THE DEAD ZONE
by Stephen King
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Stephen King's The Dead Zone can almost be read as a mainstream thriller with little fantastic intervention. The novel tells the story of John Smith, as completely average a man as his name suggests, who has the peculiar ability to, on occassion, see the future. Although those around Smith question his ability, King leaves no doubt in the minds of his readers that Smith can do what he claims, a surety which, in some ways, weakens Kings's novel while it strengthens it in other ways.
The majority of the novel describes Smith's five years in a coma and his intial recuperation. While Smith is in his coma, King glosses over the political and social events which Smith is missing. Upon awakening, Smith becomes fully cognizant of his abilities, which existed prior to the car accident which sent him to the hospital. King's way of dealing with the events in the world outside Smith's hometown serves to distant the readers from the events and allows the reader to feel a closer kinship to Smith's problem. King also sets in play two subplots which will eventually become tied to Smith's story: a serial murderer in Castle Rock and a politician's rise in New Hampshire.
The first part of The Dead Zone ends with Smith helping Castle Rock police find their murderer. This use of Smith's psychic abilities helps to firmly establish their reality, both to the reader and to characters in the novel. King strengthens this reality by having Smith make other predictions come true. Eventually, Smith sees Greg Stillson, a demagogue from New Hampshire about to win his first term in Congress eventually being sworn in as President of the United States. Smith also sees Stillson starting a nuclear war.
Although a relatively minor part of the novel as far as pages devoted to it are concerned, Smith's reaction to Stillson forms the crux of The Dead Zone. Smith's dilemma is whether he has the moral right to murder a person if he knows for sure that their survival will result in the deaths of millions of people. Smith's ability to see the future allows him to know this for sure, which means that King can focus on the morals of the largely hypothetical question. However, because this type of situation does not occur in reality, the book would have been strengthened if Smith had to make the decision knowing that his precognition was fallable, and not just incomplete.
The Dead Zone is, in fact, the first Stephen King novel I've read and I was very pleasantly surprised. The plotting and writing were much better than I had expected them to be. Although King is generally listed as a horror novelist when he isn't listed as a bestseller, the novel did not really have any horrific elements to it.
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