Customer Reviews: The Dead Zone (Signet)
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on January 25, 2002
The Dead Zone is one of Stephen King's best novels, a tale rich in every way. It's well-told, with excellent characters, loaded with symbolism and shocking events (oftentimes both), and full of the plainspoken yet lyrical prose that is King at his best. There is little in King's long and excellent list of titles that can surpass this novel.
We'll start with the basic story. A young teacher named Johnny Smith is "gifted," through a car accident that leaves him comatose for nearly five years, with a strange precognitive/telepathic ability. And here's the catch, evidence of King's genius if ever I've seen it: He has to be touching a person or object for the power to work. King takes this startlingly simple (and original) idea, and weaves it into the most complex, and intriguing, tapestry of his career.
King does a lot -- and I mean a LOT -- with this novel. Take the prologue, which so expertly sets mood, and tone, and character -- Johnny shows early flashes of his power, while the villain of the piece, Greg Stillson, kicks a dog to death in a dooryard outside Ames, Iowa. King literally takes you from one extreme to the other here, does so brilliantly, and continues to do so for the rest of the novel, as Johnny and Stillson are set on their inexorable collision course. But the novel is much more than that, as well. It's the story of Johnny and Sarah, who might've been his wife if not for intervening circumstances; it's the story of Johnny and his parents, Herb and Vera, a loving couple who find separate ways of dealing with Johnny's misfortune; it is the story of Johnny and the Chatsworths, a rich New England family whose son Johnny tutors ... and it is the story of Johnny and one Frank Dodd, a character as frightening as any King has created.
All the way through, of course, this is Johnny's story -- and in John Smith, King has outdone himself. Johnny, in just about every way you'd care to imagine, represents us, the average person -- the name alone is a dead giveaway. (Some have said the symbolism of the name is crude -- absolutely not! King has always gone for the larger symbols along with more subtle ones.) His reactions are our reactions -- never made more clear than during the press conference at the hospital, where he looks on in abject horror at what his own power has done to a reporter there. It's a tense moment, in a novel full of them.
King deals in many levels of symbolism in The Dead Zone, symbols of fate, fortune, and God's will (the three being interchangeable in King's Calvinistic view); fortune wheels, omens, Vera's obsession with the more hysterical and relevatory aspects of Christianity (she could've stepped out of a Flannery O'Connor story), the seller of lightning rods (used, much as Bradbury used him, as a harbnger of doom), the mythical resonances of Cassandra and the abiguity of the Delphic Oracle, the Biblical references to Jonah as Johnny runs from himself, his power, and finally from fate and God -- again, interchangeable from King's point of view. There is also the brilliant use of the Jekyll/Hyde mask, one of the most elegant pieces of symbolism in the novel.
But let me get back to the Calvinist attitude here -- which I've mentioned a couple of times, and by which I don't mean conservative and/or repressed. Instead I refer to the Calvinist notion that everything that happens, even things like "luck" and "fortune," is predetermined, willed by God. And though we as human beings have free will to defy or not defy our fates, the fact remains (as Mother Abigail pointed out in The Stand) that this is what God wants from us. That's the statement at the heart of The Dead Zone; it is what John Smith, King's reluctant hero (another powerful myth-figure) miust face at last, in what is one of King's most powerful novels. It is a cornerstone of an King library, and should definitely be in yours right now. Think of it as -- Fate.
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on August 21, 2002
Johnny Smith is a seemingly normal guy -- who becomes psychic! He's an English teacher in a small Maine town called Castlerock, and he's one of those guys that more straight-laced teachers tend to dislike as a fellow teacher, but the kind'a guy that the kids really love. He's funny, sincere, sensitive, intelligent -- something of a goof -- but an all-around really great guy. "The Dead Zone" is a very readable melodrama of his descent into a world where he can see people's future just by touching them. If he touches you and sees that you are gonna die in four days!....he can tell you not to go into work -- because he knows a gunman is gonna open fire on you and your fellow employees!

