Revisiting Rage by Richard Chizmar
THAT WAS THEN…
Stephen King started writing RAGE (originally titled GETTING IT ON) in 1966, when he was a senior in high school. At some point, he stuffed the unfinished novel in a box, and it wasn’t until 1971 that he took the manuscript out and finished it. It was eventually published six years later, in 1977, under the now-famous pseudonym of Richard Bachman.
But by 1985, the entire world — including a college sophomore by the name of Rich Chizmar — knew that Richard Bachman was actually Stephen King (writing in a bad mood).
But, even armed with this new knowledge, I didn’t read RAGE until four or five years ago for the first time. If anyone is counting, that’s a full 25 years after I first discovered that RAGE was a King book.
So, why the long delay? I had read everything else King had written (with the exception of two novels, which hundreds of you have now guessed at; all incorrectly! Yes, this tickles me), but I had never bothered with RAGE.
To be honest, I had picked it up a couple times and started reading it; but it just didn’t click for me, and both times, I ended up putting the book down with intentions to revisit it later.
And then later somehow turned into 25 years.
It wasn’t because the book or the writing were bad. Not at all. The story of Charlie Decker was just so…dark. And nasty. And mean.
That’s right, the jaded reader who had adored and cherished every monster Stephen King could throw at me — from vampires to haunted cars to serial killers and rabid dogs — found teenaged Charlie Decker just a little too disturbing to want to spend time with.
Give me the sadistic husband from ROSE MADDER; give me the vengeful spirit from BAG OF BONES; or the bugfuck crazy cop from DESPERATION. Just don’t let Charlie Decker anywhere near me.
I now realize that part of my issue was the writing, or the language of the book. It was amazingly well written for such a young author (my God, he started writing it in high school!), but it was also stark and raw and smoldering with a barely (and then not at all) suppressed beehive of violence. The words didn’t sing; they buzzed like a swarm of angry hornets.
I wasn’t reading about a troubled and insane kid named Charlie Decker. I turned the pages, and I was Charlie Decker. And I didn’t like it one bit.
So, I put the book down.
For 25 years.
* * *
I’ve heard all the stories about the real life incidents involving RAGE and the related deadly shootings. I’ve read all about how Steve pulled the novel from publication and how difficult it is to find a copy nowadays.
These things have made me thoughtful and angry and of course, sorrowful. I’m afraid we live in a world gone increasingly mad.
But, once again, this was never the reason I waited 25 years to read RAGE. I just want to be clear on that.
* * *
When I finally did sit down to read RAGE, as a much older man, I finished the book in a matter of hours. I am convinced this is the only way I could have ever read it to completion. I entered Charlie’s world — Charlie’s mind — and didn’t leave it until the story was told.
And what a story it is.
RAGE is not a great book; it’s a very good book, and I feel like I survived it, more than enjoyed it.
But that’s a tribute to Steve’s rare talent and imagination, and I’m glad I finally broke through and read it.
* * *
THIS IS NOW…
An admission: I emailed Steve back in early December and asked if he was okay with RAGE being included in my STEPHEN KING REVISITED project. My guess was it would be fine, but I needed to be sure when dealing with such a controversial title. To my delight, Steve was not only supportive of the idea, he was downright encouraging. I’m grateful for that.
As I did the first time around, I sat down and read RAGE in one sitting. And, once again, I’m convinced it’s the only way this puppy was gonna get read.
My feelings haven’t changed since my initial aborted attempts to read the book, nor since my first successful attempt four or five years ago.
It’s simple, really.
It’s just too real for me.
You must understand, I am the ultimate believer.
I believe in Bigfoot and UFOs.
I believe in magic and voodoo.
I believe that somewhere out there is a huge Saint Bernard that has been bitten by a rabid bat. And he’s just waiting for me.
I believe there is a car from another dimension. Maybe even several.
I believe there is a town inhabited by vampires. It’s not in New England. It’s dangerously close to me, in Pennsylvania.
I believe there is another town trapped inside a dome.
I believe in these things. I do.
But here’s the difference with RAGE…I don’t just believe there are Charlie Deckers walking around right out there; I know it.
They exist. They are walking around in our schools, our shopping malls, our churches. They are wearing jeans and t-shirts, suits and ties, nurse and police and private school uniforms.
Charlie Deckers have become a steadfast part of the world we live in.
And the thought terrifies me.
* * *
There are plenty of frightening and disturbing scenes to choose from in RAGE — ranging from Charlie’s troubled, internal thoughts to his bitter memories of his parents to moments in the classroom that absolutely sizzle with violence and rage — but, for me, the scariest of them all comes quite early in the novel.
Charlie has just told off Principal Denver in his office and exited with his shirt unbuttoned and pants unzipped, crying “rape.”
I gave him every chance.
I waited for him to charge out and grab me, all the way to the staircase. I didn’t want salvation. I was either past that point or never reached it. All I wanted was recognition…or maybe for someone to draw a yellow plague circle around my feet.
He didn’t come out.
And when he didn’t, I went ahead and got it on.
Charlie then walks down the stairs, whistling, to his locker in the first-floor hallway. There, he rips up his textbooks and drops them to the bottom of his locker, and takes out a box of shells for the pistol we now learn is in his jacket pocket. He takes the pistol out of his pocket and shoves it into his belt, puts the shells in his pants pocket and, using his Scripto lighter, sets his locker on fire. He watches it burn for a moment, then:
I turned back to Room 16 and opened the door. I was hoping, but I didn’t know what.
As a reader, I felt sick and thought I knew what was coming next…but it was worse than I imagined. So much worse.
When class bad girl, Grace Stanner, and class bully, Irma Bates, go at each other in Chapter 20; first, trading graphic insults and verbal jabs and then fists. With puppetmaster Charlie in complete control of all of it.
It’s a nasty little slice, reminiscent of LORD OF THE FLIES and foreshadowing many future King scenes where perfectly ordinary people misbehave after the rules of society have broken down (think of characters in books such as THE MIST, NEEDFUL THINGS, and CELL).
The morning I got it on was nice; a nice May morning.
(Talk about your innocent opening lines…)
SCENE THAT STILL MAKES ME CRINGE…
It’s not a physically violent scene, but it still made me want to close the book both times I read RAGE. I’m talking about Chapters 18 and 19 — where Mr. Grace, the school shrink, gets on the intercom to talk to Charlie, and Charlie ends up interrogating/torturing him with pointed questions covering everything from Grace’s military service to his sex life with his wife.
The scene ends with Grace breaking down in sobs and returning outside to the waiting police officers. In an example of spare, powerful prose, a young Stephen King describes it like this:
After what seemed like a long, long time, he shut the intercom off. A long time after that, he came into view on the lawn again, walking toward the enclave of cops on the lawn, walking in his tweed coat with the suede elbow patches, bald head gleaming, cheeks gleaming. He was walking slowly, like an old man.
It was amazing how much I liked seeing him walk like that.
(Close second: any scene where Charlie talks about his father or mother.)
CHARACTER I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO…
Charlie Decker, of course. Was Charlie ever able to re-enter society? If so, did he behave or did he end up getting it on again? Did the bad dreams come back?
After all, the old guy sitting next to you in the movie theater? Standing behind you in line at the grocery store? Walking toward you on that dark street? It could very well be Charlie…
START DATE – December 11, 2014
FINISH DATE – December 11, 2014
Next you can read about the history of Rage. The complete list of the books we’ll be reading can be found on the Stephen King Books In Chronological Order For Stephen King Revisited Reading Lists page. To be notified of new posts and updates via email, please sign-up using the box on the right side or the bottom of this site.