There are people who go on and on about Stephen King. Quite a ‘King’ too, considering the sheer volume of reading material he has produced.
I have not read most of his work, I must admit, and am not particularly a huge fan of King. I just can’t stand the blood covered gory characters, where body parts are chopped off and ghosts keep appearing ghastly to disgusting proportions. However, I find that he is loved by his readers, sometimes to fanatic proportions. There can be no argument that he is a great storyteller.
The girl who loved Tom Gordon, though, is one of King’s stories that I’ve really felt ‘sucked into’. Yes, it is a psychological thriller and has a super natural element added too. Nonetheless, there is not so much of the ‘horror’ in it that Stephen King would be associated with.
What’s interesting is that the narrative rarely shifts or loses focus from the struggles of 9 year old Trisha, the protagonist, when she is lost, and all alone. We are inside her mind all the time, except for a few short intervals when we are allowed a peep into the world that she left behind. Those who want her to be saved, are ‘let in’ to the knowledge that efforts are being made. The readers get just as much comfort and relief ‘knowing’, as much as Trisha would herself get, hearing human voices on her radio.
For any child, at Trisha’s age, ‘family’ would play a high note on her sensibilities. There is therefore a realistic approach to the plot when every life saving decision of Trisha’s is based either on what her mom had told her or what her dad had said.
Those are checkerberries, Trish. They are not a bit poison. They taste like Teaberry gum, the kind that comes in the pink pack. Her mother had tossed a handful of the berries into her mouth, and when she didn’t fall down, choking and convulsing, Trisha had tried a few herself. To her they tasted like gumdrops, the green ones that made your mouth feel kind of tingly.
She walked to the bushes, thought about picking a few berries just to cheer herself up, but didn’t. She wasn’t hungry, and had never felt less capable of cheering up. She inhaled the spicy smell of the waxy green leaves ( also good to eat, Quilla had said, although Trisha had never tried them – she wasn’t a woodchuck after all), then looked back at the pine.
Her mother, Quilla’s lesson on checkerberries would end up being her main source of nutrition through her nine days lost in the Appalachian woods.
Her father, a Red Sox fan like her, unintentionally would become the source of her understanding of the spiritual. She tries to understand her ordeal through her father’s logic of God as the ‘Sub-audible’ , which propels her to the childish interpretations of ‘God of Tom Gordon’ and the ‘God of the Lost’.
There are constant references to the ‘isms’ or sayings of both her father and her mother that weaves through her thought process.
‘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.
These relate to when she had been when she was more cheerful, when she was not yet lost. Later, when things go horribly wrong one after the other, she still thinks of phrases her parents would use.
Trisha reached around to the small of her back and felt a ragged hole in her shirt. The stub of the branch had punched through, then. She had been hoping it hadn’t. And when she brought her fingers back, there were little smears of blood on the tips. Trisha made a sighing, sobbing sound and wiped her fingers on her jeans.
‘Relax, at least it wasn’t a rusty nail,’ she said. ‘Count your blessings.’ That was one of her mother’s sayings, and it didn’t help. Trisha had never felt less blessed in her life.
Stephen King exploits every child’s primal understanding of fear, of suddenly not having your parent with you. Every reader would inevitably ‘get it’. It’s what we ‘entered’ this world with.
The structure of the plot is based on Baseball, each chapter named after the nine innings of the game. However, it does not overwhelm in any way, even if you are not a fan of the game. It would seem that King cleverly uses the biblical significance of 9, which is both the number of “finality” and “patience” and is also the number that represents the “perfect movement of God”. Hence Trisha is 9 years old, she is lost for nine days and her story told in chapters that alludes to the nine innings of baseball.
Trisha by the end of the ninth day, knows that she has grown up more than her older brother Pete. She also decides consequently, that if she gets out, she was going to make some sayings of her own.
One of the major sociological problems children face today is that they are directly connected to the alarmingly increasing divorce rates. Divorce is brought under the scanner as King explores the minds of Trisha and her brother Pete. The children long for the older way of life, where life was peaceful under familiar surroundings. Quilla tries to over compensate the absence of their father by tugging them along to different places but it frustrates her that it simply does not work.
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!
Pete and Trisha have a special relationship, the kind of love they are unaware of when around each other. Any one who has a brother or sister would easily identify with the characters. However, the fact that they remain etched in your mind long after the end, shows how particularly well the characters have been crafted.
The most important take away is that this book is more motivating and inspiring than it is scary. Trisha learns to have ‘ ice water in her veins’ , to stay still, like her favorite baseball player, Tom Gordon, before she ‘got the save’. Making symbolic connections with Tom Gordon and his game, she finds her way out of the woods. She saves herself.