King's Highway pt. 7: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Not the cover to the edition I picked up, but I like this one.
I was unprepared for this one. It's billed as a little-girl-lost sort of tale, and that it certainly is, but it's also a rather uncommon meditation on God. And a very thoughtful and profound one, at that.

Last Saturday, I navigated the cramped corridors of Ravenswood Used Books to see if they had a cheap paperback of The Bachman Books. I technically do not need to pick up any more SK books for a bit, as I have a backlog, both of posts-to-type-up-on-books-already-read and SK books yet-to-read, but as a friend mentioned yesterday, these things take on lives of their own once projects get going. I have a few other projects going, as well (not the least of which is getting married in just-about-two-months, tho we're on track for that, so it's not like I'm sacrificing any wedding prep) and, perhaps more importantly, this is great fun for me and good for my head. So, full speed ahead.

Ravenswood did not, alas, have TBB. I was getting my hair cut directly afterward, followed by a couple of other errands, so I wanted something slim and unobtrusive enough. Didn't want to be lugging around  Under the Dome, in other words, or any of the other thick hardcovers tantalizing me from the shelves. (SK has his own section at Ravenswood - well, he probably does in every used bookstore in the land. That's what happens when you single-handedly out-publish small nations' entire publishing sectors) So, this one fit the bill, though I hadn't planned on reading it next.

At a trim 219 pages, this could be SK's shortest novel. And it flies by. I read it more or less in one waiting-for-the-barber session and three train commutes. It's broken into nine "innings" (some of which are separated into top-ofs and bottom-ofs) with a post-game report. Obviously, given the title, the main conceit of the novel is baseball.

Tom Gordon, who likely never imagined he'd be a stand-in for God in a SK book
I won't recount the plot or anything, or detail how it dovetails into other King books. (Tho there are some fun threads over at Stephenking.com that do just that. Also, this is a fun quiz to take.). Just want to mention a few things:

- Trisha, our heroine, tunes to WEEI at one point, and much is made of both the idiots who blather on and the idiots who call in. I was so happy to read this. I decry the brainwashing of WEEI every chance I get when I'm in New England. Everyone to whom I've ever bitched on this topic always agrees and nods along - then goes right back to listening/ telling me about it. I'll never understand! My Dad is the only other Red Sox fan who does not subscribe to WEEI's particular brand of lunacy. Anyway, it's great to catch a Red Sox game on the radio, and just like Trisha, I have listened to many a game on WEEI and been thankful for the reception. (Not while lost in the woods, but definitely while driving along those desolate NH roads late at night) And I appreciate that, as a battlestar in the Red Sox armada, WEEI is the go-to source for breaking news, etc. Case in point: last summer, when everyone and their mother was crucifying John Henry (that's the Red Sox owner, for you godless heathens) for the 2011 end-of-season meltdown and clubhouse rumors, he didn't stop by the Boston Globe or call a press conference or update his blog; he had his driver take him to WEEI and went right on the air. So, I get it - WEEI is a big part of Red Sox Nation. It's also Central Command for retarded barroom talking points repeated ad infinitum, and as a former bartender in the Rhode Island area, I blame them for at least ten thousand wasted minutes of my life listening to their BS second-and-third-hand.

"I will show you terror in a handful of dust..." Wait, what?
And it's not just confined to the Red Sox. Good God, before this last Super Bowl, when the discriminating Patriots fan should have been worrying about a repeat of the Super Bowl XLII an-Nakbah, WEEI was pumping out opium by the hour, all transmitted like a game of Telephone or Chinese Whispers to me here in Chicago. I can't escape. I was hearing their brainless propaganda even at halftime.

One of my Gazillionaire Pipe Dreams is to buy WEEI (and the CTA, but that's a different story) and dismantle it from top to bottom, gleefully, then strike a match against my shoe and toss it on the gas-soaked ruins... So, apparently, Stephen King agrees, or wrote the WEEI thoughts expressed herein for fans like me, and I appreciate it, big guy. Glad someone understands.

(NOTE TO AUTHORITIES: I have no desire to commit arson on any organization, please do not use this blog against me in some trial should anyone ever burn down their station/ the CTA, and arsonists, please do not take any of this literally. Thank you.)

