Carrie by Stephen King (1974)

Carrie by Stephen King (1974): King’s first published novel still has zing. Or zip. Or whatever. It’s not particularly representative of his work as a whole, though its telekinetic namesake is representative of a lot of King novels from the first ten years of his novels.

Carrie gives us a powerful telekinetic; The Shining gives us a boy and a man who are both telepathic and precognitive; The Dead Zone gives us a precognitive man; Firestarter gives us a pyrokinetic girl. King’s interest in psychic abilities seems very much a product of the similarly interested 1970’s America. I’m surprised he didn’t do a novel involving pyramid power.

Carrie also features atypical King narration, a combination of third-person omniscient and ‘clippings’ from fictional books, magazines, and letters. It works, though just barely: some suspense is leeched out of the text by our knowledge that something extraordinarily dire is going to happen from pretty much the first page onwards. Of course, the movie strips these documentarian elements away, leaving only the high-school narrative that is Carrie’s greatest strength.

King himself noted that in going back to Carrie after Columbine, he found her much less sympathetic than he remembered. Pitiful, perhaps, and warped by persecution and a loopy, homicidal mother, but not sympathetic. Anyone who has been an outcast can feel pangs of horror at Carrie’s sad life, but she’s ultimately no more sympathetic than John Gardner’s Grendel, and much less so than Anthony Burgess’s Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

This is still a tight, fascinating read (it may be King’s shortest novel). Separated from high school as a student by a few short years and as a teacher not at all, King conjures up a world that’s a nightmare for students who are low in the pecking order, where even a good deed can lead to horrible consequences. Recommended.

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