Carrie by Stephen King

carrieHere’s a book-turned-movie we’ve probably all heard at least something about! And apparently it’s being made into a 2013 movie, although maybe for the film version I should start with the 1976 version with Sissy Spacek? I had the vaguest notion that I’d seen it already; but as I read the book I realized that this was definitely new material to me.

I am really glad that I picked up this collector’s edition at my local used bookstore. The introduction by Tabitha King, the author’s wife, was a great addition. She puts in perspective the creation and success of this, King’s first published novel, written while they were scraping out a living as parents of two small children, each working full-time on opposite schedules and hardly seeing each other. When this novel did well, then, it made the change of their lives, and started Stephen King on the path to become the huge name he is today. She also reveals that her own terrible PMS was (she is sure) the inspiration for Carrie’s menstrual difficulties, and muses on the strangeness of a novel centering around menstruation and the trauma of a girl’s first period, written by a man, in the 1970’s no less. I enjoyed this introduction.

And the book itself! Carrie is really something. I can appreciate (even with my very limited experience with Stephen King) how this book fits into his oeuvre: it’s a fine example of his ability to create atmosphere, and let us into the heads of his characters. Carrie herself is both tragic and terrifying. I can’t help but sympathize: she’s been abused by her mother from birth, and her completely bizarre upbringing has crippled any chance she might have had of fitting into her world. Now, as evidenced by Sue Snell’s inner conflict about her popularity, conformity is not necessarily a good thing; but Carrie is so far outside of her society that she’s handicapped by it. And to put it simply, kids can be so cruel, can’t they? But when Carrie begins to steer her own fate, I likewise can’t help but shiver.

Carrie comes into her telekinetic own after a trauma, when she gets her first period in very public fashion and is ridiculed (violently) for it; a double trauma, then, if you will (compounded by her total ignorance, at age sixteen, of menstruation). Whether her special powers are born of puberty or trauma is unclear; probably it’s both.

The novel is fairly short: at about 150 pages, it took me just two days to read (in the course of my normal, busy life). The structure is unique, partly epistolary, partly scrapbook-style: sometimes we look out from inside Carrie’s head, sometimes from the heads of other characters; interspersed are clippings from magazines, newspapers, news releases, and books. The effect is a little jarring and disjointed, in just the right way (and, you can bet, as King intended it). The final, climactic events are foreshadowed and referred to from the very beginning; this, and the building of the action, and the careful release of new pieces of information, combine to create the atmosphere and tension King is known for. And, as important as anything else about this book, he gets his adolescent female characters just right: they really are teenaged young women, and that’s no small accomplishment for any author, perhaps let alone a man.

I found Carrie terrific. There’s no question in my mind that this is a fine novel, quick to read but exquisitely crafted, definitely cinematic (want to see the movie now!) and classic. Perhaps it’s all hindsight, but I can see Stephen King’s rising star in this early work. And I want more than ever to read more of his!

Rating: 8 mind flexes.

7 Responses

  1. I never read any Stephen King (I’m not a horror fan) until The Green Mile. When I heard he was publishing a novel in monthly installments, I knew I had to read it (I love serial fiction). When I read it (eagerly buying each installment the day it came out) I understood what all the fuss was about. That guy can write.

    My mother read some parts of The Green Mile (I think she bailed when it started to get really scary), and she said that he did an incredible job of capturing what it was like to live during the Depression (which she did and he didn’t) — that the most important thing was holding onto your job because you were not going to get another one. Given that, I’m not surprised he could also put himself in the head of a teenage girl (and take his readers along with him).

    I guess I should read Carrie. 🙂 (I’ve never seen the movie — though I probably will see the new version since it stars Chloe Moretz, who is on a pretty incredible run of being in good movies. She may become the new Johnny Depp. 🙂

    • Okay, I’m interested to hear your interest in the newer version of the movie! 🙂 Funny, my mother had the same compliment to pay King when she read 11/22/63 – that he had perfectly captured a moment in time. I do recommend him. Carrie turned out to be quite a quick read, too, so don’t hesitate!

  2. Definitely ssee the Sissy Spacek version. It would be a shame to start with anything else!

  3. I was surprised when I learned what the story is about. Terrible PMS sounds, well terrible.

  4. […] will recall that I recently read Stephen King’s Carrie, and was very impressed. I then made it a point to watch the classic 1976 movie starring Cissy […]

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