Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was my sixteenth read of the year, in search of 50. I'm ahead of the game a little bit. So here are my thoughts on this latest book.
I'm a huge SK fan, always have been. His books have this magical quality; you can't get the kind of climax he delivers anywhere else. A lot of his more recent books have been magical realism, which is a more mature direction for him to take, although he has always had a bit of that in his stories. This is probably one of his more grounded works. It's likeable enough, but not really true to King style. It might be a good lead-in for someone new to his style, as he can be an acquired taste for some. I personally think something like Duma Key or Insomnia would be better suited to that, though.
In this particular story, aforementioned girl is nine years old and lost in the forests of west Maine. A short detour for her becomes a nightmare, full of hallucination and terror, and of learning of the things in the world that bite. King manages to make her story believable, making you feel her fight-or-flight instincts that have just woken up. As King describes it, that something that sleeps in the world of malls and airports and city lights comes awake in the forest, a primeval instinct to survive. And a nine-year old girl has to learn to fight even the things that make her shake with fear.
Tom Gordon comes into the picture as a sort of savior for the girl. He's her favorite baseball player, the Red Sox closer, her dream hero, almost. As her journey into the forest takes her to the limits of her health and sanity, she starts to believe he is there with her. She talks to him, listens to his games on her tiny walkman; he's her only connection to the outside world now. He becomes a symbol of all humanity, what she needs desperately to keep her sane.
Probably the most exciting part of this story is that you never know if she'll live or die. The scary thing haunting her, the thing that might be a monster or just a plain predator (what else? It's Stephen King, after all, even if he takes a detour to a more "normal" place than usual.) Will it get her? Will she succumb to the more mundane death of starvation, thirst, and illness? You don't always get a happy ending in his novels: it's one thing to be aware of, and also something to keep you reading. Will her hallucinatory remaining connection to humanity save her? Is he, in some more real way than we imagine, truly there?
I won't answer that, but suffice it to say the little girl is more resourceful than one would imagine. Her story opens up a few good questions, like is it better for one so young to experience hardship or to remain naive and tender? You have no doubt she grows up on her journey, for good or ill, and isn't that the most realistic lesson of all in a story?
King spins a relatively simple story and adds a touch of magic to it. He manages to keep it grounded enough to be believable. It's not his best work by far, but it's a nice little diversion from the mundane life you or I live. Not that I'd wish her journey on anybody, least of all myself.