The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone by Stephen King may just be the strangest thing I have ever read by him. Unlike all of his other novels, not the Bachman books, there is no evil guy in the narrative. This is a distinct deviation from the style which King generally adapts. In his books, there is a primary evil character who is thrust with the responsibility to drive the narrative and thus make the plot more interesting. But the lack of one in this book makes it for a different kind of read, almost bordering on the literary fiction genre.

The plot of The Dead Zone starts by making us acquainted with Johnny Smith, who is a teacher and dating another, Sarah. They are dating and all is well with a potential long-term scenario looming in the future. Everything is fine until the day they decide to go to a Country Fair. At the fair, Johnny wins a whole lot of money playing the Wheel of Fortune and everything goes downhill after that. He faces a car accident the very night and is thrown into a coma for the next 5 years during which most of the world as he had known, has changed. His sweetheart has married another guy and Nixon has been thrown out. His mother has joined a religious cult and his father had been praying that Johnny dies. But there’s another tiny bit of change that affects Johnny the most. He has developed a sixth sense sort of power which allows him to glimpse into the lives of people when he touches them or anything which has been handled by them. But the glitch is that it can’t be controlled always. Sometimes he sees the images, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes the images just refuse to be summoned and this is what Johnny calls the ‘Dead Zone’. During all of this, Johnny is operated on almost all of his muscles in his legs and arms because he has been in a coma all these years and these make him supremely weak. Inspite of this, the media hounds him to their own advantage, desperate to get a story out of him whether he really is a seer. But Johnny wants none of this; he wants peace, quiet and a secluded life from this entire hullabaloo. Strangely this is what makes Johnny one of the most endearing characters that King has managed to conjure up.

Just when the media circus seems to die down, Sheriff Bannerman of Castle Rock approaches him to help out a case involving a rapist-murderer doing his job in the town. To cut a long story short, Johnny uses his psychic powers and helps nab the murderer, well, at least uncover his identity. All is well, and the media is at his back again. But Johnny is happy that he is able to help. We are up to the finish line of around two-thirds of the book by now and one is left wondering where it all goes from here. But here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you. Not even a word, not even throw the slightest hint. Because what happens next is what we were reading the book for, and it does not disappoint.

The Dead Zone has a lot of references in it that are revisited in King’s later books. He talks of a time machine that could take a person back to 1932 and whether killing Hitler would be a thing to do? Kind of reminds the reader about 11/22/63 which came out in 2011. This and a whole lot more makes this an engrossing read and though the writing’s different and a little bit rough around the edges, The Dead Zone is going straight into my list of favourite Stephen King books.