- With the eternal exception of WEEI, it is so nice to be reminded of things from New England out here in Chicago. But hell, this is my backyard! Trisha gets lost in my woods up in North Conway. These are my radio stations and commercials. In particular, I'll never forget driving to a job interview in Littleton, NH (through the White Mountains and north towards the border) and losing my North Conway station. I hit "scan" and the only ones that kept coming up were French-Canadian ones. I can relate to the specific feeling Trisha describes when this happens to her, as she tragically turns north unknowingly and heads into the oblivion of green, swamp, and chiggers-and-gnats. That added a whole different element to reading, as I could so easily picture the surroundings.

Bird's eye view of the more-or-less whereabouts of the novel.
- Speaking of, I got a little freaked out once the God of the Lost (more below) appeared, as I flashed back to the one time I really was lost in the woods. It was in Maine, not far from North Conway, NH, actually, and I'd gone off on my own. No water, compass, nothing. (I did a lot of stupid things when I was 18-25. I'd like to think I've grown out of most of them.) I did bring my notebook, though, because blaaow, man! I was going to write poetry. I ditched the trail I was on, favoring a dried riverbed leading straight up the mountain. I collapsed about halfway up, out of breath, and leaned against a tree, whereupon I was instantly attacked by roughly four million blackflies and mosquitoes and other delights of the deep woods. (Did I mention no bug spray? Don't be corporate, maaaaaan.) Whereupon I ran through the woods to escape them, thinking I was heading back to the path. Nope. I ended up finding what I thought was the same dried riverbed and followed it back down the mountain.

Only, where I ended up, though, was not the road I started on. That's when it started to hit me. I was with my girlfriend at the time, at her family's condo. At that time, it was accessible only by dirt road, no telephone, no nothing. Paradise - unless you're lost (or stalked by a killer.) This was a time before cellphones, though I doubt I would've gotten any reception had I had one. I had no idea where I was an no way of orienting myself at all. I wish I had my notebook with me (I'm pretty sure it's in The Archives), but what I did to center myself was sit down and write a few poems. One of them was (I swear) entitled "God of the Lost."

So, as you can imagine, when I got to this part of the novel, I thought Damn! Is there something really up in those woods? Or is this just the sort of archetype that would manifest itself to anyone lost in any woods anywhere in the world?

I ended up, obviously, making it back. Not much more to the story - I followed the sound of loons (which was dumb luck on my part; I mean, there may only be two loons to a pond, but there are a thousand ponds in that area of Maine alone) and to this day I associate loons both with good luck and with the supernatural. (If there is a difference between those things.) I sure didn't tell anyone how close I came to being the star of my own The Boy Who Loved Tom Gordon. (Would've been about the same time-frame of the events of this novel, I just realized. Another weird synched up moment!)

- Is a girl with a cassette walk-man plausible in the late 90s? I think it so, yes. More plausible than having one in 2004, like I did, at any rate.

- I'm not the biggest fan of dreams in stories. King tends to have his characters dream a lot and within those dreams (Firestarter or The Stand, come to mind, but I imagine one could find an example in each and every book he's written) reveals plot points/ cosmic visions. I'm not sure I enjoy that as much as some, but I liked the way the dreams are utilized here.

- Now as for the God stuff...

The Three Priests from the pop-up book - which looks really cool, I must say.
I didn't expect this to be a meditation on God, as aforementioned. Without getting into it too, too much, basically what we have here is 1) a Personal God, who, in the form of Tom Gordon delivers some of the best and most philosophical lines of the novel (at the end - no spoilers, I, though. It really is a short read and it's best to come across this stuff on one's own, though I will say the "What path?" answer to her question sums up in two words almost my entire belief system), 2) an impersonal pan-deist sort of God, referred to as "the Subaudible"by Trisha's father, so named for the sub-audible sounds we tune out of our awareness, that still go on, impersonally, whether we recognize them or not, and which are useless to appeal to:

The coldly beautiful face of the moon suggested to her that the Subaudible was more plausible after all, a God who didn't know He - or It - was a God, one with no interest in lost little girls, one with no real interest in anything, a knocked-out-loaded God Whose mind was like a circling cloud of bugs and Whose eye was the rapt and vacant moon.

and then there's the God of the Lost:

"The world is a worst-case scenario, and I'm afraid all you sense is true," said the buzzing wasp-voice. Its claws raked slowly down the side of its head, goring through its insect flesh and revealing the shining bone beneath. "The skin of the world is woven of stingers, a fact that you have now learned for yourself. Beneath there is nothing but bone and the God we share. This is persuasive, do you agree?"

