Book Review: Rage by Stephen King

Rage is one of the novels Stephen King wrote under his pseudonym "Richard Bachman." It has a theme that is common in King's early novels and short stories -- school violence. Unlike many of his other novels and even one of his other school violence novels, there is nothing supernatural about Rage. This is a story that resonates in reality. It exposes a fear that is unavoidable in modern schools.

The antagonist with a somewhat protagonistic streak in this novel is high school student Charles Decker. He is also the narrator. From the beginning of the novel -- first period of a normal day at high school -- there are hints that something is not right with Charlie. As the novel progresses, the reader learns that Charlie has a recent history of violence in the school, though all that is learned is he did something to a teacher during class. The novel follows through Charlie's recollections of the day and some flashbacks of his life. There are moments where King skillfully makes it possible to pity him, but his life just was not traumatic enough for the reader to forgive him for what he has done and what he is about to do.

Before long, Charlie has shot and killed two teachers. The bulk of Rage takes place during his standoff with the police. He has an entire classroom full of his peers hostage, so it takes several hours for the standoff to end. During that time, Charlie threatens his school administrators and the police with violence on the other children. However, most of the children do not fear him or, if they do, they do not fear him for long. Stephen King, through Decker, turns the classroom into a teenage confessional. The students take this rare opportunity where life is not mapped out for them by an endless parade of parents and teachers to say what they want to say. Throughout this, Charlie is at times fascinated and confused by them. In some ways, he is just like the rest of them, with problems no greater or lesser. There is just something in him that snapped. That thing seems to disappear over the course of the novel, but the reader knows it is still there and that this cannot end well for Charlie.

In what this reader feels was a brilliant turn on Stephen King's part, Charlie does not hurt any of the students. He keeps them around for some reason even he does not quite understand. However, he allows them to hurt each other, even encourages it. In the end, he hurt the teachers and the students hurt each other. The message seems to be that, freed from the bonds of servitude every teenager owes society, they are all Charlie Deckers. They just have a door that Charlie lacks and Charlie encouraged them to open it a little whether he meant to or not.

Sometimes, King's novels are gore fests and mind screws, peppered with poignant human moments that help anchor his fantastic stories in reality. He is brilliant at just such novels. However, there are also those novels that are all poignancy, all real, all too human for some readers' liking. Rage is that kind of novel. It is something that can happen. In fact, it is something that happens all the time. King just manages to write about it in a way that does not demonize the child ("We Need to Talk about Kevin" anyone?) or make him some bullied kid with a score to settle. It is the way he makes him an "any kid" that really hits home. King has decided to ask his publishers to stop publishing the novel, though. Several school shootings have sadly been linked to it, though saying the novel "caused" them is a stretch. Still, Stephen King is a fiction writer. Surely, it would appall him to have his fiction become a reality whether it is his fault or not.

Shelly Barclay

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