Reason for Reading: I am re/reading Stephen King's books in chronological publishing order. This was my next book. I have also gotten into the habit of starting my year off with a Stephen King novel.
I was really looking forward to this one. I have fond memories of really enjoying the book. I have only read it once before which was this exact paperback copy and I would have been 12 at the time. I don't really remember the story from the book, though, as I have flashes of scenes from the movie with Christopher Walken in my head, some which actually don't even happen in the book. And I was a fan of the TV series which was loosely based on the same premise as the book. So it was great to re-read the original and get the real story firmly planted in my head again.
Excluding the Bachman books, up to this date "The Dead Zone" was King's first non-horror story. This is a story about a psychic and involves him solving a serial killer case and later on facing a prediction that he must decide whether he should take care of the problem before it happens and contemplates that age old hypothetical question, "If you could go back to 1932, knowing what you now know, would you murder Adolph Hitler?" The book carries a rather small cast, comparitively for a King book and we get to know Johnny, the main character, very well. He is very likable and someone we can relate to throughout the book. This book kept me up late at night as I just didn't want to put it down and had virtually forgotten how the book ended though it wasn't hard to predict. King uses very little stream of consiousness in this book; it is a plot driven novel with great character insight and a fast read. I loved it even more than I expected to! Great early King!
While re-reading these books, I also like to look for the connections to previous books and found three while reading. A girl actually mentions the book "Carrie", there is a street named Flagg (a nod to Randall Flagg from The Stand) and the town of Jerusalem's Lot is mentioned. (otherwise known as 'Salem's Lot).
If you are not really into horror books but would like to sample Stephen King, this is an excellent book for your first read and fans can't miss out on this classic old-school King novel.
I've always had sort of weird feelings about The Dead Zone. It is a fantastic novel, yet it has never rated among my personal King favorites. Maybe it's because I envision the story taking place in a cold, harsh world, devoid of color and light. This really isn't a horror novel at all, so there are really no thrills and chills to be found until the few exhilarating moments that make up the climax of this pretty depressing story. The Dead Zone is one of King's most accessible novels, however, and it exemplifies so many of this great author's strengths. First and foremost, the man knows how to tell a story - no one does it better, in my opinion. King's magic gift for characterization is also on display here, as John Smith, a thoroughly "Everyman" protagonist comes across as quite real and exceedingly human; he's a truly ordinary man placed in the most extraordinary of conditions. King truly does the character right in the form of a truly masterful conclusion, as well.
If you could go back in time to 1932 and meet Adolf Hitler, would you kill him? That's the kind of question that ultimately comes to consume Johnny's mind as this story nears its end. Would you sacrifice yourself for the lives of so many other people, virtually all of them strangers?
John Smith is just an ordinary fellow; he's got a job he enjoys, he's fallen in love with a good woman, and he's as happy as he's ever been. Then The Accident happens, and Johnny wakes up to learn that his world will never be the same. He's been in a coma for well over four years, and he faces a painful road to recovery both mentally and physically. His girl has married someone else, his mother has gone off the deep end of religious zeal, he faces painful, scarring surgeries in the brutal months ahead, and he really struggles to find a reason for living in such a harsh new world. He has gained something from the awful experience, however, and it's both a blessing and a curse. At times, he can see the future just by touching a person or an object. It's a frightening power, one that alienates him even further from those around him. When word gets out, he finds himself deluged with pleas for help from people all over the country. All he wants is to live an ordinary life again, but his psychic powers make this impossible. His mother believes God has special plans for Johnny, and in the end he thinks she may be right. He alone, as things turn out, can save his country and maybe the entire world from devastating future destruction wrought by a madman.
