Blaze by Richard Bachman

Confession? I have never read Of Mice and Men. I am well aware of how literarily shameful this is. No need to point it out.

However, I have read The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (the latter of which is best consumed as a sleep aid). This makes up for it, no? I don’t know how I’ve avoided Of Mice and Men thus far, but it is notably absent from my reading history. If you’re a Stephen King enthusiast, this is good. It means that I have, in all honesty, no idea what anyone’s talking about when they say Blaze is a rip-off of Steinbeck’s beloved novella. Although I do believe King preferred to think of Blaze as a modern homage to Of Mice and Men, I just found it to be a satisfying, rather sentimental story. If you thought the previous paragraph sounded like a sub-par justification for omitting the classics, you might be right (because who needs Charlton Heston’s Planet of the Apes when you can watch Mark Wahlberg’s instead…?).


Blaze tells the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr. – known as Blaze. Blaze has the best of intentions, but he has a soft heart and an ever softer mind. A gentle giant if you will. At 6’7” and 300lbs, he has the size to intimidate the average person, but that’s never what he intends. He drifts along, always on the outskirts of society, until he meets George Rackley, a small-time, small-statured con artist who convinces Blaze to join him. Together, they pull a variety of small cons until George thinks up the big score. George, with the help of Blaze, plans to kidnap a wealthy man’s infant son and hold him for ransom. Unfortunately, George dies before he has a chance to carry out this plan, though his voice continues to haunt Blaze, working to convince him to attempt it alone.

It’s clear from the beginning that Blaze has zero chance of being successful. He is a hulking man-child who cannot remember to brush his teeth; he is in no way capable of initiating and completing a high-profile kidnapping. George’s voice continually berates him until he’s willing to do so. Through sheer luck, he procures what he needs to care for the baby and access to the property. Throughout the narrative, King weaves in flashbacks to Blaze’s abusive childhood. It is well-paced and heart-wrenching.

Of what I’ve read of his work, Blaze is the closest thing to sentimental that King has written. It’s subtle and surprisingly pleasant. This novel, written before Carrie and relegated to trunk novel status, is very fine, pared down storytelling. Blaze is not a bad man; he’s just a malleable one who ends up in a bad situation at the wrong time. Because King can be rather merciless, I was surprised at how moving the story of Blaze is. This is a well-done character study of a man who had no business committing this crime, but feels compelled to do so to please one of the only friends he’s ever had (the scene where he call collects to leave his ransom demands and leaves his name illustrates this particularly well). Despite looking like a simple thug to the outside world, Blaze more than earns a reader’s sympathies. I’m glad Stephen King pulled this manuscript out of the trunk (or the University of Maine’s Fogler Library Stephen King collection, as the case may be). If you’re looking to read Stephen King without reading what’s considered “typical” King, this is a good place to start. 3.5/5.

Do you read modern retellings of classic literature? Do you always read the classic first? Should you even redo something that was already done well? In this case, I didn’t read the inspiration, and I don’t know that this updated version has inspired me to do so. Tangentially related, I just found out that they are planning to remake Rosemary’s Baby. Just…no. Thoughts?


Blaze’s favorite food is pineapple, he’s convinced he could eat it morning, noon, and night and never get his fill. While he prefers the kind in a can (because he can drink the syrup), I’m recommending this grilled tomatillo and pineapple salsa. However good you think it might be, I promise you it’s better.

1/2 (photo by Jennifer Causey)

24 thoughts on “Blaze by Richard Bachman

  1. I have read Of Mice and Men and share the same feeling for John Steinbeck as you do for Stephen King so this sounds interesting to me. I have wanted to try another Stephen King and keep thinking The Shining but this may be it.

    Yes, I do prefer to read the original or, as you put it, the inspiration that a work is based on. If you’re willing to give Steinbeck another try I’d recommend The Wayward Bus. It’s quite odd and done right would make a fantastic movie.


    1. I love East of Eden and like The Grapes of Wrath, so I do think I will get around to reading Of Mice and Men at some point. I might have to look into The Wayward Bus at some point as well. Blaze is significantly shorter if that helps in you next King decision.