That is his dilemma. And the engaging depth to The Dead Zone is that it becomes a moral dilemma of severe proportions. Because when Johnny touches a state politician and sees that this buffoon of a politician will get elected president and will cause a massive war -- the question becomes: is it better to kill this one person and save the lives of millions, or to let nature take its course and let millions and millions of people die. And of course no one would understand Johnny if he explained that he saw the future and saw that this politician was gonna cause a nuclear holocaust. King builds to this crescendo of a moral nightmare by constantly showing Johhny being torn between living up to his gift and being viewed as a tabloid psychic, a total hokester, and a creapy guy whom people don't even wanna get near. It's the story about living with an abnormal mental gift.

One of the more compelling sub-plots involves Johnny's love story with Sarah Hazlett -- a woman herself torn between waiting nearly five years for Johhny to come out of a coma and getting on with her life with the very normal Walt Hazlett. It this respect, The Dead Zone blends the elements of a psychic phenomenon story and a compelling love story.

All-in-all this story reads like the perfect synthesis between King's "The Shining" and "Shawshank Redemption." And may well be a great place for folks who wanna read a King novel but don't want the blood n' guts of Cujo, Pet Semetary, Salems' Lot. On the other hand, if you want a real nightmare story The Dead Zone is not the place to start. Now, go ahead, and click that "helpful" button! Afterall, one of my major concerns in writing this review is knowing that I am helpful:~) Peace, love, and happy reading!

