Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Stephen King Re-Read Part Four: Rage

I'll admit, I was unsure about whether or not I should include this one in the re-read. For one, King himself has taken this book out of print and I was concerned that some might not be able to get their hands on it. More than this though, the subject matter is something that, for obvious reasons, is going to read a lot differently in 2016 than it did when King first published it in 1977. However, if we're going to do a full Stephen King re-read, then that means a full re-read, which includes Rage.

Rage was the first of seven novels that King wrote and published under the pen name Richard Bachman. One of the five novels that preceded Carrie in creation, if not in publication, King started writing Rage in high school, and describes it as an attempt to deal with his own frustrations and pains in transitioning to adulthood. It's a novel that, along with the short story Cain Rose Up, will be a lot more disturbing now than when it was initially written.

If a high school student wrote something like this today, it would be a huge red flag, and I think that this shift in perception that's occurred since King first wrote Rage is impossible to ignore. School shootings are a fact of life now. A week scarcely goes by without some kid shooting up a classroom in some part of the country, which is something that nobody could have seen coming in the pre-Columbine years when a young Stephen King was first graduating college.

Part of the reason that King himself took the book out of print is because there was supposedly a connection between it and at least one actual school shooting. Whether or not there's any validity to this is a different conversation. What we're here to do is examine the book itself, but in doing so the greater social issues surrounding school shootings are no doubt going to come up.

As far as the story itself goes, it's alright I suppose. Not King's worst story, though certainly not his best either. It's clearly something written by a young author, one who hasn't yet mastered the craft and is still trying to find his literary voice. If nothing else it's certainly a story that makes one consider the nature of rage, and how people deal with long-festering anger, as well as the tragic consequences of allowing such feelings to gestate unheeded.

Charlie Decker's hostage situation is treated as a cathartic experience, with each of the students using it as an outlet to unleash their own negative feelings over their lives. In the end it's the straight man, Ted Jones, that the classroom turns against, representing the rejection of social norms. Though reading it now, the story obviously differs jarringly from the tragic narrative with which we've all become familiar, taken in the context of when King first wrote it, Charlie Decker seems like a dark-side-of-the-moon metaphor for the death of the counterculture movement. Consider the way that Ted Jones is attacked in the end, covered with ink and made to look hideous and deranged, revealing the absurdity of social conformity for its own sake.

All in all I found Rage to be a strange story. It's worth reading for any long time Stephen King fan, but I don't think that King was wrong for taking it out of print. In a way the story was way ahead of its time when it was first written, though now it comes off as glaringly dated.

1 comment:

  1. I've always liked Stephen King, but I have to admit that I've never read Rage. If I can get my hands on it, I may have to read it just to see how it compares to his more recent novels. If you like King, you might like Sergey Mavrodi. He has a horror novel out called "Lucifer's Son", http://www.mavrodisergey.com/, and I've learned that his writing may be comparable to King's. Thanks for your honest post.