Carrie: A Horror Novel Unburdened by Ego

By Miss @MelMoy

Since I kind of fell right off my wagon last year when it came to keeping up with the promised blog about my fall reading list, I’m going to actually make an effort this year to talk about the books I read during the spooky season. I kicked things off on September 9th with my first ever reading of Carrie. I picked this one up on a trip to Maine over Labor Day weekend because…obviously.

For anyone unfamiliar, Carrie is a novel about a 17-year-old girl who finds she has latent telekinetic powers after a traumatic incident in the girls’ locker room involving her period. She takes revenge on the peers who bullied her and the mother who raised her in a strict, Christian fundamentalist home. It was Stephen King’s first novel, published when King was about 25 years old and working as a teacher in Hampden high school. Technically, it was his fourth novel but the first one he got published.

Going in, I was highly aware this was one of the earliest works by an author who would go on to put out over 60 novels, 10 short story collections, and 5 nonfiction books. It’s sort of like a time capsule of the most prolific American writer in the later 20th century.  And I was surprised when I came to the end of the story and found the whole thing to be, honestly, a nearly perfect novel. 

The characterization is incredibly well done, the cast doesn’t feel like anyone was short-changed. Characters are full and realized, something King still does expertly, but here it’s done with minimal scenes, low amounts of exposition, and mainly in-scene choices that build the inner world of the cast of characters.  The dialogue lacks King’s self-indulgent style that began to crop up in The Stand and there is no excessive scene building as he trusts the reader to be present without 3 pages worth of introduction. Possibly the best part, this novel is completely devoid of King’s customary self-insert character of a white male writer and occasional school teacher with a substance abuse problem (Jack Torrance, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears). This is a story probably farthest away from King’s personal experience: a teenage girl’s first period and mercilessly bullying from her fellow women in the school. 

I think what this proves, if anything, is that this novel is the product of honesty at a different time in King’s life. While I think there is real honesty in his later stories that deal with much more internally complex characters with a different set of problems to work through, this novel feels unweighted by the trappings of success, by an author who is invisible in the story. There’s no contamination of ego or expectation. It’s a novel written by a man who was living out of a trailer, with a story to tell. 

As a horror novel? It’s more weird fiction and speculative than it is actual horror. That being said, this novel is a great example of the true differences between horror and terror, as outlined by Shirley Jackson (a known influence on King’s work). In that regard, the last third of the novel is nothing but horror at Carrie’s rampage and King’s use of secondary texts throughout to hint at what’s to come is a great employment of terror as well. 

Ultimately, there’s a lot to be learned about writing and about the author himself from a glimpse at his first work of full fiction that graced shelves. Keep an eye as I work through more spooky books this fall.

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