Carrie – Stephen King (1974)

Stephen King is easily one of the most successful contemporary writers whose success not only lies within the prolific publishing of his works but the remarkable string of movie adaptations that inevitably follow. That long line of best selling accomplishments began with his very first published novel Carrie, and continues to this very day.

While I recall having the paperback way back in the seventies, for some reason it was either given away or misplaced at some point so I actually had to get another copy to reread it, which is itself something I rarely do. Of course I had already seen the original Brian De Palma film which has become its own cinematic classic. While I’m sure some would benefit from the review of the book alone, it is nearly impossible for me to not make at least some comparisons to Carrie the film.

For those unfamiliar with the story it is about a young girl with telekinetic powers growing up in a highly sheltered, almost captive, strict religious environment by her single parent, fanatical mother. While she has displayed some limited powers even as a young child, the onset of puberty, a biological transformation she never even knew about and that shocks her, brings about an increase to her powers and along with it a rebellious attitude.

A shy, introverted outcast at school, Carrie White has forever been the butt of jokes, or almost just as bad, being totally ignored as if not there at all. After experiencing her first menstrual period in the school shower room, an event that had all the other girls traumatized her, she gains the sympathy of Sue Snell, one of the most popular girls, who then convinces her boyfriend Tommy to ask Carrie to the upcoming prom. Unfortunately, the episode in the shower also landed a bunch of girls in trouble because or their shamefully treatment of Carrie. As a result the spoiled agitator Chris, who refuses to obey the punishment meted out to those involved, finds herself barred from attending the prom. She, with the help of her boyfriend Billy, plan and executes a blood drenching revenge for Carrie at what was to be her shining moment at the gala affair.

Instead of making inroads to social normality she has yearned for so long, the ordeal sees Carrie unleash her now full and unrestrained powers on the entire gymnasium full of guests and thereafter goes on a telekinetic rampage that decimates a swatch of the town. But Carrie’s near trancelike escapade ends with a confrontation with the real source of her isolation and social captivity, her mother.

The narrative in the novel alternates between contemporary prose and interspersed media and academic writings on the climactic event and studies of Carrie’s life prior to the final juncture. It consists of interviews with former neighbours, newspaper articles, excerpts of books, one in particular written by Sue. We learn there was a “White Commission” that investigated the affair leading up to the prom and the immediate events that further engulfed the town. These revelations and discussions argue Telekinesis as a scientific fact as they try to document the historical circumstances. The excerpts are used both as a form of presenting the story itself and as foreshadowing to events that we later read as prose from the point of view of the characters as they are enacted. It does take a little getting used to but it is also quite effective as a form of storytelling here.

The format also allows the reader to get many other points of view compared to the film, especially what happened in the immediate aftermath of the school fire from varying perspectives around town and even abroad. As for Carrie herself, the only momentary noticeable difference is her being described as a chubby child compared to the then toothpick thin Sissy Spacek in the film.

The area that we get a much appreciated insight that I always felt was lacking in the film is a deeper background on her mother, the one character who is as interesting as Carrie herself,  and how she became such an obsessive zealot. There are a few scant references to her father, who does figure into all this in a manner, but the mother is deserving of a prequel novel and I hope that King does get around to it someday given his recent penchant for revisiting older works.

I know that there have been other cinematic adaptations that followed including an early sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2, a 2002 TV film, and more recently, a 2013 remake. I have not seen any of those but may indulge at some point. I only mention this in the interest that some of the things in this novel may in fact be present in those.

Those fans of King’s other works will be glad to hear that some of those later books have seeds, albeit mere thread’s, planted here in this book. Teddy Duchamp from King’s novella The Body (later filmed as Stand by Me) is one such character here.

I guess the biggest question is whether fans of the film have enough extra fodder here to warrant a read of material they will already be infinitely familiar with. I would say they should even if only to enjoy King’s facility with creating great characters and pacing. After all, he was, and remains, the King in that respect.

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