This month, we have a horror novel for Halloween. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a lesser-known book by Stephen King, the modern master of horror. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that his stamp on the genre is deep and broad. I personally love his style, so I was excited to dive into this book.
It’s not a top shelf Stephen King offering, but my partner loved it and recommended it to me. When I asked “Why this one in particular?”, his answer was lovely in its simplicity: “Because you’ll never know about it otherwise”.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a little girl (Trisha) who loves baseball. She’s infatuated by the Reds Sox star Tom Gordon, as you may gather by the title. Her parents have recently divorced, and she ends up on one of her mother’s Saturday trips.They vary from Saturday to Saturday, but this particular trip is a hike through the mountains of Maine. Trisha is used to hiking and has some decent survival skills, especially for her age. They come in handy when she ends up lost in the woods.
Don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled much. This occurs at the very start of the book, and we’re left alone with a little girl out of her element, trying to survive in a world that wants her dead. Don’t worry, Stephen King fans – his trademark supernatural elements are certainly present, and they ramp up more and Trisha wanders farther and farther from civilization.
King either has some pretty good survival knowledge, or is great at faking it. The pure survival elements of Trisha’s ordeal feel realistic, and I really empathized with her as she went through the cruel and unfair trials set out for her by the mountains. I also came to like her far more than I like most child characters. Even though her determination to survive the ordeal was on point, she remained childike. She feels like an actual little girl, not an adult being written as a child, like so many child characters do.
I’m not a sports fan, but the baseball motif woven through the story (down to the chapter names) ties the story together excellently. As Trisha becomes lonely, she starts to imagine her favorite player walking alongside her and talking with her. Those daydreams become hallucinations, and as those hallucinations become more realistic, the supernatural elements of the story start ramping up. On the softer side, Trisha listens to Red Sox games on her radio each night as a way to comfort herself and hear human voices. As the nights drag on, she dreads the inevitable moment when the batteries die, potentially cutting her off from humanity for good.
Of course, it’s also creepy as hell. Other iconic Stephen King stories are referenced, from the Kingverse towns of Derry and Castlerock to a vague allusions to Pennywise, and a very real connection to Pet Semetary. If you’re a King fan, you’ll love the way this book ties in. If you’re not, you’re not losing anything.
What Doesn’t Work
My biggest problem with this book is a dropped plotline that happens about ⅔ of the way through the novel. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that there is a moment which seems like the hook for a new part of the story, but is never really referenced again afterward. I kept waiting for it to re-appear, but it had vanished. I went to the internet for answers, wondering if I’d missed anything, but the explanations I found were unsatisfying. Sorry to be vague, but you’ll know it when you find it.
One could also argue that the climax has a bit of a deus ex to it. Again, I must be vague to avoid spoilers. It didn’t ruin the story for me, but I certainly noticed it.
I never thought I’d love a baseball themed horror novel with a little girl as the protagonist. The flaws are more distracting than some of the other books I’ve already covered, but it has the ambience and character that I generally admire in King’s work.
If you like horror, this is a great book overall. The horror is a little slower to enter the story, but it bleeds into the loneliness exactly when it needs to. As Trisha shivers in the cold on a lonely, moonlit night, you’ll be able to hear the footsteps as clearly as she can.
Hope you make it through the night, lovelies. If cold and hunger don’t get you, the God of the Lost just might.