Smith is one of King's most sympathetic characters. He's one of us, really, and we suffer along with him as he starts life anew. His physical problems are horrendous, but they pale in comparison to his emotional loss. He's lost his girl, yet he can't even blame her for thinking he would never recover and thus starting her life anew in someone else's arms. He doesn't know what to think or do about this strange power he has developed; it scares people, and it scares him - yet he knows it allows him to do some good things for people. He also knows he can't run away from it. The problem is that no one really believes his predictions until they have proven themselves to be accurate. That is why he has to make the most heroic, most gut-wrenching decision of his life completely on his own.
John Smith is a fabulous character, and The Dead Zone is a truly masterful modern novel. While some of the subtext of the story is rooted in the 1970s, this really is a book for all seasons. It will never make my list of King's top five novels, but it's one of the most compelling stories you'll ever read.
on March 12, 1999
Once you start reading this book it just grabs you and you'll stay hooked from start until finish. All the characters are so real and amazing. King is the true maestro of horror-thriller fiction. Unbeatable. Ignore his newer works like Gerald's Game, Rose Madder (the worst!), Insomnia or The Green Mile. The Dead Zone is THE Classic Stephen King masterpiece. I've read it 3 times over the last 5 years, and frankly I wouldn't mind picking it up again. The story is very original - the villain in the book was is so evil and real, you just pray you would never meet such a person in real life. And the main character/hero, you just emphatize with him - he who lost years of his life due to a coma and when he woke up was "rewarded" with a cursed psychic power he couldn't control and which he dreads. If you've read the book, you could compare it with the movie starring Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. Excellent movie! I highly recommend this book to all fiction-enthusiasts. This book ranks among my all time favourites. Other King's books which are similarly well written are Firestarter, The Dark Half, It and Misery. I'm a quarter into his latest book - Bag of Bones. It's OK so far but nothing like The Dead Zone. You really must read it to know fully what I mean.
on August 23, 2000
I think I would probably put this up as my favorite of all King's books. It has one of the most memorable characters, John Smith, and one of the most intriguing plots.
From Johnny's childhood skating accident through the end of the book, we are completely hooked by this character and what is happening to him. If you liked The Dark Half, you will certainly like the Dead Zone. Both feature essentially good people that we find ourselves really liking, but that become the central focus of the evil as well, thrown into situations that they have no control over.
But one thing that makes the Dead Zone so compelling is the central question that comes...would you sacrifice your own life to save the rest of the world? Johnny's torment is very real because it is so very human. No one can easily walk into the fire, and we'd all like to think that when push comes to shove, we would make the right decision. I loved the fact, though, that even the way things are resolved sort of takes you by surprise. No easy answers or simple solutions in the end, Johnny is above all just an average man who tried his best to do right.
Everything in this book is done just right, from John's relationships with other people, his reactions to his *power*, the development of the essential conflict, the final courtroom transcript to tie up loose ends. Wonderfully written, this will always have a spot on my bookshelf.
on October 20, 2000
I think King is unfairly labeled & dismissed as a mere "horror" novelist. The truth of the matter is that he is simply one of the greatest and most gifted popular novelists of our time. The Dead Zone illustrates this fact more than any King novel I have been exposed to. I have read just a handful of King's novels, but am always surprised at how much they stay with me after the fact. This story was no exception. The characters are exceedingly well crafted -- particularly the protagonist Johnny Smith. King is very adept at creating a sense of time and place. In this case: the Seventies in Maine, of course. The plot is fast-paced and forces the reader to focus on one central theme: If one has the power to see the future, how would one use that power? Johnny Smith (a likeable, very typical individual if there ever was one) takes a sharp blow to the head as a small boy and is doomed to struggle with that question from that point on. There are no ghosts, witches, vampires, etc. in this book. This is not a "horror" novel in the traditional sense, which is precisely why it will scare the living hell out of you. Just a plain man with a power he doesn't want. The results are gripping and chilling. The bottom line is that King (God bless him) makes you want to read. James Joyce is still on my bookshelf... unread. Do yourself a favor and read the first 10 pages of the Dead Zone. You will be on page 404 two days later.
on January 22, 2001
Occasionally a book will come along and it'll affect you in a place you had completely forgotten about. It'll leave a feeling behind that will encompass everything, like a hit below the belt. One of the first books I read for personel pleasure was Crime and Punishment, to this day I consider it the best ever written. Not for any real reason other than it hit me below the belt harder than any other book, and it was the first time for me. I was like a blushing bride on her wedding day...Anyway.
