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Book Review: “Carrie” by Stephen King (4 Stars)

Coming of age has always been confusing, but never so very bloody!

Phenomenal. King’s debut novel hit the stands hard and quickly established him as a heavy hitter. The story of Carrie White is near pitch perfect. The author’s character development is so excellent it rejuvenates my passion in reading.

The protagonist’s struggle is set in common typical high school woes (feeling awkward and unaccepted). Yet, Carrie’s plight is compounded by her religiously fanatic mother. As a result, this young girl cannot feel accepted at school or home—her only two worlds. She’s the ultimate outcast. This loathsome condition changes when a third-world opens up to her after a now infamous and horrific menstruation scene. Carrie finally becomes aware that there is a side to her that is very different from everyone else: Carrie is telekinetic. This could serve to further drive a wedge between poor Carrie and everyone else; however, it also adds a new dimension to her life and provides temporary reprieve from the crushing isolation she has been undergoing.

The novel is written with a mix of point-of-view accounts from different characters, as well as epistolary entries from characters and other outside references. That was actually one of the parts about the book that I didn’t like (the book excerpts and letter extracts). Nothing wrong with that per se, it just felt a bit clunky. I’m not well-read in the Stephen King universe, but the author seems to get away from this device in what later works I’ve read. That is where I felt the “newness” of the book and the “debut” aspect. Perhaps this helped drive the book forward in a quick fashion while also giving the reader a chance to digest the heaviness of what was happening? I can also admit that adding the epistolary entries gave breath to the story, established world building, and provided believability—however I still could have done without it.

There are some things created in this book that show up in later works by King. Carrie’s religiously fanatic mother reminded me of Mother Carmody from “The Mist” (another great story). Telekinesis seems to have been a fascination of King for some time (reminding me of Fire Starter (which I’ve read) and maybe “The Shining” – which I’ve never read). Interesting, to see these ideas in one of their early incarnations.

The secondary characters of this book, the other teenagers, and the school staff are all very fleshed out. King’s characters are mostly thoughtful and he develops sympathy for most (save maybe Billy Nolan)—their motivations, and even how they question their own motivations. Lots of depth. The author avoids flat caricatures, and provides rally points in between the plummeting horror’s of teenage depravity and selfishness. The reaction of the school staff to what’s going on was particularly heartening, by not making them part of the horror show against Carrie.

That’s another thing, the focus is on Carrie—she’s not fighting against some awful nemesis. Even the antagonist has a weak vendetta going that is more about circumstances. All this adds to the tragedy. Everyone’s tragedy. They are all flawed (save Billy Nolan—he’s just a prick).

King’s character of “Carrie” is done with a masterful hand. I can’t stress this enough. There is a “revenge” aspect of this story that is both satisfying and horrible at the same time. Carrie is the embodiment of tragedy. Her triumph is riddled with concessions of unjustifiable horror. The collateral damage undeniable. Innocents are taken down in the final battle as well as the guilty. There is also the question of the punishment fitting the crime. In the end, it would normally be hard to sympathize with the protagonist when her revenge quest goes so over the top. And yet, we do sympathize with her. Not just for being bullied at school or at home, but because she just wants to have her chance at living.

To me, the book should have ended at Part Two and eliminated the final part which I felt as supplementary and unnecessary—almost like trying to tack on a happy ending or last jump-scare for the reader (sort of ambiguous). The last passage of Carrie’s thoughts are so disheartening and yet so real. King really makes you feel Carrie’s struggle. Truly. It’s perfect.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: www.nodeodorant.com.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Running Man” (Stephen King) (3 Stars)

Summary: Dystopian thriller of prescient vision

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: www.nodeodorant.com.

Review: Stephen King wrote this novel very quickly under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. He talks about this in the book’s prologue. As many reviewers point out, he also provides a major spoiler. So don’t read that first (unless you don’t care).

Ben Richards lives in squalor and because of his refusal to punch it in like other cog fodder for the rich elite, he is outcast and unable to find suitable work. His refusal, as explained, is a refusal to put himself into a horribly unhealthy work environment. Unfortunately his idealism has caused the family unit further financial woes and his wife is forced to forsake her marriage vows to make ends meet. What could be worse? Well, how about a young child who is suffering from a curable aliment, but one which the protagonist cannot afford the medicine. Richards hates this and it spurs him into taking his idealism into full bloom, which he does by signing up for a game show that can earn the family money based on how long the participate can stay alive. If you survive for a certain amount of time, then you are home free, but of course nobody ever has.

The game show uses the complete world as its stage. The protagonist literally is a “running man” being chased by man hunters who will kill him when they find him. The whole thing is televised and the general public can earn money by reporting on his location. A further twist, is that Richards has to video record himself twice a day and mail the tapes in by a certain time – otherwise he’s disqualified (oh and the man hunters will still kill him). Although, it’s claimed that the game show won’t use his mailings to track him – it’s highly suspect.

Before Richards begins, he is advised by the game show’s dubious host to hide out among his own i.e. the poor (as they are the only ones who probably won’t turn on him). Richards takes this advice to heart. What follows is a maddening thriller of short successive and numerically titled chapters that count down toward the end. You can really picture yourself, as the main character. Where do you go? What do you do? Your face is plastered all over the state-run television system and everyone in the entire world will know your face and likely be motivated to turn you in for money. Do you run? Do you hide? King does a great job of letting you feel the natural paranoia that would accompany such a scenario. Every person the protagonist passes by, every time Richards stops to rest he thinks – they know! They found me out already!! Even if he can’t be sure, he can’t risk sticking around to find out. He must just keep moving.

And yet, it would be almost impossible to go it completely alone. You would have to trust someone, somewhere, sometime. Again King does a good job of fleshing out the other people who Richards inevitably comes into contact with and whom he must decide whether or not to trust (sometimes without option). Through Richard’s interactions with others, we get a bigger sense of his world. This story is set in a dystopian future where the government’s manipulation of media and culture gets into 1984 type levels. The divide between poor and rich has become ocean wide, to the point that the “have’s” now even have a different currency system. Not surprisingly, we learn the powers that be are likely furthering the subjugation of the poor by worsening environmental conditions and then lying about it.

Which brings out another good thing about this book, there is a struggle in the main character between looking out for his own interest (surviving the game how to provide money for his sick and struggling family) and fighting the oppressive powers dominating the poor. He knows its bad out there for everyone. Oh how he knows, how he has lived it. In fact, it’s so bad, that he’s decided to give up and make a last bid for money as he “checks out”. A sort of giving up. This is what the totalitarian regime wants. Don ‘t care don’t try. Just give in and play along. A classic scenario. And yet, the more the regime tries to get Richards to play along, the more he starts to wake up. To evolve. Suffice to say, the story culminates to a grand conclusion (that won’t be ruined if you don’t read the prologue).

As far as Stephen King goes, this is a fast fast fast book! It reads very quickly and is devoid of his usual long-winded descriptions. You know that a Stephen King book (whether written as Bachman or as himself) is going to be written at a certain level – and this book is no exception. I would definitely recommend this story for those who don’t know King outside horror. He’s written in a lot of other genres – and done it quite well. Though, you still get his mastery of scaring. There is a particularly suspenseful and frightening scene involving a sewer pipe and raging fire that kept me quite on edge and is totally classic King.

All in all an enjoyable read. Perfect science fiction, dystopian, thriller for a plane ride or vacation trip. And a great introduction to King’s talents for those (few) who might have overlooked him all these years.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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