Review: Rage by Richard Bachman

Posted January 25, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 24 Comments

Review: Rage by Richard BachmanRage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Published by Signet on 1977
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Pages: 131
Source: my shelves

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[Trigger warning: gun violence, school violence]

Rage is Stephen King’s third novel, published in 1977 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. From what I understand, King started writing the book when he was only 19 years old, and while I’m sure there were changes made to the story and some serious editing done before it was published ten years later, it’s obvious that King is a born storyteller.

I’m not sure I needed to add the trigger warning at the top of this post, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Rage is about a high school senior named Charlie Decker who gets completely fed up with the adults in his life–teachers make fun of him, his father pretty clearly doesn’t like him and treats him like shit, and Charlie is tired of adults’ general feeling of superiority and their hypocrisy. Unfortunately, Charlie decides that the only way to be heard and get his point across is through violence…specifically gun violence…which he calls “get[ting] it on.” Teachers are killed and other adults are threatened. Rage is actually no longer in print. King had it taken out of publication in light of a number of school shootings that were very similar to events in the book (and because more than one teenage school shooter was found to own a copy of Rage).

But Rage is about more than angry teenagers and gratuitous violence. It’s about how hard it is to be a teenager, let alone a teenager who isn’t taken seriously by adults. Some adults tend to forget what being a teenager feels like–they forget that they were teenagers themselves at one point–and they treat teenagers like they’re just being over-dramatic and silly. It may seem to adults like teenagers blow things out of proportion or go overboard with their feelings, but those feelings are very real to teenagers. We can’t discount them. Their feelings are no less valid than ours. They’re trying to make sense of themselves and the world around them at a time when their bodies are actively fighting any rationality they might possess. They want to be taken seriously (as they should), and they want to be understood. It’s tough. I remember what it’s like. I am in no way condoning violence, but I think we forget that words have power, and that power is multiplied times 100 (or even 1000) when used against a hormonal, angsty teenager. Or not used at all, as the case may be. While I know that there are people in the world who are simply maladjusted and without morals, there are far more people who just need someone to pay attention and be understanding.

I’m rambling, but that is basically what Rage is about: 1. It’s hard being a teenager. 2. It’s even harder being a teenager who is misunderstood (or not taken seriously) and treated like crap by adults. 3. Teenagers are people, too, and their feelings are no less valid and real than ours, regardless of how silly we think they’re being.

Other random thoughts about Rage (that might contain a few spoilers):

–It’s very Lord of the Flies-esque, especially at the end.

–I think it’s interesting that Charlie’s school mates decided to stay in the classroom with him and “get it on,” even if I felt it was a little unrealistic. It turns into a big psychotherapy session, and lots of teenage feelings and secrets are revealed.

–Did Ted end up in a catatonic state because of what his classmates did to him, or was he doomed to break because he refused to open up and “get it on”? I’m not sure how I feel about what happened to Ted–my feelings are mixed, but consist mostly of disgust for the other students. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it. He definitely didn’t deserve what he received, but I’m still undecided about what caused his catatonia.

–I loved the second to last paragraph of the book. How much honesty is too much? Charlie finds out.

There is more I could say about Rage, but I think I’m going to leave it at that. Have you read this book? Thoughts? Comments?

Click here to read sj’s thoughts.

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  • therelentlessreader

    Wow, I can see why it’s not published anymore. But it’s still a shame. 🙁

    • I’m fine with that since it was King’s choice, and I think it was the right thing to do in this instance (it shows compassion for victims)…but it’s still unfortunate, yes. Rage doesn’t condone or suggest violence as an answer.

  • sj

    Reading this reminds me that I haven’t finished my post about it (maybe today, I think I’ll have time), but I agree with a lot of what you said.

    Hee, the button!

    • The button!

      I’ve been looking forward to your post since we didn’t have time to chat about this one.

  • I loved Rage and am sorry that it’s out of print. While I can’t really argue with King’s decision to pull it, I can see how kids looking for someone who understands might get something from the book that actually keeps them from causing harm, either to themselves or others. Perhaps I’m too optimistic about the power of books?

    • I agree with you. I think most readers would see the good lessons in the book (or would form their own positive lessons in light of what they’ve read).

  • I am sure this might be the only Stephen King that I might like. And no you are not rumbling, Heather. You are 100% right. I have two teens in my home and what you have just said has made me sit up to realise that I ought to listen to them more often and have more interactions with them, especially my soon to be teen (12 years) who can be quite difficult. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • We have a difficult teen here, too. Most teens are difficult (I know I was from time to time)–we just need to think about how we react to the difficulty. As angry as our son makes us sometimes, we do our best to remember what it was like for us and to try to understand. Sometimes he gets the best of us, but we do the best we can.

      • Hm, I was such a difficult teen myself, giving my mum so much problems with my obstinacy and argumentative stubborness. I just need to remind myself that I was like him once. Great 🙂

  • I loved this book as a bullied teen – not for the violence, but for the catharsis of the whole thing. And King understood. You could tell, from the way he wrote the kids, that he UNDERSTOOD. And that went a long way with me. I’m so glad I have an old copy of it from before it got pulled from the shelves.

    • I wish I’d known about it as a teen. That’s the thing I loved most about this book–that King knew his stuff and wasn’t afraid to write about it.

  • I REALLY want to read this now!!! I just finished a book, so maybe I’ll start this next. . .if I can find it!

  • That’s a great review. I must read it now, too bad it’s priced beyond my means now. Also too bad that it is sort of self censored and taken out of circulation for new prints. I don’t believe in “protecting” the public that way. Authors write about what is the human condition–all of it.Thanks for writing this.
    Johanna

    • I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but Stephen King released a Kindle short yesterday called “Guns,” in which he writes about his pro-gun control stance. Apparently, he talks about Rage in it. It will probably give more insight into why he pulled it from publication.

    • There are some copies that aren’t too expensive–or, at least, there were earlier last year. Look for The Bachman Books instead of Rage itself; Rage is the first novella in the collection, and you can generally find a copy pretty inexpensively (plus you get three whole other stories!). Try AbeBooks or the used section of Amazon.

  • After reading what you and sj had to say about this, and in light of King’s essay on guns (but I don’t have a Kindle! Will have to hope I can find it available elsewhere)… I really want to read this book.

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  • Just got a copy of this through the library & started reading it the other night! Thanks to you and SJ for letting me know about it.

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