Every so often I'll run into a book like that, that hits me somewhere that doesn't get hit too often. I won't bore you with the names of those books, but this one, this "horror" novel did just that. I'm not an emotional guy, but I could feel tears welling up near the end. The only other time in my life that's happened (besides when I was a little tike, ya know) was when Raskolnikov and Sonia professed their love for one another. That was powerful for a thirteen year old boy. This book was no less powerful for me, and I'm a little older than thirteen; not much, but older still. I won't reveal too much of the story, I'd hate to ruin it. God, I wish I could be more expressive, but we all have our deficiencies. I guess.
Use your own judgement. If you want a book that will move you, a book that will make you feel alive, a book that you will remember for the rest of your life if you're anything like me, pick up the Dead Zone. It's as close as you'll get.
At least in my experience.
I've read a large assortment of books, about as ecclectic as you can get, or at least as ecclectic as I can get. My personal library is over a thousand volumes, and I've read just about every one. I say this not to boast, but to put in perspective how much I love reading. I abhor TV, and I'm privileged with the ability to read exceedingly fast. It took me three hours to read this novel, THREE HOURS! I don't know about you, but I can't say I've read a 400+ page book in three hours.
I'm sure in the future I'll return to this novel many a time, but it'll never have the affect on me like the first time. It's like heroin, a good book: the first time is the best.
And it hits you before you know it.
Enjoy. I truely hope you buy this book, you won't regret it.
on December 14, 2003
Overall, this book was very good. As I was reading it, I never wanted to stop. The main character was described very well, and his actions seemed to have merit. I had no problem with the basic premise of the story. The one problem I had was his ability to sense things by touching them. If he had this power he would have gone mad with images from everything around him giving him signals from the past or future. He would of had to live in a bubble to not get totally engossed by everything. Besides that one thing that annoyed me, I enjoyed this book fully. I put that flaw aside, and read the story for what it was, and it was very good reading. The author has characters you love or hate immeadiatly, and you remember the characters when you put the book down. I always thought that if you put a book down and think about the story weeks later, then it must have been a pretty good book. This novel is one of those books. The ending took me a little by surprise, but then I thought of who the author was, and thought that to myself that the ending he came up with was approriate. A book well worth reading.
on December 20, 1998
to be honest i only saw the movie. but it was good and i am contemplating going through the book. It wasn't that the guy had abnormal powers that inticed me, alot of his book sare about paranormal powers. like most horror writers. what was fascinating was how king, probably intentionally, portrayed stillson as the hitler of today. he was heavily pro nationalistic, a great orator, started small and worked his way up the ranks, and was very violent. I can't say that the plot was extremely fascinating, its typical king. good, but i guess writing horror is hard when you are the no. 1 guy. with all the pressure to be perfect. but, take a look at the movie, and the book. Maybe king was trying to tell us something about ourselves. About how we would support a new hitler, a new narcissistic, violent, mass murderer. Who was a great orator, kissed babies, had his goons take care of his enemies, set his enemies up. I think king had a message beyond just anohter book. That we need to watch ourselves. That evil changes texture as political correctness changes. Hitler would never make it in todays world, but stillson would. But both were the same. Narcissistic mass murderers who were really great oraters. think about it.
on January 25, 2002
The Dead Zone is one of Stephen King's best novels, a tale rich in every way. It's well-told, with excellent characters, loaded with symbolism and shocking events (oftentimes both), and full of the plainspoken yet lyrical prose that is King at his best. There is little in King's long and excellent list of titles that can surpass this novel.
