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Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)



Written in 1966, published in 1977 and proposed again in the mid-80s, Rage has a long and troubled history, which culminated with its withdrawal from the catalogue in the late ‘90s. Stephen King, under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, said that it was a good thing that Rage was no longer possible to buy. This work is so powerful and controversial that the author himself said that writing it had been a mistake.
What is the reason for so much fuss over this short novel of 211 pages?

Narrated in first person by the protagonist, Charlie Decker, the novel takes place in an ordinary day, at a high school like many others. Some weeks before, Charlie had put his professor of algebra, Ms Underwood, in hospital. Called by the principal to speak about what happened, Charlie decides to reply with sarcasm and disrespectful irony. The situation degenerates: the headmaster is forced to expel the boy.
Charlie, after the discussion, decides not only to take a gun kept in his locker and kill Ms Underwood and another professor (Mr Vance), but also to take hostage his classmates. As police arrive, the siege begins. Barricaded in class, Charlie decides to tell his history. From this point, it regresses into the past of the protagonist, through long monologues that turn into narrative flashbacks. Gradually, the darker sides of his life start to emerge between the lines: an authoritarian father who has never been able to consider Charlie anything but a loser, an adolescence full of loneliness, regular bad luck and several missed opportunities. His mates, in a kind of group psychology session, decide in turn to tell their problems, while the police try to negotiate with the hostage-taker.

The power of this novel is that Charlie’s life is not so different from his mates, or many other American boys. Charlie’s doubts, disappointments, resentments and fears are common in lives of numerous teenagers; not only in USA, but everywhere around the world. The ordinary difficulties of life lead the protagonist to madness, pushing him to take apparently unjustified and violent actions. The hostage situation becomes a narrative mechanism that allows us to explore the troubled reality of every high school, well-known by Stephen King. The author has been both a student and a professor: he knows what he writes.
Rage is a youthful (written when he was a 18-year-old student), rough and “tough” book, but mature at the same time. The controversies about this book, which led to it falling out of print, do not relate to its vehemence and violence. The work was withdrawn because it is impossible not to connect it to the dramatic news events that often occur, where unsuspecting people - in a fit of madness - start shooting randomly against defenceless victims. Its plot vaguely resembles actual events that have emerged since the book’s publication, associated with high school shootings and hostage takings, such as at Jackson County High School inMcKee (Kentucky), at Frontier Middle School inMoses Lake (Washington) and at Columbine High School in Columbine (Colorado).

Although no longer published, the work can be found in flea markets or on the Internet (Amazon). I dare to suggest Rage because it is one of Stephen King’s best books and can be appreciated by both his fans and by those who want to read a novel that makes the thriller genre a formidable psychological analysis tool.

Written by Alessandro Volpino

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