[Book Review] Rage by Stephen King Writing as Richard Bachman
“The morning I got it on was nice; a nice May morning.”
Rage is by far my favorite of the Bachman books. And of course it is — the first time I read it, I was in high school and could put myself in the position of Charlie Decker (well, to a point). I was tired of inane subjects that didn’t really seem to matter in the grand scheme of things.
Charlie Decker is a high school student who decides after a number of events to “get it on” at his high school, in his class. He takes a gun to school, kills his math teacher and holds the entire room hostage for the rest of the day.
Now I’m going to stop here and address the elephant in the blog post.
Yes, Charlie kills his math teacher and the assistant principal. Yes, he’s in a high school with a gun and shoots them both, killing them both with a single shot.
No, Stephen King is not suggesting that high school kids should go out and do this. Duh. This is a work of fiction and, unfortunately, if that’s all that high school kids who’ve read and been “influenced” by this book get out of the story (Columbine comes to mind as the two killers both had copies of this novel which caused Stephen to remove it from the shelves permanently), then they’re missing out on the entire story.
Killing the teacher and the vice principal was the act that set the scene for what was to happen next: Charlie and his classmates “getting it on,” a metaphor I’d like to think means something along the lines of talking and doing things far more important to high schoolers than algebra or chemistry: discovering themselves, who they are, and why they are the way they are.
High school is a troubling time for many a teenager. You’ve got this strict structure that you have to follow, subjects to learn that you really don’t give a shit about and then all these brand spanking new hormones that enter and flow through your system that you either aren’t sure what to do with or you just don’t know what to do with them. You’re fighting yourself, because you want to behave — but you’re not quite sure you know how to behave because of all these changes that are going on with your body. Sex becomes highly thought of and perhaps even sought after — and you don’t even really know what that is, only that you want it and you’d like to have it now because maybe it will fill that ache, that need, coursing through your veins.
Charlie Decker and his classmates are no different than me or the classmates I grew up with. Only that Charlie has decided to grow up and to consider all of these issues, while his classmates are still locked internally into the power struggle that grows in high school between teacher and student. A number of them have given up and succumbed to that struggle.
By ridding the classroom of the “adults” so violently, Charlie rips a tear in that struggle, placing himself in the position of power, only using it to keep the other teenagers talking and listening and really starting to examine who they are and the events in their life that have caused them to be who they are.
This book didn’t cause me to want to go out and kill my teachers — although there were a couple I’d have been happy to never see again. Now I wonder where they are, what they’re doing — my high school has been disbanded, incorporated into a larger school with a larger district to meet the lack of population growth that area has seen in the last 20 years or so.
I ran into one about 15 years ago — my old social studied teacher coming out of a dollar store. She reminded me of a bag lady, lost and homeless. Needless to say, I don’t think she had kept her job when the schools combined.
The vice-principal of my school turned into the supply manager, ordering toilet paper and other such maintenance supplies for the newer bigger school. For some reason, I’m pretty pleased with that.
Back to the story though.
In Rage, Charlie Decker holds his class hostage (at first anyway), then begins “getting it on” — telling them the stories of his life that ultimately come down to why he is the way he is and why he did what he did, in killing the two teachers.
He and the other student share their lives’ most intimate details, all except for Ted, the football star, who wants nothing more than law and order to come back to the schoolroom.
The stories are wonderful (I’ve NEVER forgotten the Cherokee Nose Job, even if I had forgotten where it came from) and are the type of stories you’d expect to hear from a room full of high schoolers when all pretense is dropped and everyone is completely open about their lives.
Again, Stephen’s characterization is his strength here as you can actually believe that every one of these characters are real, that they exist somewhere out there in the world. You also can see a reconciliation between high school cliques, that there really is no difference between them except for outward appearances. They’re all fighting for their lives, in a sense, to understand the world the only way that teenagers know how.
If you remember the angst of being a teenager, this book will be all too real for you — you’ll understand why after reading it.
If you were a “happy” teenager, this book will reveal to you that more people were like you than you thought — that everyone has their secrets and no one is truly always happy, even if that’s what you wanted to show on the outside.
This is one of Stephen’s best books. It’s a shame it was pulled from the shelves at his request, even though you can find out-of-print copies of it through places such as Amazon.com and Ebay, but it’s usually combined with the other three Bachman books (which are worth reading in and of themselves).