Fifty Books, 365 Days. Book Forty – Carrie by Stephen King

Date started: October 18th

Date finished: October 18th

Another Stephen King, I hear you all whisper amongst yourselves. And, yes. Another Stephen King. I’d actually planned on making Doctor Sleep my last of the year, but a series of events conspired to me reading Carrie now. First of all, I wanted to buy it now before they slap on some silly film poster cover with Chloe Moretz (which they have done). Nothing against Chloe Moretz, I just don’t like film tie in covers. Second, I had a four hour train ride to Liverpool Friday, and Carrie seemed about the right length to fill it. As you can see by my start and finish dates, I was right on the money.

Okay, so we all know the story of Carrie, right? Good. Perpetual high school reject Carrie White lives with her overbearing religious mother, gets tampons thrown at her by all the other girls when she has a very late first period at sixteen (including nasty girl Chris Hargensen and nice girl Sue Snell). Sue ends up feeling bad and makes her boyfriend take Carrie to prom where things go from bad to worse for pretty much everyone involved. I won’t give away the ending, but come on. It’s Carrie. If you don’t know by now, where have you been living?

What surprised me most about Carrie is how light on plot it actually is. It opens with the famous shower scene, prom starts just after the halfway mark, and it’s chaos from there. There’s no long build to the climax like there was with The Shining, it’s all very straight ahead, pedal to the floor.

The actual retelling of events is punctuated by paragraphs taken from different ‘sources’ such as books by scientists, and testimonies of some of the survivors. For the most part, I felt they worked. They were especially effective towards the end, where we saw the climactic events of prom in a series of confused flashes from people who sort of remembered what happened, then switched back to the whole thing from Carrie’s perspective. In some ways, it broke the old ‘show don’t tell’ rule, but I liked how it added a bit of tension right before the inevitable conclusion. It’s the sort of trick I could only see working in a novel, so I’ll be interested to see how the new adaptation handles it (if they do at all).

I know a lot of people who would gladly hand Carrie the five star rating and count it among the best Stephen King has to offer. I… do not. Not quite. His style does peek through here and there, and there are definite hints at the writer he would later become, but he wasn’t quite there yet. To be honest, it shows in the characters. Chris Hargensen really is an irredeemable bully. The thing is, I’m sure there are people like her, but we never see anything else to her. And her boyfriend Billy Nolan goes along with the whole thing because apparently he’s a sociopath. They just seemed to exist as foils for Carrie, or worse as a means for the plot to play out without any real motivation beyond being bad people who don’t like Carrie because she’s weird. Given that King would later go on to create villains with depth like Jack Torrance, Randall Flagg, or even Big Jim Rennie, I find it hard to put characters like Chris Hargensen up there and say that this is some of the best work King has to offer.

I don’t mean to sound so down on Carrie. It really is a strong debut, but it doesn’t seem to be anything more than that. People should check it out just to read the book that launched the career of arguably one of the most successful writers alive today. Plus, it passes a four hour train journey quite nicely.

Further adventures in Stephen King Book Reviews:

Doctor Sleep
Joyland
The Wind Through the Keyhole

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