Thursday, March 8, 2018

One-Shot Review: Carrie by Stephen King

I'm getting ready for a brief hiatus from the Chapter x Chapter Review until the second half of March (yay vacation!). But before I go I figured I'd leave you with a quick one-shot review...which, I suppose anyone else would just call a review.

Growing up, I of course loved horror movies, but I didn't get as much into reading horror fiction.  As a result, I've made it to almost midway through my thirties having only read one book by Stephen King.  Of course I'm familiar with the myriad of film adaptations, but with the exception of Salem's Lot I've never finished any of his other work. This year I aim to remedy that, and of course there's no better place to start than the beginning.  With that in mind I recently read King's debut novel, 1974's Carrie.

Even if you're like me and hadn't read the book or seen the 1976 Brian De Palma adaptation (I swear to God I really am a horror fan), you're bound to be familiar with the premise.  Carrie is a shy, timid girl in high school where most of the students treats her like shit.  The same is true of her religious zealot of a mother who is sure Carrie is a product of the devil, particularly due to her emerging ability to move objects with her mind.  This developing talent, along with a poorly-thought prank involving a bucket of pig's blood, leads to a prom night that literally goes up in flames.

One of my biggest fears about digging into King's work is that his writing would suffer when compared to his mythic reputation.  King has been known as the...well, king of horror for decades.  And I often suffer from a terminal case of the contraries, so if too many people sing someone's praises I'll avoid them out of spite.

In the case of Carrie, however, I could quickly tell that King's reputation is warranted.  I was particularly impressed by the novel's structure that combines standard narrative with excerpts from the various fictitious books and reports written about Carrie and her infamous night at the prom.  I'm always a sucker for books that incorporate that kind of "this really happened" framework, and it was also an interesting way for King to play with time and foreshadowing by continually bouncing back and forth between the present narrative and blurbs/interviews with people talking about the incident after the fact.

I also appreciated that all of the characters were flawed, yet even the most mustache-twirling villains of the book has moments of nuance.  Classic mean girl Chris Hargensen's toxic relationship with time-displaced '50s greaser Billy Nolan, for example, shows two desperately unhappy people who can't help but continue to make one another unhappy.  Sue Snell, who early in the book gives in to mob mentality and joins in abusing Carrie when she freaks out over getting her first period, spends much of the book grappling with her sense of self-worth.  Even Bible-thumping Margaret gets hints at a back story that involve a complicated relationship with Carrie's father, Ralph.

Something I'd be interested to hear from any of my women readers is how you felt about King's depiction of women in the book.  Personally, I thought he wrote them well and avoided the pitfalls of stereotype that men so often fall into when writing women, but I also recognize that this opinion means little coming as it does from someone who hasn't experienced life as a woman.  So what do you think, ladies?  Did King do well by Carrie and Sue, or even Chris and Margaret?

Overall, after reading Carrie I'm quickly catching on to something that most people already seem to know:  King's pretty fucking talented.  I'll be interested to see where his bibliography goes as I dig into it a little further, particularly during his coke-fueled years in the '80s.  If it's anything like his theatrical directorial debut, it will be a lot of things, but boring won't be one of them.

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