As is true with many of my books, I bought Firestarter at South Station on my way home from college. I don’t remember when, just that it was long enough ago that I didn’t remember much of the plot from the first time I read it.
Firestarter is the story of Charlene “Charlie” McGee, whose parents once participated in a psych experiment in college. The experiment tested a mild hallucinogenic that was supposed to bestow psychic abilities on the subjects. Andy and Vicky McGee left the experiment with mild psychic powers, but Charlie, their daughter, is much more powerful. She’s what the experts call a pyrokinetic: she can start fires just by thinking about them. Now, the government wants Charlie, and will go to any lengths to get her—just as her father will go to any lengths to protect her.
Firestarter is one of the more heartbreaking Stephen King books I’ve ever read. The book starts on a bad note and just gets worse and worse. Just when you think they’re going to get ahead—they don’t. But that doesn’t make it a bad book!
The science, naturally, is a little hinkey. (It was written in the 80s, after all.) But it was really good as far as science fiction goes—I would say Firestarter tends more toward the science fiction genre than horror. As downright terrifying as it got at times—the hazy scenes during the experiment come to mind—I found that it was more sad than anything.
I definitely have a soft spot for Charlie. King paints a great picture of an adorable but dangerous little girl who can’t always control the power that rages inside her. She’s scared of the power she has, but gets strange satisfaction out of lighting fires. When she accidentally lights a young soldier’s shoes on fire in the airport, she vows never to use her power again…but who knows when she might need to protect herself and her father?
I also really like Andy McGee, because he uses his power (what he thinks of as the “push” and what the scientists call “mental domination”) to benefit others. He has run businesses that help fat people lose weight and help timid executives get raises and promotions—which he does by gently “pushing” them to either not want seconds or to be more assertive and confident. Of course, this does benefit him secondarily, since it does pay his salary, but at least he’s helping people.
As Stephen King goes, Firestarter is not one of my favorites. However, it was still masterfully and beautifully written, as all of King’s works are, and just because it wasn’t my favorite doesn’t mean it won’t be yours.