King’s famous/infamous first novel. Most of you probably know the gist of it whether you’ve read it (or seen the movie) or not— it’s just that iconic— and it doesn’t matter if I spoil it in outline because King also tells/teases you with what happened right from the get-go. But if you don’t, it goes like this:

Carrie, who is secretly telekinetic, is raised in near-isolation by her abusive, mentally ill mom, a batshit fundamentalist whose beliefs bear only the most tenuous relationship to any actual religion. Carrie is not taught of the existence of menstruation because all things bodily are the Devil’s handiwork, and panics when she gets her period in the girls’ locker room shower. Because teenagers can be fucking monsters, she’s pelted with tampons by the other girls, who smell blood in the water in more ways than one.

Sue Snell, a girl who feels guilty over failing to stop the bullying, joins forces with some other teenagers to try to give Carrie a nice prom. Unfortunately, the hateful bully contingent also has plans for Carrie, and also at the prom. Let’s just say that Carrie doesn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done at that age and under those circumstances if I could’ve killed people with my brain.

I first read this book when I was a bullied teenager, so I was an ideal audience in one sense. However, it was neither the first book I read by King nor the one that made me go on to read more. (Those were The Stand, followed by Firestarter.) I liked it but I didn’t love it, which is still my feeling about it now though probably not for the same reasons.

At the time, though I identified with Carrie’s situation, I didn’t identify with her as a person. She’s sad and plodding and downtrodden and not all that bright; none of what happens to her is her fault, but in addition to circumstances caused by others (like her terrible clothes) her personality gives off an aura of victimhood that makes the bullies decide to pick on her rather than on someone else. (King is very, very clear about that part: bullies gonna bully. If Carrie hadn’t been there, they would have just selected a different target.) To be clear, I don’t mean that she’s insufficiently awesome for me to identify with, just that her flaws aren’t my flaws.

(I confess: when our ages matched, I found an unsettling amount to identify with in Harold Emery Lauder. I mean. His goddamn name is only one syllable off mine, and it has almost the same metrical emphasis. That’s not exactly a coincidence. In both cases, it was selected by a teenage writer because it’s unique, the meter makes it memorable, and it just sounds like a writer’s name. King really had my number. But that’s not a coincidence, either: name aside, it was his number, too.)

What’s most remembered about Carrie are the set-piece scenes. The shower and the prom scene are iconic for a reason, but there’s quite a few in the book that have that same extraordinary vividness of emotion and image. They’re bizarre and singular in terms of events (so you recall them) and depicted with perfectly selected details, like the sort of nightmare you wake up from to lie sweating and telling yourself “It’s not real, it’s not real,” and dread having again for the rest of your life.

The other notable element is the blistering, raw, absolutely dead-on portrayal of what it feels like to be a bullied teenager. And also what it feels like to be any teenager in the sort of world I was a teenager in, which I hope to God is less common nowadays, when high school was their society, adults did not give a fuck, and it didn’t make much of a difference that the majority of the teenagers were perfectly decent people, if self-centered in a developmentally appropriate way, because God help you if the bullies close their eyes, spin around, and come to a stop with their finger pointed at you. Tag, you’re it. Your life will now be hell for the next four years.

Sue Snell is a good person. So is her boyfriend. It almost saves the day. But, as in Cujo, there are other forces at work, though here it’s human factors rather than chance or fate. Bullies gonna bully, and Carrie is emotionally fragile, primed to snap by her abusive mother, and in an act of agency with truly bad timing, she’s been practicing her power. The kerosene was already pooling on the floor, but some assholes just had to toss in a match.

Finally, Carrie is not spectacularly but still quite nicely structured, partly in a way that King was later to make one of his trademarks (multiple plotlines coming together into a dramatic unified climax) and partly in one that I don’t think he ever did on that scale again, which was to construct the book largely out of “found materials,” like newspaper articles, court transcripts, interviews, etc. The latter is interesting but distancing, fine but not noticeably better than what a lot of competent writers could do. The present-day sequences are way more impressive and have King’s specific voice.

A lot of what makes King a great writer was there right from the start: the well-crafted structure, the storytelling, the memorable scenes and images, the way with character and place, the trainwreck you see coming, the sympathy with his characters even as you know that a lot of them are not going to make it, and the moral force.

Even more interestingly to me as a writer, it shows how he overall had the sense to build on his strengths rather than his weaknesses in subsequent books. The found materials? Only ever used again in small, judicious doses. But the idea that he could do odd things with structure and that he should feel free to experiment and write each book in the way he thought suited it? That stuck. And most of all, the willingness to just go there with whatever outrageous, taboo, gross, or “you can’t write that” image that popped into his mind. Forty years later, those girls throwing tampons at Carrie still feels dangerous. If he’d never written it and someone submitted it now, there’s an excellent chance they’d get the exact same “what the everlasting fuck am I reading?” reaction.