    1. I love that one, it’s one of the books I recommend most to people looking to read King without extensive horror. The movie is pretty good too, though not AS good, of course.


  2. I’ve taught Of Mice and Men a few years and love it! I say you are definitely excused since you’ve read his other stuff though! Lol. I would like to read this more if it is indeed in homage to Of Mice and Men. Love those connections.


  3. When I was pregnant with my first baby I ate pineapple morning, noon and night. Accompanied by chocolate milk – could there be a more gut-churning combination? At the time I didn’t think anything of it but now, looking back, I seem to recall my workmates cringing when I sat down in the staff room with my pineapple and milk.

    I still love pineapple – will be testing that salsa.


    1. You win for in the gross combination category, because separately both of those are good. Together…no. I never had cravings. I had a list of aversions that was about a mile long though, starting, first and foremost, with bacon…

      That salsa is delicious. It’s great for summer.


  4. Sometimes I read modern retellings of classics before reading the classic by accident… Or, you know, by having seen Clueless 8 zillion times before reading Emma. I read Bridget Jones before Pride and Prejudice as well. It would appear I have Austen on the brain… Of Mice and Men is really fabulous though- pick it up for a readathon sometime- it’s so short it’d be perfect for an event like that!


    1. I do like the Of Mice and Men is a novella. I find shorter stories to be a lost art. Clueless is better than Emma any day. Emma annoys the piss out of me. It’s the only Austen I really don’t care for.

      Once upon a time I believe I actually read Bridget Jones… I don’t remember it very well (book or movie)…


  5. I haven’t read Blaze yet, but I *have* read Of Mice and Men multiple times, so I’ll have to let you know what I think at a later date…a much later date (since I’m reading King in order).


    1. I noticed the similarities once it was pointed out to me (and I went and read the summary of Of Mice and Men), but I think it’s different enough to qualify as a homage instead of a rip-off. I think Goodreads reviewers just like to bitch about something.


  6. Crusoe’s Daughter is a really good retelling of Robinson Crusoe. It’s not what it sounds like either, it’s the story of a girl (and later woman) living in a tiny town in Edwardian England and how her favorite book, Robinson Crusoe, parallels her life. It’s by Jane Gardam, I recommend it.


  7. I’m always a little hesitant of modern re-tellings, although, they can be highly enjoyable. My hesitance is due mostly to the fact that there are so many “re-tellings” these days (is it lack of inspiration?). I do like having read the original first before reading the homage.

    The remaking of Rosemary’s Baby also reminds of the time someone remade The Birds. We read the original story in my high school English class and my teacher (who I had several problems with…), had us watch this version instead of the original because she thought the Hitchcock one was cheap looking. It was terrible…oh, so terrible.


    1. I’m trying to think of a modern retelling I enjoyed…

      I’m sure there’s a good one, but it’s not coming to me right now. The closest I can come up with The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which was 80% excellent and 20%…not. In a book to movie twist, I absolutely love Clueless as an interpretation of Emma. It actually made me somewhat like Emma (despite still hating it).

      I never even knew there was another version of The Birds, I’ve never thought of Hitchcock as a maker of cheap looking movies. I think the gaps in my reading were do to the fact that I moved so often in high school. I would leave one school that just read Lord of the Flies and move to another school that was just beginning to read Lord of the Flies (and repeat), so I did nothing but sit in class and daydream. I had several problems with high school in general, the people who look back at high school with fondness and nostalgia always make me nervous.


      1. I really enjoyed Clueless, too.

        It’s best not to even think of another version of The Birds. It was really so atrocious and I had so many issues with that teacher. I, too, wasn’t fond of high school and don’t understand the nostalgia. I do have a book called Macbeth, which I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but I’m still unsure if it has anything to do with the play or just the historical figure. Will see one of these days.


    1. I think this one might be a good one if you ever wanted to give King a try. I also recommend Bag of Bones, which is a little scary, but doesn’t have as much horror as a lot of his other books.


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