The 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.
You may not care about Gordonbut you will about Trisha.
...[R]eading the novel produces...satisfying moments of feverish terror....As the narrator puts it: "The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted. She knew that now. She was only 9, but she knew it, and she thought she could accept it"....Thanks to Mr. King's gruesome imagination, you as a reader feel the sharpness of those teeth.
The New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Stephen King at his best...a wonderful story of courage, faith and hope...eminently engaging and difficult to put down.
A delightful read, a literary walk in the woods...[T]he novel is less about baseball than about faith, perseverance and survival.
New York Daily News
Stephen King's new novel expertly stirs the major ingredients of the American psyche our spirituality, fierce love of children, passion for baseball and collective fear of the bad thing we know lurks on the periphery of life.
VOYA - Jennifer Hubert
Most of us can remember being lost at least once or twice in our lives. No one ever forgets the sickening feeling that rises from the pit of your stomach when you realize you have wandered off the path. One sunny morning in June, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland falls victim to that feeling when she loses her family on a hiking trail in the Maine woods. With only a sack lunch and her Walkman, Trisha wanders in the forest for nine days in search of the elusive trail. During that time she experiences sickness, injury, and frightening nighttime hallucinations of a lurking beast that may or may not be real. Her only comfort is the tinny sportscast emanating from her Walkman that describes the exploits of her baseball hero, Red Sox relief pitcher Tom Gordon. When Trisha finally confronts her fear, which in typical King style has morphed into a huge bear, she does so by winding up and pitching her Walkman right into the bear's face, just like Tom Gordon. The beast is exorcised, and Trisha is finally rescued by a friendly out-of-season hunter. Few writers can revisit the fears of childhood as well as King, and for most teens these terrors of years so recently lived are especially vivid. While Trisha is younger than some of the teen characters in earlier works, like Christine (Viking, 1984) or Carrie (Doubleday, 1974), the legions of young adult King fans who eagerly await the publication of each new novel will not particularly notice or care. VOYA Codes: 4Q 5P J S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult).
Here's a fascinating survival story for younger readers. Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland becomes separated from her mother and older teenage brother while hiking along the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Armed with only her lunch, her rain poncho and her Walkman, Trisha wanders throughout the woods, following streams, sinking in swamps, fighting bugs, and scavenging for survival. A devout Boston Red Sox fan, Trisha tunes into games on her Walkman, following especially the movements of her hero, relief pitcher Tom Gordon. Desperate, she hallucinates that Tom Gordon is beside her, talking to her and keeping her alive. If any author can convince readers that a nine-year-old can survive nine days in the wilderness, Stephen King can. Readers will root for Trisha while she cheers on her favorite ball player. This novel is fast-paced and easy to read. Trisha is a brave, strong, spirited young girl whose passionate belief in the world's goodness helps her survive. Genre: Survival Fiction. 1999, Scribner, Ages 14 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Lisa K. Winkler
While hiking a six-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail with her mother and brother, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland steps off the path to relieve herself and then attempts a shortcut to catch up. With this unfortunate decision, she becomes lost and alone in the Maine woods for over a week, with limited food and water and what becomes her prize possession, a personal stereo. Trisha uses the radio to follow the play of her beloved Tom Gordon, relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox--a calming link to the civilized world and one she uses to gather courage and strength for her ordeal. In a near-perfect characterization on King's part, we experience Trisha's fears, hopes, pains, hallucinations, and triumphs through her internal monolog, which is animated in this program by the voice of actress Anne Heche. She flawlessly conveys Trisha's youth and the spectrum of her emotional states. Recommended without reservation.--Kristen L. Smith, Loras Coll. Lib., Dubuque, IA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-Tired of the continual bickering between her mother and her older brother, nine-year-old Trisha lags behind them on the Appalachian Trail, leaves the path to go to the bathroom, takes a shortcut, and is promptly lost. She follows a stream searching for other people or a road, but unknowingly hikes further and further away from civilization. Her time alone is spent searching for food, mulling over her parents' divorce, and listening to Red Sox games on her Walkman radio. Relief pitcher for the Sox, Tom Gordon, becomes her imaginary companion and provides the comfort she needs to overcome her fears and loneliness so that she can concentrate on staying alive. One feels Trisha's terror as she endures drenching thunderstorms, tromps through mud-sucking swamps, sees gutted deer carcasses, and falls down rocky slopes. Will she survive? Readers aren't sure and the tension builds as hunger and weakness wear her down. Excitement, fear, and anxiety, coupled with vivid descriptions of the Maine-New Hampshire forests alongside the normalcy of listening to play-by-play baseball games, add up to a top-notch read.-Pam Spencer, Young Adult Literature Specialist, Virginia Beach, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
...[S]tands right up there with the best work that King's produced, and that's very fine work indeed.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
NY Times Book Review
...[T]he idea of "closing" as a metaphor for conquering demons is a deft addition to King's crowded field.