We'll start with the basic story. A young teacher named Johnny Smith is "gifted," through a car accident that leaves him comatose for nearly five years, with a strange precognitive/telepathic ability. And here's the catch, evidence of King's genius if ever I've seen it: He has to be touching a person or object for the power to work. King takes this startlingly simple (and original) idea, and weaves it into the most complex, and intriguing, tapestry of his career.
King does a lot -- and I mean a LOT -- with this novel. Take the prologue, which so expertly sets mood, and tone, and character -- Johnny shows early flashes of his power, while the villain of the piece, Greg Stillson, kicks a dog to death in a dooryard outside Ames, Iowa. King literally takes you from one extreme to the other here, does so brilliantly, and continues to do so for the rest of the novel, as Johnny and Stillson are set on their inexorable collision course. But the novel is much more than that, as well. It's the story of Johnny and Sarah, who might've been his wife if not for intervening circumstances; it's the story of Johnny and his parents, Herb and Vera, a loving couple who find separate ways of dealing with Johnny's misfortune; it is the story of Johnny and the Chatsworths, a rich New England family whose son Johnny tutors ... and it is the story of Johnny and one Frank Dodd, a character as frightening as any King has created.
All the way through, of course, this is Johnny's story -- and in John Smith, King has outdone himself. Johnny, in just about every way you'd care to imagine, represents us, the average person -- the name alone is a dead giveaway. (Some have said the symbolism of the name is crude -- absolutely not! King has always gone for the larger symbols along with more subtle ones.) His reactions are our reactions -- never made more clear than during the press conference at the hospital, where he looks on in abject horror at what his own power has done to a reporter there. It's a tense moment, in a novel full of them.
King deals in many levels of symbolism in The Dead Zone, symbols of fate, fortune, and God's will (the three being interchangeable in King's Calvinistic view); fortune wheels, omens, Vera's obsession with the more hysterical and relevatory aspects of Christianity (she could've stepped out of a Flannery O'Connor story), the seller of lightning rods (used, much as Bradbury used him, as a harbnger of doom), the mythical resonances of Cassandra and the abiguity of the Delphic Oracle, the Biblical references to Jonah as Johnny runs from himself, his power, and finally from fate and God -- again, interchangeable from King's point of view. There is also the brilliant use of the Jekyll/Hyde mask, one of the most elegant pieces of symbolism in the novel.
But let me get back to the Calvinist attitude here -- which I've mentioned a couple of times, and by which I don't mean conservative and/or repressed. Instead I refer to the Calvinist notion that everything that happens, even things like "luck" and "fortune," is predetermined, willed by God. And though we as human beings have free will to defy or not defy our fates, the fact remains (as Mother Abigail pointed out in The Stand) that this is what God wants from us. That's the statement at the heart of The Dead Zone; it is what John Smith, King's reluctant hero (another powerful myth-figure) miust face at last, in what is one of King's most powerful novels. It is a cornerstone of an King library, and should definitely be in yours right now. Think of it as -- Fate.
on March 16, 1999
In the Dead Zone, we find a different Stephen King then one is accustomed too. Gone is the sometimes wordy, (sorry Steve, but you knew that, right?), and clustered, apocalyptic, monster filled tales that one generally associates with Steve King, (which is a shame really, he is quite frankly a much better writer than most of those ignorant minds tend to believe, (I'm talking to you English Teachers!!!). Present here is a more restraint Mr. King, a softer, less horrific one, and the result is one the best novels ever written by Mr. Boogeyman, or any other author now that I think of it. The story of the painfully ordinary John Smith, (the name tells you how ordinary he is), and the tragic results of a car crash and the birth of his new power/curse is definitely Essential King. It's less scary than, say, Pet Semetary, or The Shining, but in my opinion, a much better read than them, (well maybe not the Shining, that kicked). Anyway, enough of my banter, pick yourself up and go read this book already!!!!