Oh Carrie White, what can be said about you that hasn’t been dissected, criticized, and theorized in the past? Of all the novels Stephen King has written over the years, and there are quite a few, Carrie is still considered a beloved and popular choice for “Best King Novel”. I read Carrie when I was in middle school and had no real way of understanding its meaning, symbolism, or intelligent writing style. Back then I thought it was a story about the bullied student getting the last laugh using some cool telekinetic powers. Now? Well now I see Carrie as an intelligently written story filled with terror, human emotion, and some of my favorite story progression in a novel.
Carrie White is an odd case; she’s not hyper-intelligent, she’s not pretty, she’s not witty, and she doesn’t really have any friends. Carrie is bullied at school by the popular girls, as is the case with high school students, and no one really has her back. At home, Carrie is assaulted and screamed at by her fanatically Christian mother who hides the world from her daughter. Concepts like sex, menstrual cycles, and the female anatomy are lost on Carrie who lives a sheltered and strangulating existence. What’s the upside of this poor girl’s case? There has to be one, right? Well, as it turns out, Carrie White posses the power of telekinesis. With a flex of her brain the outcast can lift and manipulate whatever she wills. Of course, mixing a bullied schoolgirl and TK seems like a terrible combination and what follows is a novel filled with such an up that only a tremendous down can match it.
Terror is hard to capture in writing as authors don’t get the bonuses of camera cuts and soundtracks. I’m not saying it’s easy to bottle up terror in a film, it takes creativity and talent, but to do so in writing is an art form. Being able to write a character that makes a reader wince or a scene that makes a reader cringe takes patience and talent. Carrie manages to capture that raw feeling by making believable characters, at least for the time period. It’s a bit of a circular revelation as it’s the story progression I’ll mention later that allows the characters to feel so natural. Characters like Sue Snell get sidebars of sorts that allow them to explain their positions from a future prospective. This gives the action of the character a different prospective, making no one person seem like the “bad guy” in the end. That humanity in the characters makes the massacre at the end of Carrie all the more terrifying. If you don’t know what happens at the end of the novel you should probably come out from your rock and read the damn book.
Of course, the words Carrie and terror can’t be mentioned without the name Margaret White. Carrie’s mother is the definition of insanity, cruelty, and unyielding faith. A woman who was raped by her husband, the act that bore Carrie, terrorized by her telekinetic grandmother, and stuck believing in a faith others judge her for. As a fanatic Christian, Margaret terrorizes Carrie with all sorts of sick and outdated punishments. Forcing Carrie to pray for forgiveness, locking her in a dark closet with a freaky crucifix, and generally beating her daughter to teach her the Word. It’s all very uncomfortable to read and yet King pulls you in further.
Emotion, another rarity that authors hunt for throughout the writing process. Sure, you can write that someone is sad, happy, or angry but to get the nuances of emotion is something else. Carrie has those nuances and then some as you feel what Carrie feels along with the rest of the cast throughout the novel. Even the principal, a small character in the grand scheme of things, has a tick that makes you understand and really feel his character better than some cookie cutter principal. Carrie, of course, is the star of the show and her every move is detailed in such a way that I felt sympathetic, empathetic, and telepathically linked to her at every turn. Ok, that last one is probably not true but it sure felt like it. Right up until the moment the bucket falls I felt myself rooting for the home team, wanting this poor girl to get the life she wanted.
My favorite part of Carrie, besides the telekinesis of course, has to be the sides-stories that run parallel to the main plot. Magazine articles, excerpts from books written by experts and people who lived the events of the novel, and scientific studies litter the pages as you move through Carrie. Some shed light onto the actual thinking of characters while others foreshadow events that are still to come in the novel. I never felt as though these pieces of information spoiled anything. Instead, I often felt like they made me read more as I wanted to find out what the hell these articles were talking about. They would mention the death of someone or the plotting nature of so and so and I had to find out who, why, and what it all meant. Carrie leads the reader with a tasty carrot on a not-so-long string as the novel is only around 250 pages and is a quick and satisfying read. If you’re in the mood for an intense thriller filled with the style Stephen King is known for, read Carrie.