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Book Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on February 25, 2016

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Every week of 2016 I am going to read and review a book. This means that while you may not always get an in depth dissection whatever my gut reaction to a book was will be presented here without time softening my opinions.

If you have seen my review of Stephen King's first novel Carrie then you know that I have mixed opinions about the man. Some of his work is drab and pointless, some of it is carefully constructed and ingenious. I am gradually coming around to the belief that he just writes every idea that he comes up with into a full novel and hands it over to his editors. I put the blame for every weak book that he has published on them. There is obviously a market for absolutely anything that he turns out but it is unfortunate that so many half developed ideas are flung out into the world for the quick cash instead of being turned back to him to be worked over again. The bottom line is that when King is on top form his straightforward writing gives his stories a soothing voice that he shatters at key moments for devastating effect. When his ideas and the writing fail to synchronise he turns out bland garbage and that isn't even getting into his problem with endings.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is definitely in the first camp. It is to date the best Stephen King book that I have ever read.

The story follows Trisha, a nine year old girl who becomes lost in the woods. It is a very simple idea and a very basic fear that every child and parent has felt. It is told almost exclusively from her point of view with only a few brief aside comments providing context about the world outside of her limited experience as she wanders and tries to survive for her seven days in the wilderness. Because of that limited perspective we get to experience every event through her eyes. As sickness and isolation begin to wear on her we begin to see her hallucinations and nightmares too.

The story is steeped in tension, even before the introduction of any supernatural elements, and up until the very last moment you are never sure what the outcome is going to be for Trisha. I'm certainly not going to tell you what happens to her. But it is interesting to find a story where either of the two potential outcomes would have been satisfying, even though only one could be uplifting.

At the core of the book there is a philosophical clash going on for Trisha. She turns to prayer early on in her ordeal but comes from an agnostic family. Leaving her with three forces that she must confront or rely upon. Her hero is a baseball player named Tom Gordon, who has the idiosyncrasy of pointing to the sky every time he successful and his benevolent deity who assists sports personalities represents the idea that there is a god and he is good. Her father, another influential character in her life, believes in a more neutral world where there may be a god but he assumes no moral position, more closely resembling gravity than a bearded on a cloud. The final god is the one that she comes into direct contact with throughout her trial, the God of the Lost. An amalgamated personification of all of the bad things that can happen to a little lost girl.

Her conflict with the God of the Lost is both the source of the greatest terror in the book and the greatest triumphs. But thanks to her altered state of perception it is left up to the reader to decide whether this avatar of chaos and nature is real or merely her way of dealing with the perceived hostility of the wilderness.

This book is compelling, tightly plotted and hits more nerves than an incompetent neurosurgeon.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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