...[F]inds its fright factor not in the supernatural but in the demons within....[King is] at his best when he keeps the creepy elements to a minimum and concentrates on his girl-against-nature tale....[The book] isn't going to keep die-hard horror fans up at night, but adventure addicts will find plenty of thrills.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Masterful...Trisha is a tough little kid, but is she any match for the monsters of our imagination? Who among us hasn't wandered through the wild without that eerie feeling that someone is watching....King uses that creepy-crawly paranoia to perfection.
Read an Excerpt
Mom and Pete gave it a rest as they got their packs and Quilla's wicker plant-collection basket out of the van's back end; Pete even helped Trisha get her pack settled evenly on her back, tightening one of the straps, and she had a moment's foolish hope that now things were going to be all right.
"Kids got your ponchos?" Mom asked, looking up at the sky. There was still blue up there, but the clouds were thickening in the west. It very likely would rain, but probably not soon enough for Pete to have a satisfying whine about being soaked.
"I've got mine, Mom!" Trisha chirruped in her oh-boy-waterless-cookware voice.
Pete grunted something that might have been yes.
Affirmative from Trisha; another low grunt from Pete.
"Good, because I'm not sharing mine." She locked the Caravan, then led them across the dirt lot toward a sign marked TRAIL WEST, with an arrow beneath. There were maybe a dozen other cars in the lot, all but theirs with out-of-state plates.
"Bug-spray?" Mom asked as they stepped onto the path leading to the trail. "Trish?"
"Got it!" she chirruped, not entirely positive she did but not wanting to stop with her back turned so that Mom could have a rummage. That would get Pete going again for sure. If they kept walking, though, he might see something which would interest him, or at least distract him. A raccoon. Maybe a deer. A dinosaur would be good. Trisha giggled.
"What's funny?" Mom asked.
"Just me thinks," Trisha replied, and Quilla frowned -- "me thinks" was a Larry McFarland-ism. Well let her frown, Trisha thought. Let her frown all she wants, I'm with her, and I don't complain about it like old grouchy there, but he's still my Dad and I still love him.
Trisha touched the brim of her signed cap, as if to prove it.
"Okay, kids, let's go," Quilla said. "And keep your eyes open."
"I hate this," Pete almost groaned -- it was the first clearly articulated thing he'd said since they got out of the van, and Trisha thought: Please God, send something. A deer or a dinosaur or a UFO. Because if you don't, they're going right back at it.
God sent nothing but a few mosquito scouts that would no doubt soon be reporting back to the main army that fresh meat was on the move, and by the time they passed a sign reading NO. CONWAY STATION 5.5 MI., the two of them were at it full-bore again, ignoring the woods, ignoring her, ignoring everything but each other. Yatata-yatata-yatata. It was, Trisha thought, like some sick kind of making out.
It was a shame, too, because they were missing stuff that was actually pretty neat. The sweet, resiny smell of the pines, for instance, and the way the clouds seemed so close -- less like clouds than like draggles of whitish-gray smoke. She guessed you'd have to be an adult to call something as boring as walking one of your hobbies, but this really wasn't bad. She didn't know if the entire Appalachian Trail was as well-maintained as this -- probably not -- but if it was, she guessed she could understand why people with nothing better to do decided to walk all umpty-thousand miles of it. Trisha thought it was like walking on a broad, winding avenue through the woods. It wasn't paved, of course, and it ran steadily uphill, but it was easy enough walking. There was even a little hut with a pump inside it and a sign which read: WATER TESTS OK FOR DRINKING. PLEASE FILL PRIMER JUG FOR NEXT PERSON.
She had a bottle of water in her pack -- a big one with a squeeze-top -- but suddenly all Trisha wanted in the world was to prime the pump in the little hut and get a drink, cold and fresh, from its rusty lip. She would drink and pretend she was Bilbo Baggins, on his way to the Misty Mountains.
"Mom?" she asked from behind them. "Could we stop long enough to -- "
"Making friends is a job, Peter," her mother was saying. She didn't look back at Trisha. "You can't just stand around and wait for kids to come to you."
"Mom? Pete? Could we Please stop for just a -- "
"You don't understand," he said heatedly. "You don't have a clue. I don't know how things were when you were in junior high, but they're a lot different now."
"Pete? Mom? Mommy? There's a pump -- " Actually there was a pump; that was now the grammatically correct way to put it, because the pump was behind them, and getting farther behind all the time.
