by Darryl Keeping
I’m finally getting the opportunity to review the Stephen King books I’ve read to this point in my re-read of all of his works in order. Some of these I have read previously, a lot of them (I’m sad to say) I’m reading for the first time. I’m currently reading Firestarter so I’ve officially left the seventies behind and am firmly entrenched in the go-go eighties! However, for the sake of consistency, I will be providing reviews of each of King’s work in the order they were published, beginning with everyone’s favourite telekinetic prom queen, Carrie!
***SPOILERS AHEAD*** If you haven’t read Carrie, first of all what are you waiting for?!? Second, if you don’t want plot points ruined for you, don’t read this until you read the novel first!
Carrie was published in 1974 and was Stephen King’s first published novel. The writing style was unique, not just for King himself compared to his other works but for the time period he was writing in. King sprinkles the story with newspaper clippings describing the events of the novel. It is an effective choice and it displays King’s confidence at such a young age.
I can only approach this novel from a male perspective but I feel that King does a good job describing Carrie White’s daily obstacles as a young woman travelling through puberty and defending herself against bullies. Her religious fanatic mother isn’t much help so Carrie is forced to go it alone. Carrie is truly an outcast. Her mother’s fanaticism has made Carrie’s upbringing a terrifying and stilted one. In school, she is abused by her peers and pitied by the teachers and administration. This brings us to Sue Snell, a girl who joined others in teasing Carrie but who eventually attempts to befriend her by convincing her (Sue’s) boyfriend Tommy Ross to ask Carrie to the prom. Sue’s intentions are left deliberately ambiguous. While it’s fairly certain Sue is truly trying to help Carrie, it’s difficult to know if she’s doing so for Carrie’s benefit or for her own. She also slowly descends into jealousy as the prom rolls along and she isn’t there to celebrate with Tommy.
Count the couple Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan among those who still do not accept Carrie. These are the true villains of King’s tale. Billy is the one, with the help of a few lackies, who goes to a farm to gather the famed pig’s blood for Carrie’s coronation. Billy revels in the slaughtering of the pig to retrieve the blood, a sign of his burgeoning psychopathy. Chris is his girlfriend, a prototypical Mean Girl who judges her own self-worth based on the feelings of others. A typical bully, in other words.
Prom night arrives and all hell breaks loose. Carrie’s latent telekinetic power is unleashed when she is named prom queen to Tommy’s prom king and proceeds to have the bucket of blood dumped on her by Chris and Billy. Something I did not expect was the death of Tommy in this moment. King did well to describe the frozen pail the blood was in and that pail usher in the end of Tommy’s life. When it falls, it hits Tommy in the head, killing him. It seemed a mundane yet entirely plausible way for him to die. It worked beautifully for me.
Carrie proceeds to lay waste to her town, with a quick stop on the way to literally stop her mother’s heart. The destructive path she leaves is described admirably by King. This, for me, is where he shines. He makes you feel fear of and pity for Carrie White all at once. It isn’t an easy thing to pull off but King seems to do so with ease.
For a debut novel (at least in terms of publication), this was a solid first entry into the Kingverse. Carrie is a formidable protagonist, with that combination of good and bad qualities that King writes so well.
Join me next time for King’s take on the vampire novel, the chilling ‘Salem’s Lot!