his skull, a need for crutches, and severe cognitive disabilities. Many of the other boys at Hetton House were afraid of him. The few that were not shortened his name to “Blaze”. It stuck.
At the start of the book, Blaze, now an adult, is haunted by the ghost of his buddy George, who died recently. Or, perhaps George is just in Blaze’s head? It’s unclear, which makes things that much more creepy. George is pushing Blaze to do the heist that George had planned out – and would have carried out if he wasn’t, you know, dead. George believed that this particular heist would bring the two of them enough money so that they could, essentially, quit their day jobs as criminals and live a life of leisure.
The heist involved kidnapping a baby, which is a horrible thing to do! George learned about the location of the (very large) home of a very rich family who recently had a baby. The idea was to kidnap the baby and hold him for ransom. On his own, Blaze isn’t smart enough to plan out all the necessary steps to pull this off. Yet, with George’s encouragement from beyond the grave, Blaze proceeds to give it a try.
The story is not presented chronologically, so the reader gets a chapter about the current heist followed by a chapter about something that happened in Blaze’s past. It puts things into perspective without slowing down the pace of the story. I think this worked really well!
Even though Blaze is a criminal (who does, beyond all expectation, manage to kidnap the baby) I ended up liking him. The poor guy is intellectually disabled which results in him being easily led by the few people he counts as friends. He strives to please them, and cannot comprehend that his friends would ever steer him wrong. He has almost no idea that the crimes he has committed, or the cons George has included him in, are wrong (or illegal). He means well, and he always gives whatever he does his best effort.
This puts me in the confusing headspace of feeling sympathy for a character who kidnapped a baby. I wanted to see things work out for Blaze. He tries very hard to take good care of the baby, becomes attached to him, and fantasizes about fatherhood. I knew that a happy outcome was unlikely, especially in a Bachman/King book, and that makes things that much more tragic. I won’t reveal the ending in this review other than to say it was the one that the reader knew would have to be.
What’s the third story? It is a short story called Memory that is placed in the back of the book. You get the entire story, not just a portion of it, which is nice. It’s got nothing at all to do with Blaze. Instead, King notes: It is the seed from which has grown a much longer tale, Duma Key, (which it says was intended to be published in 2008). I haven’t read Duma Key yet, but am interested in it.