In many ways, this latter god is not unlike the boogeyman of many a King novel, what he calls "the emperor of understairs." Trisha decides as she goes along to put her faith in the personal God and not the Subaudible and certainly not surrender to the God of the Lost, which stalks her. (or does it?) Without giving away anything further, the good vs. evil stand-off of the final innings comes across as genuine and mysterious philosophy and not theism. Maybe the Subaudible is right and there's just this impersonal machinery out there, humming away whether we recognize it or not, but not interacting with us in any salient fashion. Or maybe the God of the Lost is right; sometimes I can see it that way. It is persuasive, when you think of the girls from something like The Whistleblower or kids who get raped or anything like that. Or maybe Tom Gordon is, and it is God's nature to come on strong in the bottom of the 9th.

I imagine how you answer that question for yourself will determine how you interpret the novel's final few lines. But don't take any of this to mean you won't enjoy it if such things make you uncomfortable or if you're one of those people that need to bring up atheism (or Jesus) all the time.

I'mma gonna eatcha.
Two final thoughts:

- As the plot stretches (comfortably) to accommodate the child molester misdirection, I got to thinking about Quilla (Trisha's mom) and how we catch only glimpses of the world outside Trisha's experience. I had a flash of Hey, Mr. You-got-to-write-honest-King, shouldn't we be spending a little more time with the Mom, then, if you're going to be reminding us of how it's not only Trisha who's suffering, here? The story demands it! Then, as if in reply to this inner voice, I got a very clear image of a mother, staring blankly at a television screen and listening to the report of the ongoing disappearance of her daughter. It was an actual image that came to mind and feeling that came to heart, nothing logical or story-related. And I thought No... maybe not. Maybe Trisha's fear and suffering is enough and maybe I don't want to know. I should be thanking him for not making me sit with the mom through all of that. I can think of few things which would be more unpleasant.

- Finally, although Tom Gordon is a stand-in for God here - or at least within shouting distance of the concept - it's important to point out that shortly after his stint as the Red Sox closer he traded his saintly laundry for this Buchenwaldian ensemble:

Players who move from the Sox to the Yankees should be flayed alive. (AUTHORITIES: See previous caveat re: arson)
When Boat Chips (my old band) recorded "Johnny Damon," Johnny D was still the center-fielder for the Red Sox. Once he ditched the Sox - right after the World Series win - for a few years with the Yankees, a move which forever soured my goodwill towards him, I felt compelled to record a "RIP, Johnny Damon." (All of this is on Attorney Jimmy, the greatest 6-CD album that was never released, ever. It is the SMiLE of Rhode Island indie recording!) i.e. This slight cannot go unrecognized. I'm curious what Stephen King thinks, now, when he sees this on the shelf. If he is as true-red a Sox fan as he has demonstrated elsewhere - and often - I'm sure he has fought the impulse to tell his publisher to yank every damn copy of this book from circulation.

I'm glad he hasn't, but I'm just saying, it's got to grate on him. I know it would on me.

Score one for the God of the Lost, after all.


  1. A friend wrote me this:

    "One small correction, John Henry actually showed up at WEEI's competitor (and vanquisher) 98.5 The Sports Hub. He just came in and wanted to get on the air during the Felger and Mazz show. Oh yeah. Pretty sweet. I think he stayed 2 hours. If I remember right, part of the fun the next day was that the guy working at the reception desk had no idea who he was when he entered the building."

    I stand corrected.

  2. This is one of the very few King novels that I came close to disliking. It just bored me.

    That said, reading your post about it made me anxious to reread it and give it a second chance. Well done!

    1. Thank you, sir - drop back in when you re-read it and defintiely let me know what you think.