Carrie is, and probably will remain, my favorite Stephen King book. I’ve read it so many times that there is a deep crease in my copy’s spine. I can picture so many scenes with spine-tingling clarity, thanks to King’s masterful writing. Which is ironic since Carrie was his first published novel. I’m glad that Mr. King looks upon his first book favorably because he wouldn’t have his master-of-horror empire without the telekinetic teenage girl named Carrie White.
Carrie White is a teenage outcast who suffers abuse both at school and at home: her classmates relentlessly tease her, while her fundamentalist mother punishes her for “sinning.” But then, Sue Snell, Carrie’s repentant classmate, asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Though reluctant, Carrie accepts Tommy’s invitation. But Carrie’s classmates are out for revenge, and what better place to humiliate Carrie once and for all than the prom…?
I can only describe my reading experience of Carrie as “raw.” The book’s voice cuts in every scene, leaving you either uncomfortable or, in some small way, pained. Much of that has to do with how Carrie is treated; the poor thing is mocked at nearly every turn, and it almost never lets up. When Carrie is by herself, you can feel the sadness and anger radiating off her in turns.
But while Carrie is so consistently beaten down, she does not give up. She rebels against her domineering mother in many little ways, and tries to imagine a way out of her life. She feels so human and so vulnerable that it’s really hard not to root for her.
The reason I love Carrie so much, though, is because there was a time in my life where I felt like her.
I first read Carrie when I was fourteen: when I was quite shy, and didn’t have many friends. I also had my share of bullies, like Carrie, and it was comforting to read about a character that also dealt with them. Carrie felt almost like a confidante, which, at the time, was a rare and beautiful thing.
To say Carrie is surrounded by assholes is an understatement, and her manically fundamentalist mother, Margaret, is close to the top. Some people think that Margaret is comical in how religious she is, but I think that’s why she’s so intimidating. She locks Carrie in a dark closet for the smallest “sin,” and is described as large, with powerful arms and beady eyes. She also brays, whoops, grunts, and makes very animal-like noises, all while she scourges and punishes herself.
Maybe it depends on who’s reading about her, but she sounds like a force to be reckoned with.
The epistolary style of letters, newspaper articles, court testimonies, and book excerpts is used cleverly in the story. What happened on Prom Night is a huge national mystery, and Carrie is at the center of it. People wonder which of Carrie’s classmates conspired against her, scientists try to isolate the telekinetic gene, and her surviving classmates tell their version of the event. It paints a bigger picture of public speculation, fascination, and horror—as well as tragedy.
It’s kind of amusing how quickly people label Carrie as strictly horror. Yes, there are elements of horror, but I think the tragic elements vastly overpower the frightening stuff. I do remember the horror of the prom scene, but I remember more just how sad Carrie’s life is. She is a sweet, lonely girl who just wants to fit in, and her moment of glory is stolen—more like viciously snatched—from her. The horror only happened because no one understood how their actions affected her.
I could go on about why I love this book so much. But the gist is that it’s such a human story, and even after two-dozen readings, I still find so much to enjoy.