The Stephen King Project – Carrie (1974)
I’ve had this project in mind for quite some time. A couple of years at least. So, I was really glad when the good folks at Fantasy Hive agreed to host these posts.
Although I write Fantasy, I have loved Horror for just as long so it’s not unexpected that my favourite author should have written in both genres. I read my first Stephen King book at 13 and I haven’t looked back since. His books have been regular companions for more than 20 years, bringing me solace, joy, fear and awe. When I think about my career goals as a writer, I often wish to be like him. Not his fame, or his sales (though I wouldn’t say no, to the sales at least) but his skill. I want to write living, breathing characters like he does. I want to take an idea as simple as a rabid dog and keep readers glued to the page the way he does. And I want to be as prolific in my work as him.
So, it is with some trepidation that I embark upon this project. I will be reading all of Stephen King’s books in order of publication (with the exception of The Dark Tower series which I will read together, at the end of this adventure) and writing a review of each. I’ll be looking at the recurring themes, the tricks he likes to use, the way he develops character and the way that his craft has evolved in the 44 years since Carrie was first published.
Originally, I had intended to read all of these books back-to-back but, given how many of them there are, I decided that was impractical. I have other reading commitments, such as my reviews for BFS, not to mention reading my friend’s books, that make it difficult to spend the next year (at least) reading only Stephen King.
So, now that you know what this is all about, let’s get to the first review. Carrie.
I’ve read Carrie a couple of times over the years but the main thing that struck me on this reread, that had never occurred to me before, is that this does not read like a debut. Even back then, with his first published novel, King showed a deft hand, a confidence in his prose that many debuts (myself included) do not have.
The story itself is simple. Carrie White is an outcast. Bullied and teased relentlessly at school, dominated by a religious zealot of a mother at home, Carrie knows no peace. With the late and distressing onset of menstruation, Carrie finds herself awakened to telekinetic powers that have lain dormant since childhood. By way of apology, Sue Snell arranges for Carrie to go to the prom, to have one night as a normal sixteen-year-old girl in small town America. But of course, this is a horror story, so we know that she doesn’t get her happy ending.
King employs a partly epistolary structure, using excerpts from newspapers, government reports and books about the event, interspersed with third-person narrative. This is a difficult style to handle well. The narrative-at-a-remove risks distancing the reader from the events too much to have an emotional effect. In this case, the additions serve to lend weight to the story, to make it feel more ‘real’.
The thing that really shines through for me, is that, even in that first novel, King already has such a deftness with character. Carrie herself is so well-drawn, so wretched, that one cannot help but feel sorry for her, in spite of everything she does. Even the side characters are rounded and believable; Sue Snell, ashamed of her part in Carrie’s bullying, Tommy Ross, who tries to give Carrie one good night, Chris Hargensen with her bullying and venom and daddy to fix everything and Billy Nolan, the tough guy that doesn’t care who he hurts.
If you’re a fan of horror, you can’t go wrong with Carrie. The events plunge on with a relentlessness that you cannot escape, no matter how you dread that final climax.
As I write this, I already have ‘Salem’s Lot lined up on my kindle, ready to read when I go to bed tonight. I hope that this series of reviews can do King’s work justice. I hope I still love his writing so much by the end of this project. I hope I encourage people to read and enjoy his books if they haven’t already. I hope someday to be half as skilled as he is. I hope*.
*Yes, that is a nod at a later work by the man himself.