by Stephen King
Fiction — Horror
This is Stephen King’s first novel, originally published in 1974. The book is about Carrie, a sixteen-year-old girl who is constantly ridiculed and put down by everyone around her, both at school and at home. On the day she gets her first period (which turns out to be an especially terrifying experience for her), Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers, which have mostly been semi-latent until now. Very bad things happen.
I read Carrie for the first time in my early teens (I could have been as young as twelve, but I don’t remember my exact age). My mother is a fan of Stephen King, so my parents’ bookcases were full of his books. I shouldn’t have been reading Stephen King’s horror at such a young age, and I’m sure my mother would have warned against it had she known. But I was smart (well, not really), and I snuck my horror reading in when no one was around to see me doing it. The cover of that edition of Carrie was terrifying to me at that age, and I remember it well: it pictured a young girl’s face covered in rivulets of blood. As was the case with most of the things I read that I probably shouldn’t have at that age, my morbid curiosity got the best of me.
I don’t remember the specifics of how Carrie made me feel back then, but I remember that I was pretty freaked out by it. Did people really have telekinetic powers? If so, did they only use them to do bad things to other people? Could that happen in the small town I was growing up in? Could I learn to move things with my mind; did my parents have the telekinetic gene? Silly thoughts, some of them. I knew the answers to the majority of those questions, but I had a vivid imagination that could run wild if allowed.
I had a completely different reading experience this time around. Instead of freaking me out, Carrie just made me very sad and I had some difficulty reading it. I know what it’s like to be bullied by a few people in school, and that’s bad enough; Carrie is bullied by everyone. The whole student population seemed to be conspiring to make her feel as horrible as possible. What makes kids so mean and nasty? Sheesh. It’s not like she could get some respite and comfort at home, either. Carrie’s mother is an extreme religious fanatic who is obviously suffering from some kind of mental illness or disorder, and she is just as horrible as the kids at school. Actually, what she does is worse because she’s Carrie’s mother. I won’t say that I didn’t feel some sympathy for Carrie’s mother, because I did–whatever brings a person to be as horrible and maladjusted as Carrie’s mother is, it must have been pretty bad. But Carrie is a teenage girl who just needs love, understanding, and someone who she can lean on and trust. She has none of those things, and it breaks my heart. I just can’t imagine being socially awkward and all alone. Not even the other adults in the community take an active role in her safety, knowing full well that all is not right in her home.
I have to say, this book made me think (again) about the awful way people treat one another sometimes (and the way others turn their backs on it when they see it) and how that poor treatment can end up in violence. The parallels in today’s society are obvious.
If I didn’t know it already, it would be obvious to me that Carrie is one of King’s earliest novels; the writing is good, but it’s not of the caliber that I expect from him today. The story doesn’t flow as well as I would like, but there are things about the way he wrote it that I enjoy, such as people’s thoughts being represented in brackets in the middle of a sentence. It felt disjointed, but not in a bad way; I think it was a good way of representing how people’s thoughts actually happen in times of stress. I disliked the majority of the characters, but not because they were poorly written. I disliked them for who they were and how they acted (mean people suck). Again, I was very frustrated while reading Carrie this time. It was really tough for me.
Even though it’s not King’s best work, I would still recommend Carrie to readers interested in this kind of book. It’s more than a horror novel–I think it makes a good statement about society and the way we treat one another.
In case you missed it, sj and I are (re)reading Stephen King’s backlist together, in order of publication. If you’d like to read sj’s thoughts on her reread of Carrie, click here.
(To learn more about Stephen King, please visit his official website.)
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