Carrie, by Stephen King

Carrie, by Stephen King book coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 1974
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Jeff Edwards

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For Carietta White, high school is a Purgatory where she is teased, taunted and tripped. But if school is Purgatory, home is Hell.

Carrie’s mother, an abusive religious fanatic, often beats Carrie and locks her in a closet, demanding that she “pray to Jesus for [her] woman-weak, wicked, sinning soul.” Carrie’s mother says that good girls don’t grow breasts (“dirtypillows”), and that menstruation (“the Curse of Blood”) follows sin. So when Carrie gets her first period at the age of sixteen, she thinks she is bleeding to death in the gym’s locker room. Her classmates pile more abuse onto this already traumatic event, reawakening Carrie’s latent telekinetic ability – an awesome power that destroys the town and causes over 400 deaths.

Carrie, originally published in 1974, has aged remarkably well, with the exception of some dated dialogue at the opening of the prom scene. Ironically, here in his first published novel, King breaks most of the commandments he preaches in his recent how-to book, “On Writing.” Characters in Carrie don’t just say things, they “mutter,” “snap,” “scream,” “groan” and “bark.” King is generous with the adverbs here, too, with characters speaking hesitatingly, briskly, suddenly, dispassionately and magnanimously.

King populates Carrie with memories from his childhood – Green Stamps, a Webcor phonograph – in fact, Carrie herself is a loose composite of two girls from King’s own high school (with added telekinetic ability, of course). Carrie is more than the simple “Devil’s child, Satan spawn” her mother sees. She is a confused, tortured teenager who runs the gamut of emotions – from fear, shame and embarrassment, up to hope and joy, then down into despair and rage, and finally, loss.

Within Carrie, a fictional journalist writes in a magazine article, “But it all seems too brittle, too glossy, just a cheap patina over a darker world – a real world where nightmares happen.” The passage works equally well as a commentary on Stephen King novels, where everyday Chevy-driving, Big Mac-eating, Budweiser-drinking people step over an unseen line and find themselves face-to-face with vampires, rabid dogs and children cursed with extraordinary powers.

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