Yes, I'm still doing this. I just got stuck on this one. You see, it's a hard book to GET. Also, I feel guilty for reading it, because I don't think King would approve.
There's a story behind that, and one that makes me love Stephen King more than I already do (which is a lot). This book involves a school shooting. When you hear that, you think of Columbine or the most recent shooting, right? But the incidents in this book aren't much like those at all. WAY fewer people die, for one thing.
Anyway, this book was published in the '70s, way before those events. This book involves a prolonged hostage situation where the kid with the gun performs a social experiment on his classmates and messes with them psychologically.
Three criminals had a connection to the book. In the 80s, Jeffrey Cox held 60 students hostage for more than 30 minutes before he was disarmed by a fellow student. One of his friends told reporters that he was inspired by "Rage," a book he strongly identified with and read several times.
The second incident, also in the 80s, involved yet another high school senior, Dustin Pierce. He also took a class hostage for nine hours. No one was hurt, but police found Rage in his bedroom. In the 90s, Michael Carneal shot three fellow students at a prayer meeting, and Rage was found in his locker.
It makes sense that the hostage situations were probably inspired by the book. That's the plot. But we don't feel like King was responsible. The only thing he could have done differently was to make the main character, the shooter, a little less relatable and a little less cool.
That guy was highly intelligent, sick of society's BS, and sympathetic. He had a bad home life and his struggles fitting in at school came across as painfully real. It wasn't so much the situation that made this book "dangerous," but how freaking good of a writer King is that he was able to create this character who connected with people in a dark place.
If that character had been a little more pathetic, or had been revealed as narcissistic or wrong in some way at the end, things might have turned out better. OR if that same character had been placed in another story. King did a similar thing with Carrie. We all felt for her and then she killed a heck of a lot more people than the guy in Rage did. She just did it with psychic powers.
If this guy had carried out his plan in a way that didn't involve guns or schools, or if they had been inadvertently trapped in a cave together or something, the main character could have played his social games with the students and had the same book with none of the danger. I think what I'm advocating is that King rewrite this book.
There's good stuff here. There's a lot of truth and there's a lot of style. I really, really enjoyed it. I think it should have been twice as long. It felt like a novella or a long "short story." King drew from his time in high school, and I think those frustrated, hurting voices need to be heard.
However, King told his publisher to "take the damned thing out of print." It is available now in a Bachman collection, but I had trouble getting it. My copy includes four Bachman books and has yellow pages. It smells old.
Better safe than sorry, and I respect King for valuing human life more than his art. But I think there's a place for this story, with revisions because shootings are an even bigger concern these days. Would I recommend that you read this book? Only if you know for certain that you aren't in this dark place.
Only if you're either a) safely out of school/an adult or b) a popular kid who wants to become more compassionate. If there's hate in your heart for yourself, others, or the life you are leading at school, stick to Lord of the Rings and wait it out. It really does get better.
Book grade compared to other King books: B+
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