Stacey Cochran
Author of CLAWS available for 80 cents
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on February 17, 2000
I've read most of what Stephen King has read, including the outstanding novel "The Stand" and the amazingly suspenseful and strangely poignant "The Long Walk," which remains the only novel to genuinely scare me. However, no story by King has been as compelling, as emotional, and as well-written as his 1979 gem, "The Dead Zone."
The protagonist is as simple as the name he is given--Johnny Smith--and early in the novel the reader discovers that he has the ability to see into the future somewhat. A bit later on, Johnny gets in a severe car accident and stays in a coma for four and a half years. When he awakens, the world has changed completely. Vietnam is no longer the central issue of America, Richard Nixon has been impeached, and a young hotshot named Greg Stillson is attempting to run for the Presidency in 1980, the latter incident being a major subplot which will culminate in a shocking conclusion.
Also giving the novel its depthness is the love story regarding Johnny and his sweetheart prior to the accident, but who is married upon his awakening--the woman he loved more than anyone, a woman named Sarah Bracknell.
There is also an intriguing subplot dealing with a serial killer as well as one regarding the trials and tribulations of an academically struggling football player in high school.
All in all, this novel is gripping from start to finish, and its effect resonates long after it has been read. There is a big moral issue to contemplate throughout the novel--how should Johnny Smith use his powers? Johnny himself posed the question: "If you could go back in time and had the chance to kill Hitler, would you do it?"
This is my favorite Stephen King novel, and I anticipate reading it again sometime and knowing I'll have to wipe the beginnings of tears from the corner of my eye--the ending is very powerful, you see...
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on January 22, 2001
Occasionally a book will come along and it'll affect you in a place you had completely forgotten about. It'll leave a feeling behind that will encompass everything, like a hit below the belt. One of the first books I read for personel pleasure was Crime and Punishment, to this day I consider it the best ever written. Not for any real reason other than it hit me below the belt harder than any other book, and it was the first time for me. I was like a blushing bride on her wedding day...Anyway.
Every so often I'll run into a book like that, that hits me somewhere that doesn't get hit too often. I won't bore you with the names of those books, but this one, this "horror" novel did just that. I'm not an emotional guy, but I could feel tears welling up near the end. The only other time in my life that's happened (besides when I was a little tike, ya know) was when Raskolnikov and Sonia professed their love for one another. That was powerful for a thirteen year old boy. This book was no less powerful for me, and I'm a little older than thirteen; not much, but older still. I won't reveal too much of the story, I'd hate to ruin it. God, I wish I could be more expressive, but we all have our deficiencies. I guess.
Use your own judgement. If you want a book that will move you, a book that will make you feel alive, a book that you will remember for the rest of your life if you're anything like me, pick up the Dead Zone. It's as close as you'll get.
At least in my experience.
I've read a large assortment of books, about as ecclectic as you can get, or at least as ecclectic as I can get. My personal library is over a thousand volumes, and I've read just about every one. I say this not to boast, but to put in perspective how much I love reading. I abhor TV, and I'm privileged with the ability to read exceedingly fast. It took me three hours to read this novel, THREE HOURS! I don't know about you, but I can't say I've read a 400+ page book in three hours.
I'm sure in the future I'll return to this novel many a time, but it'll never have the affect on me like the first time. It's like heroin, a good book: the first time is the best.
And it hits you before you know it.
Enjoy. I truely hope you buy this book, you won't regret it.
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on May 7, 2001
I'll admit that I was a little thrown at first by this book. I came across this one while I was working my way through a chronological review of King's literature, and this one happens to fall behind what most people consider to be his masterpiece, The Stand. To be sure, The Stand is an excellent book, particularly with regard to the method by which it blends religious issues with contemporary tone and plot matter, and there was a lot of plot matter to blend with. The result was that this book left me feeling a little empty at first. There just wasn't as much there as I was used to. This was a bit of a departure for King--his previous two novels had been a little bit removed from the more intimate, individual picture that you're given in this book. The ultimate truth, however, is that this book is not just believable, but memorable. I'm not sure how he hit the nail on the head so well with Johnny Smith, but this is perhaps one of the best characters that he's ever crafted, and I mean ever. It's often difficult to relate to the situations that show up in King's writing (really, now, how many of us have been sucked into an alternate reality by a demon living in the body of a small boy or survived a nation-slaying plague), but in this book Steve manages to blend the unknown (psychic power) with the familiar (the world we live in) with startling effectiveness. Basically, I have to give this book five stars if only because I still find myself thinking about it sometimes. The characterizations are all excellent, and the ethical issues that form the heart of the novel are certainly worth considering. Most of all, this book makes you feel as though you're actually reading about a man living in a world, instead of a world going on around a group of men. Events are written in a way that sound believable and very similar to our own world--it's worth noting that this was the novel debut of his Castle Rock setting, in a move that I found particularly interesting. The story about the Castle Rock Strangler blends effortlessly into the rest of the plot, forming a rich backdrop against which Smith's mind and predicament can be showcased. Now, it's worth noting that the movie translation isn't worth have a crap on a crutch. In fact, I think I pretty much owe that movie for the fact that I can no longer think about Smith without attaching Christopher Walken's startling features to him (even though that was not how I originally envisioned him--I thought more of a person who was, um, you know, likeable), or Martin Sheen with the book's "villain." Overall, this is a fine piece of literature that I would recommend for any reader with a little bit of time available--you won't be disappointed.
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on April 2, 1998
The Dead Zone is one of the best fictional novel ever written by Stephen King. The story grabs the reader's attention and sets a good imagery because of the suspense and descriptive details. John (Johnny) Smith the main character of the fictional novel is a psychic. As a psychic, John Smith uses his powers to help save people from catastrophes. For example; He had saved the life of a student who he was tutoring, Chuck Chatsworth, from attending a graduation party that was going to be struck down by lighting. Stephen King also wrote a book called It, a very powerful and scary story similar to The Dead Zone. For those of you who are a Stephen King lover, or who want to get a glimpse of a frightening and shocking thrill, then give The Dead Zone a try. I promise you that once you have picked up a copy and have read a few chapters of the book, you will not want to stop.
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on May 22, 2014
I'm a HUGE Stephen King fan and, while this book is definitely in his voice, the story just didn't do much for me. It started out really strong and I was completely hooked. But, the side story of the murderer didn't really fit and then the way he uses his "power" in the end seemed so mediocre. I was a little let down, to be honest.
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on March 12, 1999
Once you start reading this book it just grabs you and you'll stay hooked from start until finish. All the characters are so real and amazing. King is the true maestro of horror-thriller fiction. Unbeatable. Ignore his newer works like Gerald's Game, Rose Madder (the worst!), Insomnia or The Green Mile. The Dead Zone is THE Classic Stephen King masterpiece. I've read it 3 times over the last 5 years, and frankly I wouldn't mind picking it up again. The story is very original - the villain in the book was is so evil and real, you just pray you would never meet such a person in real life. And the main character/hero, you just emphatize with him - he who lost years of his life due to a coma and when he woke up was "rewarded" with a cursed psychic power he couldn't control and which he dreads. If you've read the book, you could compare it with the movie starring Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. Excellent movie! I highly recommend this book to all fiction-enthusiasts. This book ranks among my all time favourites. Other King's books which are similarly well written are Firestarter, The Dark Half, It and Misery. I'm a quarter into his latest book - Bag of Bones. It's OK so far but nothing like The Dead Zone. You really must read it to know fully what I mean.
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on March 10, 2016
The Dead Zone was a re-read for me, as many will be as I go through The Stephen King Challenge, and I forgot how powerful this book was. King was really in fine form during this period in the late 1970s.

