This Girl is on Fire
(A Book Review of Stephen King’s Firestarter)
Andy and Charlie McGee were on the run, hunted by sinister government agents. Father and daughter neither committed a heinous crime nor were they fugitives, but law enforcers pursue and want them to be captured alive by a clandestine agency of the USA government called The Shop for the abilities they possess, most specially that of Charlie’s as she is born with the “wild talent” of pyrokinesis, the power to induce fire with her mind.
Charlie is a firestarter.
It’s been months since I last read a book by Stephen King (if you’re curious enough fellow reader, it is the complete and uncut version of The Stand, which is kind of depressing passing up doing a book review on it; one good time will come, I suppose), and when the craving comes gnawing at my guts, I should better heed it. And I’m glad I did, for Firestarter, published in 1980, is nothing short of a relentless thriller that kept me on the edge of an adrenaline ride, a dark promise that King’s fiction never fails to deliver.
One interesting aspect of Firestarter that I noted it that it serves as an antithesis to Carrie. Put beside together, yes, both of the protagonists of the novels have glaring similarities: of course, both are girls, and are gifted or cursed with powers too destructive for their own good; both books on the whole are coming-of-age tales in that as the characters gain more understanding of their “wild talent”, so does they also achieve an understanding of their own humanity. Whereas Carrie is a tale of tragedy and loss, Firestarter is an engaging book filled with chase, action and suspenseful scenes and fiery carnage galore; on how father and daughter out maneuver government agents of The Shop who plan on exploiting them and the potential of their abilities not only for scientific study but for a nation’s need to be in the forefront of international arms race and eventual aspiration for world domination.
True to the hallmark that is Stephen King’s brand of fiction, the struggles and lengths through which the characters were to endure make the reader sympathize with and root for them to prevail over the odds they face, and these the author evocatively portrayed in the experiences and moments in the lives of Andy and Charlie McGee—a father and daughter whose love for one another no hellish blaze can extinguish. Well, love is its own fire. Need I say more?
In the end, it is for Charlie that the reader will feel for the most. At times it jolts me to realize that she’s only a child, barely on the onset of her puberty, and yet she has gone through so much (a matter that you, fellow reader, will eventually know if in case you decided to pick the book; I wouldn’t want to spoil it to you now, would I?) it’s enough for one to be cowered, intimidated and terrified with the misfortunes she had met with.
Once unleashed, she proves to be not a wimpy kid like Carrie. Charlie fought back, but unlike her predecessor of sorts, she’s remorseless of what she did knowing that these people deserved the baptism of fire she rained down on them—they push her to it; and when push comes to shove, explosion ensues.
Charlie fights for dear life, and like all simple individuals, she aspires for freedom, for peace of mind. Extraordinary as she might be, isn’t she by allowed to have those even for a pittance? It’s really ironic that the last institution in society you can count on, the government, in times of need even robs you of these basic rights. And for what price? It is sad to know that it is not for Charlie’s sake but for its selfish intents for supremacy.
Returning once again to the contrast of Firestarter and Carrie, Charlie McGee’s story is never about destruction and, though she had lost people who were most dear to her, it is neither about tragedy nor defeat. Firestarter is about hope and defiance seen in Charlie, in the survivor and heroine in her against severe injustice and degenerate actions by a nation to its citizen.
Damn me if you like, but for the hell of it, Charlie McGee for me is the first, the truly, the only girl on fire.