When nine year old Tricia McFarland steps off a hiking trail – mostly to ease her bladder, but more to escape the arguing of her brother and mother - she makes a mistake. When she doesn’t retrace her steps, she makes a bigger one. What follows is nine days of deprivation and rising terror…
King says he works best when he’s writing epics, full of a hundred characters, but I’ve always found his best work to be the simplest: a few characters, a simple setting – Misery comes to mind, as do his short stories.
Concentrating on Tricia gives him a chance to dig in and scoop her out, to see what she’s made of, and we feel every ache and cut as she does. King certainly puts her through the grinder in her walk in the woods: Thirst, hunger, swarms of insects that love the taste of her sweat. There are simple joys too, like a meteor shower on a crystal clear night.
But there’s something more in the woods: Something odd following her, waiting for her strength to fail. It’s girl versus nature tale, simple and effective in its delivery and its imagery.
I checked the map from where Trish started her walk after I’d finished the novel, and it seemed to me the woods were conspiring against her – I don’t think it’s possible to walk as she did without crossing what looks like a major road. But then again, the things she sees – or imagines she sees – probably wouldn’t have been there either.
I devoured the first half of this book in roughly two hours. It’s not a long tale at around three hundred pages, and it didn’t take me long to finish the rest.
The only parts that slowed it down for me were the baseball references. Trish has a personal stereo with a radio that can pick up baseball games, and the sound of human voices is what keeps her moving, especially when her hero appears, a man named Tom Gordon.
The only problem with a book with sports references (of any kind) is the inference that your reader knows what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about baseball except its basic terminology, so I was lost when Gordon is called “A closer” or “it’s the bottom of the eighth with three outs.”
It’s either a case of explaining it and slowing the book down, or moving on and hoping for the best. I mentally skimmed the parts where Trish is listening and commenting on the baseball matches she’s listening to. They weren’t more than a page or so anyway, so the effect was minimal. But it felt like I missed something important, since Trisha’s survival is linked to the game so closely. Even the chapters are titled after segments of a baseball game. (I feel the same way when I watch “A Field of Dreams”. Still love the movie though.)
I would have rated this four stars but for King’s notorious weak spot: His endings. I bought this book from a charity shop, and the ending changed my mind from I-want-to-keep-it to I’m-donating-it-back.
In the last few chapters, King simply seems to give up. He jumps out of Trish’s world and rushes headlong to the climax, as though suddenly bored with the tale and wanting to get it done. He skips four days of her walking in two pages to reach that climax. It’s a jarring jump out of a very involving and personal story.
And, much, much worse, when Trish finally faces the creature following her (Something which seemed to me was a twisted relative of IT), it’s not her that banishes it, but a random passing hunter. Not what I wanted to see in any way. I wanted to see her do it! It’s her I’ve been rooting for over the past three hundred pages, Mr King! Don’t drop in a random stranger with a rifle just to wrap it up.
A few years ago, I was in Washington State, driving through its endless evergreen forests. You could have lost anything in there – aircraft carriers, towns, whole civilisations. Walk into those woods more than a few hundred yards and you would die as you looked for a way out. A single child, alone, un-provisioned, unprepared? No one would ever find her.
Forests are a primeval environment anyway, a scary-as-hell place to get lost. A scary as hell sensation to feel like you’re being followed on top of that (as I can personally attest to).
Trish is made of tough stuff, I’ll tell you that, and to not have her beat the creature following her is simply a cheat.