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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Stephen King has, in many ways, created the horror genre and claimed the largest stake in it for himself. Lest you believe this is selfishness, I'll assure you: It's through no fault of his own. The guy is just too talented, and in many ways, his fiction has defined popular literature — and culture — for the past 20 years. His novels have been markers along the climb to the 21st century, from Carrie and its "High School Confidential" horrors through The Shining with its nuclear-family nightmare, into his instant classics like Misery and the recent Bag of Bones. His serial novel, The Green Mile, was one of the most absorbing books of the past few years.
Returning to the short form — almost as an intermediate step between Bag of Bones and his next huge novel — King has offered up The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
First, this is not your typical horror novel — I'd hazard a guess that King himself doesn't see it as a horror story. It has more in common with the fiction of Jack London and Stephen Crane than it does with the fiction of Poe or Stoker. But, of course, London and Crane both wrote about a kind of horror that didn't involve creatures from another planet or from graves. They wrote about the horror of humans, nature, and the ability of human beings to survive against the shadows of "what's out there."
No recounting of the plot will convey what King manages to create in this short novel. A girl of nine accompanies her mother and brother on a brief trip, hiking a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. The girl, Trisha, wanders off the path and manages to get lost. She has some family issues: Mom and Dad have divorced, and her brother is constantly squabbling. But by removing Trisha from the family, by isolating her into the woods, the novel becomes one of human survival.
What begins as a bit of a simple tale — little girl lost — soon turns to the larger questions of what is at the center of creation, what motivates any of us, and the place where darkness and human imagination cross. I resisted this story to some extent, for King is wily. He begins with a soft lull, a bit of a dramatic moment that gets lost quickly in the sweet worry of a young girl who is resourceful enough to pick berries for survival and to do all the right — but ultimately wrong — things in order to find her way back to civilization. But soon, nature itself becomes a force, more often for ill than for good. And as Trisha's imagination begins to re-create the dark forest around her, a slow, sure terror mounts.
This is not a shocker, and no one will stay up till dawn having nightmares over Trisha and the darkness she must face. But The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a major step forward for King into the realm of fiction that matters, fiction that is about what humans face as one century turns to another: the meaning at the center of existence.
And it's a fun book, too. Let's not forget that beyond being a terrific writer, King is one of the most entertaining storytellers on the planet. His passion for baseball comes through, as does his love for children and the terrors they must face. Get this book. Stay with it. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is the nightmare at the heart of existence; it is the story of those of us who get lost and must face our worst fears.
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror novels, including Halloween Man and Bad Karma, written under his pseudonym, Andrew Harper. His recent Bram Stoker-nominated short story, "I Am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 11. The world's first e-serial novel, Naomi, will be coming out in May; his next book, The Nightmare Chronicles, will be out in the fall.