(The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon)
I’ve said before that I’d already read almost all of King’s bibliography before starting this project, and that’s true. This is also a book I’ve read before, but it’s one that I’m less familiar with than many of the others. This is only my second time reading The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
That’s probably because of the title. Honestly, the title is my biggest quibble with this book. If you don’t know who Tom Gordon is, it sounds like the title of a book about a middle school girl with a crush. Even if you know perfectly well that King doesn’t write that kind of book, it makes you inclined to pass it by if that kind of book is not your preference. And if you find out later that Tom Gordon is a baseball player, but baseball bores you to tears, you might still skip the book.
Until, that is, a hurricane hits, the power goes out for a few days, and this is the only physical book in the house that you haven’t already read a hundred times — that’s how I read it the first time. And after I did, I had to kind of wonder why I avoided it for so long. But the answer is simple: I avoided it because the title put me off. Because before I knew who Tom Gordon was, it didn’t sound like my type of book, and because after I knew who he was, it still didn’t sound like my type of book. But of course, I was wrong. I mean, sure, there actually is a little girl with a bit of a crush, and that bit of a crush is a baseball player, and she listens to baseball games throughout the story. But it’s really a survival story. Wikipedia calls it psychological horror, and that seems about right.
Essentially, the story follows Trisha, a big-for-her-age 9-year-old who gets separated from her mother and brother, then lost, during a hike in the woods. She’s also a child of divorce, which factors heavily into her feelings about her mother and brother, her father, the hike itself, her current living situation and personality, and more. Like most King kids, she’s not just big for her age, but also smart for her age — good for her, because even without the supernatural God of the Lost that she encounters, she might not have survived the non-supernatural dangers involved in being lost in the woods for over a week without smarts and a really good memory for stuff she learned along the way about what’s safe to eat and whatnot.
Trisha doesn’t really have enough to eat, even though she’s able to find things along the way. She drinks water that might be contaminated. She develops pneumonia somewhere along the way as well. And of course, plain old exposure is an issue. So technically, everything she sees out in the woods, from Tom Gordon himself to The God of the Lost, might just be so many hallucinations. Were it written by a different kind of author, I’d think we were supposed to write these off as hallucinations — but seeing that it’s King, I think we’re supposed to believe that she really saw these things. Because if you’re a precocious child whose survival is threatened in a King story, I tend to think that you can probably expect to see both good and evil spirits, of a sort, not just your mind’s made up versions of those things.
I don’t know if I’ve talked about it much, but King tends to experiment with different ways of structuring his stories. Some of them use traditional chapters, some have chapters divided into parts, some have other things. In this case, instead of chapters, the book is divided into innings instead of chapters. This includes things like “seventh inning stretch,” “bottom of the ninth: save situation”, and “postgame.” I think I mentioned that I’m not a baseball person, but even I know what these mean. It doesn’t change anything — the story would be the same if it were divided into traditional chapters — but it’s neat anyway. Especially since Trisha’s mind keeps going back to baseball throughout the whole thing.
This is a short book, especially by King standards. I’m writing this the day after I wrote the entry for Bag of Bones. I finished it that fast. I’m a fast reader, but I also have kids and errands and work, and this is fast even for me. And it’s not just that it’s short. This is a book that just kind of grabs you and then runs with your attention until it’s done.
They were supposed to make a movie out of this one a while back, but evidently, it’s never happened. I’m not entirely sure why. I know that adapting a story where the one main character is lost in the woods alone might be challenging compared to adapting one where the main character is interacting with a lot of people, especially since she’s going to have to talk out loud to herself or narrate her internal monologue, but I feel like “lost in the wild” type stories have been successfully adapted often enough that it could be done well. This isn’t a book that really has deep connections to other works or worlds in the King-verse, so a movie wouldn’t suffer from leaving that out. And it’s not so long that you’d necessarily have to leave out important parts to keep the run time reasonable. I think this would be a really good book to adapt. I also see this one recommended a lot for teens or tweens that are interested in getting into a Stephen King novel, and that makes sense to me too — it’s from the point of view of a 9-year-old, after all. It’s got scary stuff that a kid inclined to that genre might like, without the stuff that might make them (or their parents) uncomfortable. I actually think it would work well as a movie for that reason too — it could be a pretty family-friendly scary movie if they wanted to make it that way. Maybe they could change the title, if that seems to be a drawback. Worked for Stand by Me/The Body.