My relationship with Stephen King began oh, I don’t know, about twenty years ago maybe, when I mistakenly read The Shining while on a cross-country road trip with my parents. Up until that point in my reading life, I thought it was impossible for a book to scare me. As a middle-grade reader, I had been a huge fan of Mary Downing Hahn’s spooky ghost stories, and then moved on to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series and Christopher Pike’s seemingly endless array of teen horror stories.
So, I thought I was ready for something a bit more, well, adult. I thought I was ready for Stephen King. And maybe I would have been, had it not been for the circumstances surrounding my initiation. I have a distinct memory of checking in to a hotel in a room number of great significance in The Shining and outright refusing to even enter the room, which was the source of great hilarity for my parents.
Needless to say, it’s been a little while since I’ve felt the urge to pick up another King novel. But boy, am I glad I did.
Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed… But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…
Carrie is King’s first published novel, although I’ve recently discovered that it was actually the fourth he wrote. It is written in an epistolary form, with the narrative interspersed with many (fictional, I hope) scientific articles, news reports, and snippets of memoirs written by significant characters. While I must admit that this style initially took some getting used to, I ultimately feel the non-fiction flavor that these excerpts create contributes greatly to the overall impact of the novel. While I was of course aware that I was reading fiction, the sense that King’s style gave me is of having read something that actually happened – or could.
I have to admit to having some idea of the plot of this novel prior to reading. I think this is just one of those stories that has become so much a part of pop-culture that it’s almost impossible to avoid spoilers in one form or another. The cover of some of the books and film adaptations certainly contribute to this, as many of them depict the climax of the book – Carrie drenched in blood.
What I didn’t expect to experience was a sense of sorrow, pity, and even empathy for Carrie. She is constantly bullied, teased mercilessly, and at the hands of a religiously fanatic mother who has controlled and sheltered her all her life. Were it not for the actions she takes at the Prom, Carrie would have been entirely a sympathetic character. And were it not for the relentless bullying, perhaps Carrie’s telekinetic powers could have made her a Matilda-type character, straight out of one of Roald Dahl’s childhood favorites.
While Carrie is certainly of the horror genre, I read it ultimately as a great tragedy. Carrie is a lost and lonely girl, whose only influence in life is her overbearing mother. She is taught that her body’s changes through puberty are a result of Eve’s sin, the same sin that she was conceived by. Carrie has no friends, and even the authority figures at her school – namely Miss Desjardin – are at first disgusted by her.
When Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers, it is as if she is first realizing that she herself has some control over her world. She doesn’t need to subject herself to her mother’s punishments and control over her. In fact, when she re-discovers her powers at puberty, her mother begins to fear her. So when she is asked to go to the prom with Tommy Ross, she is first able to assert her independence from her mother.
Oh, and how she asserts her independence! I’m glad I read this book. I’m glad I’ve rediscovered my love of horror fiction (thanks oodles, Stephen King!) And I’m really glad I resuscitated this little book blog.