King wasn’t the writer who taught me the value of just going there (Harlan Ellison did that) but it’s a good lesson to learn. Maybe the best. You don’t have to be gross or horrifying or shocking. You just have to be true to your self. We all have an inner voice and outer critics saying, “This is too revealing, too embarrassing, too weird, too risky; if I write it people will know the inside of my head looks like that.” But the insides of all of our heads are full of weird, embarrassing, scary stuff. It’s powerful stuff, too.

Maybe it’s tampons and a bucket of pig’s blood. Maybe it’s walking trees and a golden ring. Maybe it’s you and a gun and a man on your back. Whatever it is, it’s the real deal. Go there.

larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

Ah. Gotcha.

And, yeah, I try to season my late-night drafts for an extra day or two.
recessional: a young brunette leaning back and smoking (personal; it's death or victory)

From: [personal profile] recessional

In terms of things getting better: yes, if slowly and unevenly, and often in ways that make people with poor critical thinking skills and bad memories think things are worse, even though the very fact that they're now aware the things happen at all means it's getting better.

(See also: "epidemics" of ASD, ADHD, etc - it's not so much that there are more of us, frankly, it's that we don't get labelled "freak/bad kid" and then ignored except to aim kicks at, metaphorical and literal.)

And, cynically, I often think it only gets better because it's so, so much harder to hide shit: it's not that queer kids didn't commit suicide before the identified cluster of them that (for instance) sparked the "It Gets Better" stuff, it's that before the best you could probably do was leave a note that your parents might or might not decide to burn or suppress (especially if they disapproved of you). The same bad things happened, they just got hushed up, ignored, misinterpreted, and even if they made local news, they probably didn't get any further. It's not that girls weren't gang-raped at parties, or even that it was never filmed in some cases, it was just it never got further than that because she didn't tell anyone and even if the VHS tape got passed around it never got out of the hands of people that the boys were sure wouldn't turn them in.

The easy access to mass communication makes that harder. The youtube diaries left by the kids that gradually get to the point of the "this might as well be a suicide note" are seen by people way, way out of the community, who give no fucks that the bullies are "good boys"; the rape-video gets copied out of control, and then when the girl kills herself and explicitly says THIS IS WHY, her last attempt to get people to pay attention works and gets all over the country.

And other attitudes have changed enough that instead of trying to hush everything up or being hushed up, her mom (appropriately) loses her rag and takes to that mass communication herself, and it becomes a ~*thing*~. Or like the case with that asshole swimmer from the one uni who got two months for his rape conviction or something like that - the NEW thing isn't that it happened, or even that he got a ludicrously light sentence, the NEW thing is that it blew up all over at least two countries on mass media and mass unmediated communication and people were pissed the fuck off and also felt like they weren't ALONE in being pissed the fuck off and used that to yell louder.

The fact that things on the internet never die . . . like it's frustrating to watch mainstream takes on this stuff a lot? Because it's not like teenage girls didn't have nude photos they gave to boyfriends who then did horrible shit like putting them in a file folder passed around their friends, it's that nobody ever found out about it except the kids and nobody did anything about it except blame the girls for being loose, and all the guys had to do was destroy the one single physical folder and poof!

As opposed to what's happening in a case in Eastern Canada now, in which a group of boys are discovering that no really bbs the internet is forever which means the RCMP can find the stuff that used to be on your server that you went "oh shit" and deleted and (after years and years of honing skills chasing child pornographers online) bring it back up and go " . . . yeah so you had that file and that's super illegal."

And frankly they've gotten so tired of watching people they CAN'T help for one reason or another get victimised by online shit that now that they have concrete chargeable crap on you they want to hit you with every metaphorical brick they can.

I mean, I don't agree with everything that's happening in that case (I think there's some attempts to apply laws that are a REALLY bad idea and precedent and I hope the trial judge/etc realise that), but it's not the Incident that's new and surprising, it's that it's becoming a case, and that honestly majority opinion is on the side of the girls. Not the VAST majority, maybe, but the majority.

But people who don't think carefully are like OH MY GOD THIS NEVER USED TO HAPPEN! ....yes it did. It was a slightly different format, it was secret, we blamed the victims and we tried to forget it, and apparently you succeeded.

