"The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon," by Stephen King...

Book Brief

April 18, 1999|By Salem Macknee | Salem Macknee,Knight Ridder/Tribune

"The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon," by Stephen King. Scribner. 224 pages. $16.95.

It's not a club anyone would join on purpose: Gage Creed; Danny Torrance; the whole gang from It. Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland is one of them now, though: fictional children who have had the misfortune to wander into the imagination of Stephen King (instead of someone safer like, say, Mark Twain).

No one gets out of this club unbruised, and not everyone gets out alive. When we first meet Trisha, she has wandered off the path during a family outing in the Maine woods. Things turn bad fast. As Trisha meets the horrors of the deep woods, she conjures the image of her idol, the Boston Red Sox's Tom Gordon, for comfort. He's a real baseball player, as you probably know (I didn't, until the afterword), and King makes pure poetry of the game in passages where Trisha listens to the Sox on her Walkman.

Gordon seems more and more real to her as the hunger, thirst and fear take over. Trisha's visions also include a bogeyman, but it almost seems superfluous the physical dangers of the wilderness are bad enough. And King, of course, doesn't shy away from dumping her right into those worst-case scenarios. I kept thinking "Oh, no, he won't tumble her down that ..." and there she went. "Oh, no, not a whole nest of ..." Oh, yes. A whole nest. So the book would stand on its own perfectly well without the thing that waits in the dark, but who ever heard of a Stephen King book with no bogeyman, right? But Trisha's initiation into the Children of Novels by King (CONK for short, maybe?) is really rooted in the terrors of reality, not unreality: "Life could be very sad, it seemed to her, and mostly it was. ... People made believe that it wasn't, and they lied to their kids (no movie or television program she had seen had prepared her for losing her balance and plopping back into her own crap, for instance) so as not to scare them or bum them out, but yeah, it could be sad.

"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted. She knew that now. She was only nine, but she knew it, and she thought she could accept it. She was almost ten, after all, and big for her age."

King's pop-culture genius makes Trisha a very believable 9-year-old. She sings commercial jingles while gathering nuts and berries, and her backpack is stocked with Surge and Twinkies. In fact, aside from several four-letter words and one mild reference to parents having had sex, this book would probably be G-rated enough for a real 9-year-old to read. At 224 pages, it's a true rarity -- a Stephen King novel you can finish in a sitting.

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