Book Review Wednesday: Carrie by Stephen King (4 stars)

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Book Reviews
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This one is the book that gave Stephen King his big break, so I’ve been wanting to read it for a while. Most literate adults, and quite a few illiterate ones have heard of Carrie. My first introduction to Carrie was watching the film as a teenager. There was a lot I didn’t like about that movie, but what resonated with me was the plight of Carrie herself. Too many of us have been that abused pushed aside child , treated as less than human just because they’re different.

And I know with me, when I’m really really angry I expect things to happen. I expect doors to slam, people to fly across rooms, light bulbs to smash. It just seems wrong to have so much chaos burning you apart inside, and none of it to show on the outside world. (I connected with Firestarter – my first Stephen King novel for that very reason.)

For Carrie, what she feels inside starts to show outside through developing telekinesis. This is beautiful, but also horrible. I think the greatest tragedy in all adaptions of this story is Carrie’s lost potential. She could’ve been someone really great. And she gets so close. She starts standing up to her abusive mother, making friends, believing she could be worth something. Then in one terrible prank she loses it and it all goes away.

Before I go any further here’s the blurb:

The story of misfit high-school girl, Carrie White, who gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers. Repressed by a domineering, ultra-religious mother and tormented by her peers at school, her efforts to fit in lead to a dramatic confrontation during the senior prom.

In my honest opinion the recent remake of the film was brilliant, and a lot truer to the book than the last film, but it’s still the book that puts across this loss of potential most. There’s a heartbreaking piece from the point of view of a woman (a teen at the time) who witnessed three year old Carrie’s mother emotionally and verbally abusing her – and it’s hinted physically abusing her.  She talks about wanting to pick her up and run away with her to save her from the life she’d be about to lead with her mother. And it makes you wonder what would’ve happened differently if she had been separated from her mother at that point. Maybe she wouldn’t even develop telekinesis, but if she did then could she have used it as a force of good instead of evil?

Another big potential turning point happens when Sue, feeling guilty for joining in a bullying incident on Carrie, persuades her boyfriend to bring Carrie to the prom to make up for it. I always wonder why she didn’t go up to Carrie, apologize and determine to become friends with her. Sure, Tommy Ross was a great character. A perfect gentleman to Carrie, and he instantly knew as soon as Sue said what she’d done that she’d been wrong to bully her. But I think Carrie would’ve been happier going with Tommy if Sue gave her blessing, and maybe tried to articulate her reasons why she wanted her to go with him. And more than that, Carrie needed a friend – as many friends as she could get. Maybe if Sue had spent time with her before the prom, given her some good memories and shown there were people out there who cared about her, things might’ve gone differently.

That’s what’s so heartbreaking about Carrie. It didn’t need to end up the way it did.

The only thing that stopped this from being five stars for me, is I think Stephen King went a bit overboard toward the end. I was totally with Carrie until somewhere in the gym when she turned completely psychotic and wanted to kill everyone in sight. She then goes on a rampage through town killing everyone she can, and ends the book by killing Sue’s unborn child, even after she’d seen that Sue had tried to help her.

This is one of the things the recent film did a lot better than the book, and the previous film. (If you haven’t seen it, go see it.) In the film, Carrie was never a psychopath. She was a victim. She killed people in the gym, but only as a response to what’d happened. There was a great moment when she almost lost it and killed the gym teacher who’d helped her, and tossed her to safety at the last moment. Then she went out and killed the people who’d just killed Tommy. In the film you could understand her actions.

In the movie, her last act is to save Sue by using her telekinesis to push her out when the house collapses. I felt this was a more believable, sympathetic Carrie than the book where her last act is to kill an unborn child of two people who’d tried to help her. In the book Carrie slipped quickly from victim to monster, and her thoughts and actions were that of a monster. The film understood better that you don’t have to be a monster to do monstrous things, and I wish Stephen King had shown that a bit better in that part of the book.

My verdict: If you’re a horror fan, and maybe even if you aren’t this is a classic. Read it, but also watch the latest film adaption for it. Unusually for a movie adaption of a book, the movie actually does better in some areas than the book itself.

For more reviews on this book check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10592.Carrie

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