(Plus, to be fair, a lot of people having the memories from high school but having done the thing where they took them for granted as normal; I have also had conversations where women particularly went "oh there was nothing that bad at my highschool, I mean the worst we had was that one time that- " and then usually in the middle of relating the incident there's a pause and the woman going "you know now that I tell someone that's . . . actually pretty awful isn't it." Yes, lady. Yes it is. But if one hasn't ever done that reconsideration, then it retains the glow/mental filing of "totes normal, no problems here" and so . . . )

. . . .SO WOW WAS THAT A TL;DR DUMP. Ahem. The point is that: yes, it is better, slowly, unevenly, with stumbles, and with the desperate need to keep pushing just as hard. But it is.
sputnikhearts: (Default)

From: [personal profile] sputnikhearts

This is an awesome review. I only know of Carrie through osmosis but this makes me want to read it. Thank you for writing this!
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

a bucket of pig’s blood
Ooooooooooooh! I just realised that was what was being referenced in the prom scene in Locke&Key -- a kid arranges for his best friend to pour blood on him while he's giving a speech, then complains about being misunderstood when no one gets it.

Come to think of it, I think you might enjoy Locke&Key. It's a well-plotted, well-characterised horror comic that has some gore but falls more on the Lovecraftian and psychological parts of the scale and the art is GREAT.

From: [identity profile]

I like your rally call at the end, and I agree: people *should* go where they're drawn, and go wholeheartedly. Pragmatically speaking, though--and this is a perpetual caveat for everything writing related, I guess--doing that doesn't guarantee that you'll reach people. It does mean that if you do reach them, the connection will mean something--I guess that's a strong reason to commit to going there.

I have never seen Carrie or read the book, though I know the story from pop culture and have seen snippets, etc. I think, from the distance I was at, the thing I objected to--and I saw it in the wife in The Shining (which I did see, but haven't read)--was the sad-sack quality you allude to about Carrie.

From: [identity profile]

I think to connect with people in that way, sincerity is a prerequisite but not a guarantee. But if you don't have that level of sincerity, you need really, really strong skills in some other area (storytelling, prose, etc) to make up for it. If you have sincerity, you can sometimes really connect with readers even if basically all your technical skills are lacking.

The wife is WAY different in The Shining - not a sad sack at all. She makes some bad choices but they're active choices with reasons, and she ends up really heroic. As I mentioned below, I think one of the things King learned from Carrie was not putting that type of character at the center of the story. I haven't read all his books, obviously, but I can't think of any other where he does that. He has a lot of characters whose main flaw is essentially being weak or passive, but they don't give off the same "kick me" vibe.

From: [identity profile]

The wife is WAY different in The Shining ...

*nodding* ---it could be my reaction to the actress's looks.

From: [identity profile]

No, it's the writing (though she does look like Olive Oyl). King notoriously hated the way Kubrick changed his characters, and now that I've read the book I can say that he was right about what the changes were.

In the book, Jack Torrance is a man on the edge who's trying to become a sober, non-abusive, good father, husband, and provider; he fails partly because the hotel is haunted but also because he blames others rather than taking personal responsibility for his actions. But he could have succeeded. In the movie, from the get-go he's clearly a homicidal maniac waiting for a place to happen.

In the book, Wendy is trying her damnedest to keep the family 1) together, 2) functional, non-abusive, etc. She fails because you can't control other adults and Jack isn't doing his part. Once she realizes this, she switches to protecting her son and herself at any cost, which she does very heroically and resourcefully. In the movie. uh, I think she screams a lot?

From: [identity profile]

Yeah, that massively put me off Carrie herself as a character, especially at the age when I read it.

From: [identity profile]

I think that was probably the other big thing King didn't do again (or maybe just rarely): that specific type of sad sack protagonist. Look at his "psychic protagonist" books written not that much later (Firestarter, The Dead Zone) and how different their heroes are.

From: [identity profile]

I read this as a teenager too, though I've never reread it since, I remember really enjoying it. It's so impressive as a first book! What stuck with me most has always been the religious beliefs of the mother and the terrifying claustrophobia of Carrie stuck in the house with her, though that might be because I knew some Christian fundamentalists who seemed not too far off from that (at least from my outsider's perspective).

I kind of liked the "sad sack" nature of Carrie. I suppose it's probably better to have a more active character as your focus, and it probably does make it harder for most readers to identify with her, but it really upped the horror and sadness for me. Someone who was smarter or more charismatic or more confident might have been able to rescue herself from the same situation – but Carrie just didn't have those resources, and so was trapped. It kinda has a Greek tragedy feel to it.

From: [identity profile]

Yeah, it really does have a "Greek tragedy" feel - the sense of inexorability, the way it's driven not just by fate but by everyone behaving as their characters dictate.

Carrie's mother, OUCH. Some of the specifics (like the creepy fetishization of the wounds of Christ) actually did remind me of the abusive nuns I encountered as a kid, turned up to eleven. And because Carrie is so passive (up to the point where she catastrophically isn't) there's no escape. She doesn't hide in the library or anywhere - it's just school, and then home to mom.

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