Date Published: April 5, 1974
Published By: Doubleday
Number of Pages: 199
Carrie was the odd one at school; the one whose reflexes were always off in games, whose clothes never really fit, who never got the point of a joke. And so she became the joke, the brunt of teenaged cruelties that puzzled her as much as they wounded her.
There was hardly any comfort in playing her private game, because like so many things in Carrie’s life, it was sinful. Or so her mother said. Carrie could make things move – by concentrating on them, by willing them to move. Small things like marbles , would start dancing. Or a candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her game, her power, her sin, firmly repressed like everything else about Carrie.
One act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious jokes of her classmates, offered Carrie a new look at herself the fateful night of her senior prom. But another act – of furious cruelty – forever changed things and turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction.
She made a candle fall and she locked the doors…
Stephen King’s debut novel was published over forty years ago,back in 1974. Since then Carrie has had three movie adaptations, the most recent one released in 2013. Thanks to the staying power of Stephen King, Carrie is now a horror classic. But does this little horror novel still have the power to scare audiences in this age of gore fest films like Saw and Hostel?
I’ll say it does.
Reading Carrie again, I am always impressed by King’s ability to build tension so masterfully throughout the story. His technique of integrating the surviving character’s testimonies into the narrative is seamless and even though, in some moments, King reveals exactly what is going to happen it does not dull the drama – it heightens it. The reader is no longer concerned with what is going to happen but how it is going to happen. And it works perfectly.
And oohhhhh, the writing is exquisite. Anyone who says Stephen King is a hack writer has clearly never read his work. There are lines in Carrie that send a shiver down my spine. For example:
‘Three joints were going, passing through the inner dark like the lambent eyes of some rotating Cerberus.’
Like, come on. What a vivid image!
Something else King does so effortlessly is character development. All of his characters, from the main ones down to the smallest side ones, live and breathe like real people. Even characters that are archetypes – the mean girl, the religious fanatic – are three-dimensional and believable.
The novel also captures teenage brutality so well. Girls really can be that cruel to each other, as depicted in the infamous shower room scene. As readers, we sympathize with Carrie and that sympathy can be hard to reconcile when Carrie goes off on her murderous rampage. But we do sympathize with her because we’ve all had those thoughts – violent, destructive thoughts when we’ve been wronged or humiliated. The urge to just let rip, to teach people ‘a thing or two.’ No girl wants to be Carrie- but we all crave having her power.
I suppose that’s what makes the book so frightening. Carrie’s telekinesis scares us – and thrills us.
If you’re new to Stephen King, or horror in general, I highly recommend starting with Carrie. Don’t just see the movie – read the book.