Johnny Smith is a young teacher that has started to date Sarah, another young teacher that works for another school. They've started to fall in love and Johnny takes her out on a date to the county fair. They're both excited about the night. Love is in the air and Sarah has hinted that she'd like him to spend the night at her place for the first time. They have a great time at the fair riding the rides and eating all the fair food. As they're walking out, a carnival barker at the Wheel of Fortune lures them over to try their luck. Suddenly, Johnny gets a strange feeling that he knows what number the ball is going to land on and begins to go in a trance-like state. Sure enough, he hits...and hits...and hits, until he has over $500 in his pocket and Sarah mysteriously turns ill. Driving his sick girlfriend to her house, they decide that they'll have to postpone their special evening for when she feels better. Johnny hails a cab and heads for his house. He never makes it home. Two kids were drag racing and hit the cab head on. Johnny is the only survivor...well, kind of. Johnny, battered and broken, is in a coma for 4 and 1/2 years. The doctors had given up on him and eventually Sarah did too. While Johnny was withering away in a hospital bed, Sarah marries and has a little boy. Then, one day, she gets word that Johnny Smith has miraculously come out of his coma. What she was led to believe as impossible has happened. For Johnny, it's as if he's only been asleep for a few days. Instead, his whole life, as he knows it, has been ripped away from him and all he has to look forward to is multiple surgeries and an excruciating recovery. During one of his physical therapy sessions, he touches a nurse and a wave of visions flood through Johnny's mind. He goes into another trance-like state and tells the nurse that she has to hurry. Her house is on fire. She checks and sure enough, Johnny was right and the wary nursing staff look as if Johnny has leprosy and none of them want to get close enough to touch him. For Johnny, this newfound ability is a curse. Newspapers, tabloids, desperate people wanting to know what happened to their missing loved ones all come out of the woodwork and hound Johnny. Then one day, Johnny shakes the hand of Greg Stillson. Stillson is a local politician with big ambitions and Johnny sees what would happen to the world if Stillson is in charge. What would you do if you could go back in time and prevent Hitler from coming to power? This is the burden that Johnny faces.

The Dead Zone hit me like a ton of bricks. Johnny is a very likable character and you want him and Sarah to be a couple. You want his life to be wonderful. You want to see a silver lining. With one kick in the gut after another, it's painful to watch Johnny be forced to travel down the roads that he has to. The characters, storytelling, setting, it's all wonderfully laid out by King. This is King firing on all cylinders. It transports you inside Johnny Smith and makes you ask yourself, "What if this happened to me?" An excellent tale that should be a felony for all that haven't read it.

5 burning tires out of 5

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on January 31, 2015
I am currently reading this book right now, I have the movie and it is one of the best movies I have ever seen from a Stephen King book. I am a King fan, some of his books are out there, while others like this one are excellent. If you are not a King fan I think you will like the book, give it a try. I would recommend this book to any King fan. For those that a skeptical, trust me this book keeps your interest and it is not your typical King novel.

Kris L. CocKayne
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