The Dead Zone was a re-read for me, as many will be as I go through The Stephen King Challenge, and I forgot how powerful this book was. King was really in fine form during this period in the late 1970s.
Johnny Smith is a young teacher that has started to date Sarah, another young teacher that works for another school. They’ve started to fall in love and Johnny takes her out on a date to the county fair. They’re both excited about the night. Love is in the air and Sarah has hinted that she’d like him to spend the night at her place for the first time. They have a great time at the fair riding the rides and eating all the fair food. As they’re walking out, a carnival barker at the Wheel of Fortune lures them over to try their luck. Suddenly, Johnny gets a strange feeling that he knows what number the ball is going to land on and begins to go in a trance-like state. Sure enough, he hits…and hits…and hits, until he has over $500 in his pocket and Sarah mysteriously turns ill. Driving his sick girlfriend to her house, they decide that they’ll have to postpone their special evening for when she feels better. Johnny hails a cab and heads for his house. He never makes it home. Two kids were drag racing and hit the cab head on. Johnny is the only survivor…well, kind of. Johnny, battered and broken, is in a coma for 4 and 1/2 years. The doctors had given up on him and eventually Sarah did too. While Johnny was withering away in a hospital bed, Sarah marries and has a little boy. Then, one day, she gets word that Johnny Smith has miraculously come out of his coma. What she was led to believe as impossible has happened. For Johnny, it’s as if he’s only been asleep for a few days. Instead, his whole life, as he knows it, has been ripped away from him and all he has to look forward to is multiple surgeries and an excruciating recovery. During one of his physical therapy sessions, he touches a nurse and a wave of visions flood through Johnny’s mind. He goes into another trance-like state and tells the nurse that she has to hurry. Her house is on fire. She checks and sure enough, Johnny was right and the wary nursing staff look as if Johnny has leprosy and none of them want to get close enough to touch him. For Johnny, this newfound ability is a curse. Newspapers, tabloids, desperate people wanting to know what happened to their missing loved ones all come out of the woodwork and hound Johnny. Then one day, Johnny shakes the hand of Greg Stillson. Stillson is a local politician with big ambitions and Johnny sees what would happen to the world if Stillson is in charge. What would you do if you could go back in time and prevent Hitler from coming to power? This is the burden that Johnny faces.
The Dead Zone hit me like a ton of bricks. Johnny is a very likable character and you want him and Sarah to be a couple. You want his life to be wonderful. You want to see a silver lining. With one kick in the gut after another, it’s painful to watch Johnny be forced to travel down the roads that he has to. The characters, storytelling, setting, it’s all wonderfully laid out by King. This is King firing on all cylinders. It transports you inside Johnny Smith and makes you ask yourself, “What if this happened to me?” An excellent tale that should be a felony for all that haven’t read it.
5 burning tires out of 5
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