Friday, January 24, 2014

Stephen King: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)

"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted."

On a early Saturday morning in June 1998, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland becomes separated from her mother and older brother while hiking on a portion of the Appalachian trail.

Trisha leaves the trail to relieve herself, and then, after trying to retrace her steps for ten minutes, she is uncertain of where she is. "In that tender place between her chest and her stomach, the place where all the body's wires seemed to come together in a clump, she felt the first minnowy flutter of disquiet."

Trisha believes she is walking in a straight line, but is actually "turning more and more to the west without realizing it, turning away from the Appalachian trail and most of its subsidiary paths and trails, turning in a direction where there was little but deep second-growth woods choked with underbrush, tangled ravines, and ever more difficult terrain."

As the hours - and, eventually, the days - go by, Trisha tries to fight off both a disquieting inner panic and a "cold and scary voice" that speaks of her worst fears. When she hears on her Walkman's radio that a search party has been sent out to look for her, she is unaware that she is "nearly nine miles west of the area the searchers considered their highest priority".

Trisha keeps her fears at bay by listening to Red Sox games at night. Her favourite player is relief pitcher Tom Gordon, who as the team's "closer" comes into games with the lead to record the final three outs. In fact, Trisha secretly considers Gordon "the handsomest man alive"; she is wearing a shirt with Gordon's #36 on it, as well as an autographed cap. Hearing the cheering crowd at Fenway Park makes Trisha feel less alone. "The radio was her lifeline, the games her life preserver. Without them to look forward to, she thought she would simply give up."

After a week in the woods, during which time she actually crosses the border into New Hampshire, Trisha has lost about twenty pounds. Despite growing more and more physically weak, Trisha "discovered deep and totally unexpected reserves of strength within herself". She survives on berries, beechnuts, fiddleheads, and water (some of which makes her violently ill). She contends with multiple wasp stings, a long trek through a swampy marsh, and (possible) hallucinations about something in the woods that may be stalking her.

She dreams of Tom Gordon at night and he appears to her, in his blindingly white home uniform, during the day, as she tries to find her way to safety. Trisha tries praying, but does not have sufficient faith to do so. She recalls a conversation she once had with her father about God. Larry McFarland told his daughter he didn't believe in a God "that records all of our sins in a big golden book and judges us when we die", but rather in something he called the Subaudible, "some insensate force for the good".

At one point, Trisha hallucinates seeing three hooded men in long robes. The main one, dressed in black, calls himself the God of the Lost. "The world is a worst-case scenario," it tells her, "and I'm afraid all you sense [that much of life is sadness] is true. The skin of the world is woven of stingers, a fact you have now learned for yourself. Beneath there is nothing but bone and the God we share."

Heidi Strengell, Dissecting Stephen King: From the Gothic to Literary Naturalism:
The question of the nature of God is intertwined with fate in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. While musing on her parents' divorce and her brother's recurring question why the children have to pay for what their parents do wrong, Trisha draws the same conclusion as a number of other King characters: just because. She survives because she accepts the facts of life and eve the role of fate in it. ...

Throughout King, God requires human assistance. ... Good often triumphs over evil both in King's mythical works related to The Dark Tower series and in the works that explore the existence of good and evil in traditional terms. In both, responsibility and compassion for one's fellow human beings can overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles. Also, despite God's seeming passivity, he comes to the aid of those who help themselves.
Similarly, as Tom Gordon tells Trisha in one of her dreams, "it's God's nature to come on in the bottom of the ninth" - after the person has done everything she can do for herself. Trisha survives her ordeal through her own inner strength and wits. It is on her ninth day (inning?) in the woods that she finally faces down what she believes is the God of the Lost, in the form of a huge black bear.

Though The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is billed as a novel, it is shorter (219 pages) than some of King's novellas.

Next: Hearts in Atlantis.

3 comments:

laura k said...

I remember you telling me about this book when it came out. (Weirdly, I remember meeting you at a Barnes & Noble and you were either buying it or reading it.)

It sounds really good, and/but it might be too intense for me to read. The idea of a child being separated from her family and lost in the woods is unbearable to me. I can only think of it from the child's point of view.

allan said...

Probably because it came out right after The Green Mile, which I read in the six monthly intsallments (and which I think was an extremely cool way to publish a book). ... It's short enough to breeze through it, and I'd be curious to see what you think of it.

laura k said...

If I get nightmares, I am suing you.