The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Introduced by David Lewis, a landscape and history writer, originally from North-West England but now living near Hay
Stephen King is the only horror writer I read, because he writes so strongly about ordinary America, ordinary lives touched by darkness or wonder. Of course he writes well about monsters and vampires, but he understands real horror as well and he writes beautifully about Time. Time is fluid and vague in Stephen King stories, and his books are underpinned by a sense of big and little American history.
All of these come together in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. This story is about nine-year-old Trish who is on a walk in the Maine woods with her brother Pete and their mother, recently separated from their father. Pete and their mother are walking ahead, arguing again about what happened, and why everyone is so unhappy. Trish steps off the path and then decides to take a short cut to meet them further up the trail, wanders away from the path and deeper into the woods. And that’s it, the story of the girl’s time in the woods and her eventual escape, and how her family deal with it.
The story is set in June, but there is a sombre autumnal tone to the story, a feeling that winter – or death – is just around the corner. In her week in the woods, Trish falls over cliffs, eats bad berries, gets repeatedly stung and scratched and stumbles around in circles. The mood darkens, with the exhausted and frightened child starting to imagine that she is being pursued by the God of the Lost, a splendid King monster; half nest-of-angry-wasps, half dead-and-rotting-bear-carcase. Is she really being chased or is she hallucinating? We sort-of never know, but her dangers and terrors are all too real.
But the little girl does not give in and does not break down. She finds food, ekes out her supplies, convinces herself that each day will be her last in the woods. She listens to baseball games on her Walkman – Tom Gordon is a baseball player – and draws strength from his imagined support. King writes well about women and their inner resources and some of his strongest characters are female. This book is similar to King’s novel Gerald’s Game, which is also about a woman lost in the woods facing death if she doesn’t figure out how to escape. Both characters are radically changed by their time in the woods; Trish realises a few days into her ordeal that in some ways she is now the older of the two siblings, because of her experiences, her defiance, her inner strengths. Both books are psychological studies, journeys into an inner female landscape, tinged with a menace that may be real and may be simply the threat of starvation.
The Girl … is a simple tale given psychological darkness and depth by a great writer playing with familiar themes and ideas; the Maine landscape, strong dangers, and the strengths of women to overcome them. It’s a great story!