The Dead Zone
Written by: Stephen King
Narrated by: James Franco
Length: 16 hrs and 11 mins
Release Date: 04-25-17
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
I first read The Dead Zone when it was published in 1979. Still living at home at the time, my mother and i struggled over whose turn it was to read. It was, and 38 years later still is, a great book. The premise of a man who foresees the future with a touch was intriguing. It leads back to the the great “What if?”. What if you could travel back in time and kill Hitler before his rise to power? What if you had the knowledge of a future catastrophe and could do something to prevent it? Would you do it? Would you be Cassandra (see Greek myths)?
The Dead Zone starts in 1953 when a young Johnny Smith suffers a head injury while ice skating. After that injury Johnny has one premonition which comes true but he does not remember stating the prediction. The story moves forward to the 70’s, when Johnny is an adult and teaching high school. He is in love with a fellow teacher, Sarah. They go on to a fair where Johnny’s unknown precognition allows him to win several hundred dollars at a game of chance. After taking Sarah home, Johnny is in an accident and ends up in a coma for several years. When he wakes up, the world has moved on. Sarah is married. His parents are gone. And he now sees the future of people who he touches or touching their possessions.
Unfortunately Johnny is not seeing what is in the big wrapped present under Bob’s Christmas tree. Johnny is seeing emotional hot wires. He tries to come to terms with this curse and stay out of the public eye. After helping the police find a child murderer, he becomes controversial; is he real or a fraud? Another story line running parallel to Johnny’s is Greg Stilson. When first introduced, Greg is a bible salesman. Greg is also a deeply disturbed violent person.
When he and Johnny finally meet, Greg is campaigning for President of the United States. When Johnny shakes Greg’s hand he sees Greg initiating a nuclear war. Remember this was written when the Cold War was a daily concept in our lives. Mutual Assured Destruction was the doctrine that ruled the super powers, specifically the United States and the Soviet Union. What Johnny sees is no less than the destruction of the world and the onset of nuclear winter. Enter the “What if”?
Reading The Dead Zone when it was first published was different than now. Although the Cold War was still raging, the current President, Carter, and incoming President, Reagan, were professional, tested politicians. Listening to The Dead Zone now was terrifying in a very different way. “It can’t happen here” mentality no longer works in our present world. It is very easy to draw a comparison between the unstable Greg Stilson and the tantrum throwing 2017 version. If you have not read/listen to The Dead Zone or read it years ago, now is the time. There is a new layer of horror awaiting you.
James Franco narrates this new release of The Dead Zone. He recently received acclaim in the production of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which I have not seen yet. As a narrator he is adequate. I cannot say I would seek out an audiobook based on it having him as narrator. He seemed to switch between performing and reading. For example, Part 1 Chapter 4 has Franco’s narrating included Sarah and Johnny’s parents. There is no change in the tone, pitch or accent in his voice. He basically just reads the words from the book. In Part 2 Chapter 2, Franco changes his accent for the neurologist. Other than that, I did not detect any differences in the characters speaking. As narrators go, I prefer the narrator either read the book or perform it, not switch back and forth between the two.
The Dead Zone is a fantastic book. It is more terrifying today than when Stephen King first conceived and created it so long ago. It is well worth listening to. While Franco’s narration does not elevate the experience, it does not hurt it. I recommend The Dead Zone as an audiobook just because it is so relevant in a totally terrifying way.
Note: I received a review copy from SimonandSchuster.com in exchange for an honest review.