cover image The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone

Stephen King, read by James Franco. S&S Audio, unabridged, 14 CDs, 17 hrs., $3

In the audiobook debut of King’s classic 1979 thriller, a car accident sends Maine high school teacher Johnny Smith into a multiyear coma, from which he emerges into a changed world with the unwanted ability to see people’s past and future just by touching them. Johnny’s visions increase in scope—from the image of a nurse’s son surviving dangerous surgery to the second sight of a murder scene that helps a local sheriff find a serial killer. Each leaves Johnny physically diminished and psychically damaged. But they’re just warm-ups for his vision of jingoistic politician Greg Stillson achieving the presidency and starting a devastating nuclear war. Actor Franco performs at full thespian force, telling the story in a naturalistic, almost mesmerizing manner with distinctive voices for all of the book’s many characters: Johnny’s highlights his affability, integrity, pain, and inner turmoil. The villainous Stillson sounds smarmy, aggressive, and insane in the way that can drive a man to kick a dog to death. Additionally, Franco’s interpretation of the final section of the novel, consisting of letters and excerpts from committee meetings, is moving enough to bring tears to listeners’ eyes. A Pocket paperback. (Apr.)