Off The Shelf - "Firestarter"

by Marcus Pan

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FirestarterYes, I know. I'm way behind on my King. Yes, I've seen the movie. Yes, I've danced to the techno-laden Prodigy (Chemical Brothers?) song of the same name. And yes this was the first time I've bothered to read this two decade old King classic. There probably aren't many of you that don't know the story of Charlie and her father, Andy, and their run, capture, escape and beating of the government in this supernatural thriller. But nonetheless, I read it. And if I read it, that means I write it up here in Off The Shelf. So if you've read it or seen it already, feel free to skip this. If you haven't, where the hell have you been? And if you need a refresher - well rawk on.

King has been churning out novels for decades now. Buttloads of these have made it to the silver screen and television. For those who are more into movies and not books, here's some you might recognize - The Dead Zone, Maximum Overdrive (originally based on his short story Trucks and later screenplayed), It (turned into a TV mini-series), The Mangler, Cujo, Needful Things - and on and on away we go. I've only been writing up the books I read in Off The Shelf for about two years now. Already I've covered a half dozen or more works of Stephen King. The man's insane. Seriously.

Now the refresher course. Many years ago, Andy McGee and his now-dead wife needed a couple hundred bucks while still in college. They went into a government study, run by a little-known group called The Shop, and were administered drugs and then watched and tested. Seems this drug woke up parts of their mind - accelerated their brains. Andy found himself capable of "pushing" people into doing things - a powerful mental domination ability. His wife had limited telekinetic powers afterwards. After coupling and having a child, Charlene aka Charlie, it was discovered they passed on these supernatural gifts with powerful and scary results.

Charlie McGee, since a young age, had a wide range of supernatural and psi powers. The most prevalent of which is known as "pyrokinesis" - the ability to spontaneously combust things. She was a firestarter. And you thought playing with matches was bad for the kids? Whoah Nellie.

The government group that originally sponsored the college test these two partook in, The Shop, wants Andy and Charlie back now. For testing. To see what their new experimental drug Lot 6 could do in the long run. And they'll stop at nothing to get them. Eventually, Charlie and Andy in the end decide to stop at nothing to get away. The climax of the book is a scene out of Armageddon. Finally, after managing to hold onto her and pick her head for a bit, test her abilities a while (spot temperatures of up to 30K degrees, might I add - enough to burn cinder blocks - let me say that again - HOT ENOUGH TO BURN CINDER BLOCKS), it becomes time when enough is enough. Charlie, a girl not older than my stepdaughter is now, nine I believe, gets really pissed off. And she lets loose. An amazing scene.

So that's the rundown. Government conspiracy, supernatural powers and all of it wrapped around and within a little kid. The part in the movie was played by Drew Barrymore, who has grown up to be one of the few actresses who's movies I'll go see based on her ass alone.

Overall, the book was an easy and swift read. Hardcover and over 370 pages in length, I breezed it in under a week. It's pulp fiction at its finest - graspable by just about anyone with a basic high school education. And it's quite good, too - parts of the book where you'll have trouble putting it down until you can come to a breather in the action. While it's not King's best work - not by far - it's still worth the time if you need something to give you a break between more intellectual pursuits. And when you think about it, that's what pulp fiction's for. A small snack in between the big books.

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"Firestarter" by Stephen King
Published by The Viking Press
Copyright © 1980 by Stephen King
ISBN 0881037257

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