"I don't accept that," Mom said briskly, all business, and Trisha thought: No wonder she drives him crazy. Then, resentfully: They don't even know I'm here, The Invisible Girl, that's me. I might as well have stayed home. A mosquito whined in her ear and she slapped at it irritably.
They came to a fork in the trail. The main branch -- not quite as wide as an avenue now, but still not bad -- went off to the left, marked by a sign reading NO. CONWAY 5.2. The other branch, smaller and mostly overgrown, read KEZAR NOTCH 10.
"Guys, I have to pee," said The Invisible Girl, and of course neither of them took any notice; they just headed up the branch which led to North Conway, walking side by side like lovers and looking into each other's faces like lovers and arguing like the bitterest enemies. We should have stayed home, Trisha thought. They could have done this at home, and I could have read a book. The Hobbit again, maybe -- a story about guys who like to walk in the woods.
"Who cares, I'm peeing," she said sulkily, and walked a little way down the path marked KEZAR NOTCH. Here the pines which had stayed modestly back from the main trail crowded in, reaching with their blueblack branches, and there was underbrush, as well -- clogs and clogs of it. She looked for the shiny leaves that meant poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, and didn't see any...thank God for small favors. Her mother had shown her pictures of those and taught her to identify them two years ago, when life had been happier and simpler. In those days Trisha had gone tramping in the woods with her mother quite a bit. (Pete's bitterest complaint about the trip to Plant-A-Torium was that their mother had wanted to go there. The obvious truth of this seemed to blind him to how selfish he had sounded, harping on it all day long.)
On one of their walks, Mom had also taught her how girls peed in the woods. She began by saying, "The most important thing -- maybe the only important thing -- is not to do it in a patch of poison ivy. Now look. Watch me and do it just the way I do it."
Trisha now looked both ways, saw no one, and decided she'd get off the trail anyway. The way to Kezar Notch looked hardly used -- little more than an alley compared to the broad thoroughfare of the main trail -- but she still didn't want to squat right in the middle of it. It seemed indecorous.
She stepped off the path in the direction of the North Conway fork, and she could still hear them arguing. Later on, after she was good and lost and trying not to believe she might die in the woods, Trisha would remember the last phrase she got in the clear; her brother's hurt, indignant voice: -- don't know why we have to pay for what you guys did wrong!
She walked half a dozen steps toward the sound of his voice, stepping carefully around a clump of brambles even though she was wearing jeans instead of shorts. She paused, looked back, and realized she could still see the Kezar Notch path...which meant that anyone coming along it would be able to see her, squatting and peeing with a half-loaded knapsack on her back and a Red Sox cap on her head. Em-bare-ASS-ing, as Pepsi might say (Quilla Andersen had once remarked that Penelope Robichaud's picture should be next to the word vulgar in the dictionary).
Trisha went down a mild slope, her sneakers slipping a little in a carpet of last year's dead leaves, and when she got to the bottom she couldn't see the Kezar Notch path anymore. Good. From the other direction, straight ahead through the woods, she heard a man's voice and a girl's answering laughter -- hikers on the main trail, and not far away, by the sound. As Trisha unsnapped her jeans it occurred to her that if her mother and brother paused in their oh-so-interesting argument, looking behind them to see how sis was doing, and saw a strange man and woman instead, they might be worried about her.
Good! Give them something else to think about for a few minutes. Something besides themselves.
The trick, her mother had told her on that better day in the woods two years ago, wasn't going outdoors -- girls could do that every bit as well as boys -- but to do it without soaking your clothes.
Trisha held onto the conveniently jutting branch of a nearby pine, bent her knees, then reached between her legs with her free hand, yanking her pants and her underwear forward and out of the firing line. For a moment nothing happened -- wasn't that just typical -- and Trish sighed. A mosquito whined bloodthirstily around her left ear, and she had no hand free with which to slap at it.
"Oh waterless cookware!" she said angrily, but it was funny, really quite deliciously stupid and funny, and she began to laugh. As soon as she started laughing she started peeing. When she was done she looked around dubiously for something to blot with and decided -- once more it was her father's phrase -- not to push her luck. She gave her tail a little shake (as if that would really do any good) and then yanked up her pants. When the mosquito buzzed the side of her face again, she slapped it briskly and looked with satisfaction at the small bloody smear in the cup of her palm. "Thought I was unloaded, partner, didn't you?" she said.
Trisha turned back toward the slope, and then turned around again as the worst idea of her life came to her. This idea was to go forward instead of backtracking to the Kezar Notch trail. The paths had forked in a Y; she would simply walk across the gap and rejoin the main trail. Piece of cake. There was no chance of getting lost, because she could hear the voices of the other hikers so clearly. There was really no chance of getting lost at all.
Copyright © 1999 by Stephen King