Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rage by Stephen King


by Stephen King
(as Richard Bachman)

Originally titled 'Getting it On', Rage was begun by author Stephen King when he was just a senior in high school. And although the original title was a better one ('Rage' just seems a bit too generic for me), the publishers were probably afraid that it would be perceived as pornography and land them in the back bins with Naughty Stewardesses and School Girls For Rent. There are a few moments of overt sexuality in Rage, but they are too clumsy and realistically fumbling to be anything approaching erotica. No, 'getting it on' is just high school student Charlie Decker's pet phrase for getting down to the business at hand.

The business at hand just so happens to be giving into his darkest desires. It was only a short time ago that he assaulted his chemistry teacher with a pipe wrench, almost killed him in fact, which has made him something of an icon among his peers. In the wake of this violence, Charlie can see only one viable path for him to take, and it leads to even more violence.

He strolls casually into class, shoots and kills his teacher, and then holds the rest of the class hostage. Most of them seem relatively unfazed by it all. In fact, aside from the corpse at their feet and the police force assembling outside, it seems less like a hostage situation and more like some bizarre group therapy session. It would appear that all of the students have their own issues--we're all screwed up, every one of us--and perhaps that's the point. Charlie Decker snaps first, but any one of them could have been quite at home behind the gun.

There's an unmistakable Freudian psychology running through this book, as if madness can be wrapped up in so neat a bow. But at least an explanation is hinted at, if not overtly given. There is a root cause behind insanity, a sort of mathematical equation with psychosis being the sum, but no matter how many PHD's and Doctorate degrees you earn, you'll never truly understand the formula. Truth is, the human mind is just too complex for the human mind to comprehend.

The story is written in the first person, through the eyes of Charlie Decker, making this an early First Person Shooter. To anyone who wore a flannel in the 1990's, it will call to mind the video for Pearl Jam's "Jeremy", but for the whole of society we will be forced to remember the so-called Trench Coat Mafia from Columbine High School in Colorado, and the rash of school shootings that followed.

This book will likely never be republished, unless the endless debate of media violence influencing real life violence ever comes to a favorable close. But such a debate is best left to more eloquent speakers with more informed minds and won't be dealt with here. Suffice it to say that there are no easy answers. In fact, there may be no answers at all. As stated before, the human mind is too complex...

It is important to note that Rage was published before the Columbine massacre, long before the notion of school shootings became commonplace. It was published in a time when it was still practically unheard of (not to say it didn't happen, but it certainly didn't receive the same media attention that it receives today.) All of this may be the most frightening aspect of the book, one which the author certainly could not have intended: That it is no longer quite as shocking as it once was.


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  1. This is a great review. I finally got my hands on this book a few years ago after reading everything else by Stephen King and was pretty impressed.

    It is kind of weird, but his Richard Bachman books have a few moments in them that would later grab headlines: School shooting in Rage, bizarre reality TV in The Long Walk and The Running Man, and then the using an airplane as a guided missile to take down a skyscraper. I'm not saying his books are the cause of these moments (some people do say that though), but it is weird to think about it.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, William! I've noticed that about the Bachman Books as well. Life imitating art, art imitating life. Who knows? William S. Burroughs also had a number of "literary predictions" that came true, as well. The AIDS virus among them.



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