The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon - Not an ending worth loving
I became a Stephen King fan about 10 years ago when I developed a habit of permanently borrowing books from my best friend’s mom. (Thanks Terri!) I started with Bag of Bones, which is not only my favorite King novel, but one of my all-time favorite novels in general. However, it’s only been recently that I’ve decided to buy and read every one of his works. I know, sounds a bit obsessive, right? But many of his fans claim to have done the same. After reading 11 of his books so far, I can say I consider him a literary mastermind. Plus, love him or hate him – hell, love or hate the whole horror genre- nobody can deny the fact that he’s one of the most well -known authors of all time. King has a unique way of spinning stories that drag the reader in until they’re drowning in a story they can’t get enough of and hours have passed before they can put the book down. Exactly that happened to me this afternoon with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, one of this much shorter and less super naturally driven publications. It took me roughly 3 hours to plow through the last 2/3 of the book, but unfortunately, the ending wasn’t nearly as satisfying as everything leading up the anti-climactic ending.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon revolves around 9 year old Trisha. She and her brother Pete are children of a divorced couple, and it’s the divorce that puts Trisha in her unfortunate situation that drives the entire plot. While hiking with Pete and their mother Quilla, Trisha becomes tired of hearing the mother and son arguing about their parent’s divorce. She lags behind to avoid negatively reacting to the bickering, and after she wanders down a separate path to relieve herself in private, she becomes hopelessly lost in the Maine wilderness. But in true Stephen King fashion, Trisha is not only lost, but is also being stalked by someone or something she can sense but not see. This leaves the reader to wonder if she’ll succumb to the normal perils of becoming stranded, such as thirst and starvation, maybe even injury, or to the unnamed terror whose eyes prey upon her both night and day.
To help combat her fear, and I’m sure due in part to hallucinations as well, Trisha begins an imaginary relationship with her hero, Boston Red Sox closing pitcher Tom Gordon. He walks with her during the day and watches over her at night, sometimes responding to her banter, at other times disappearing mid conversation. By the end of the book Trisha is also conversing with her family members and best friend as well, and while she sometimes acknowledges that they’re really not there, she continues talking to them regardless. In that situation who wouldn’t do the same?
Throughout the book the unknown being begins to stalk Trisha more and more, and through dreams, hallucinations or reality – I don’t think we’re meant to know which – the child learns that it’s something called the God of the Lost. And yes, he’s evil; he feeds on people that have been lost, their intense fear making them tastier for snacking on. As the book starts winding down, as Trisha seems more lost than ever and the God of the Lost intensifies his hunt, I really did start to wonder how the end of the book would play out. Would she escape with her life and her sanity intact, or would she fall victim to the wasp faced creature with empty eye sockets and a hunger for blood?
It's a what?!
It seems our young heroine is going to escape, but of course at the very end, and I do mean the very end, Trisha comes face to face with her 9 day tormentor. And… it’s a bear. A goddamn bear. Or is it? One aspect of King’s trademark writing style is that he blends reality and fantasy until the reader is no longer sure what the protagonist is experiencing, and while I used to like this, I’m now starting to view it as a cheap copout. As Trisha is staring at the bear that’s not really a bear but the God of the Lost, the confusing creature is shot by a hunter, and even he’s not sure what he’s looking at. I originally wondered if she was just hallucinating, but then with the hunter not even 100% sure what he’s witnessing, it leaves the reader confused on exactly what has been following her for the entire book, and after 262 pages, the reader deserves a lot more clarity than what is given. Is it a demon? A shape shifter? Or really just a bear? A truly great ending should leave the reader with answers, not more questions.
Despite the confusion, the girl who loved Tom Gordon does in fact survive her traumatic 9 day ordeal and is reunited with her family, even signaling “game over” in the last sentence the same way her hero, the namesake of the book, does after he’s pitched a winning inning.
As always, this King novel is amazingly well written. Since the majority of the plot is realistic and not supernaturally focused, it’s very easy, and thus truly scary, to picture yourself in poor Trisha’s situation. In fact, the all too realistic plot is the main selling point of this novel. The lost 9 year old girl braves bugs, injuries, swamps, microbiological water contamination and an almost debilitating case of pneumonia during her 9 days spent wandering for help; all of this on top of knowing she is being watched by something she can hear but not usually see, something she knows is more of a threat to her well-being than anything else she is encountering. It’s horrifying to think of that happening to yourself and wondering how you’d react. Would I have gone through the swamps? Would I have killed and eaten a raw fish or drank stream water that had already made me sick? Would I have kept going for 9 brutal days or given up after the first pitch black night? It’s hard to answer without actually being confronted with it, but thankfully I was able to experience 1/10th of that terror from the comfort of my own home with food and water within reaching distance. While The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon has one of the worst endings I’ve ever read, the first 243 pages of the 262 page novel still made it time well spent and will definitely make you think twice the next time you go for an innocent hike in the woods.