The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

After years of avoiding Stephen King novels (I was convinced that they’d be too scary for me), I was finally tempted this time last year by Carrie and now I’m something of an addict.

The latest of King’s works to darken my bookshelf is The Girl who loved Tom Gordon which is, in brief, the story of a nine-year old girl, Tricia McFarland, who strays off the path on a family outing to the woods and finds herself swallowed up by the surrounding forest before she knows what’s happened.

Blindly optimistic, incredibly self-possessed and with a rudimentary knowledge of the woods and some lucky guesswork Tricia remains in the woods for nine days kept company by hallucinations of the baseball player Tom Gordon, her secret heart-throb. Talking to Tom and listening to baseball games in the evening on her Walkman help keep Tricia going as her situation grows ever more desperate.

Quite apart from the shortage of clean water, food and signs of other humans, there is something else in the woods. Something which is watching Tricia, biding its time and sending her frightening messages in the night.

As Tricia stumbles further into the woods, heading for the New Hampshire border we get occasional glimpses of the world she’s leaving behind, the broken family united by fear and grief and the desperate search diverted by a false tip all of which combine to make Tricia’s peril seem ever greater.

The two minor quibbles I have with the novel are these:

  1. As I’ve found before with King, knowledge of American geography would be handy although unlike with The Stand, I don’t feel my appreciation of the plot suffered from my Anglicanism
  2. Another America-related gripe: I know next to nothing about baseball. The chapter titles all related to periods of play within a baseball game and the rest of the text was littered with game coverage and baseball terminology which was mostly lost on me. However I skipped through most of the game coverage without any ill-effect and I could generally get the gist of the other parts so I’m not really complaining.

In a book that spans nine days and is only 220 pages we are swept along on an emotional rollercoaster as Tricia wanders through the woods in turns despondent, hopeful and terrified. The thing which stalks her is never far away and King manages to perfectly capture that prickly sense of being watched which I’m sure everyone is familiar with.

It’s for exactly that reason that I’d recommend The Girl who loved Tom Gordon; it’s not one if you love fast-moving dramatic plots but if, like me, you’re more interested in character development and spot-on depictions of human emotion then this book is most definitely for you. Even in the middle of one of the largest cities on Earth, you’ll find yourself  lost in the woods.

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