Carrie - Stephen King It’s that time of year again, the sometimes-lovely month of October, and it’s time for my annual visit to Uncle Stevie (this is not a euphemism for anything). Right now, I am just immersing myself in Needful Things, one of his doorstop mid-nineties masterpieces. But, with all the anti-bullying bru-ha-ha going on in the news right now, it feels appropriate to go back and talk about the book that cemented my annual tradition.

I first read Carrie as a freshman in high school, and afterward I went on a Stephen King bender; that’s how much I loved it. High school really is the perfect time to encounter this book for the first time. Carrie takes the average high school experience of misery and loneliness and ups the ante to near apocalyptic levels; after reading this, my high school experience felt like a warm and fuzzy trip to Disneyland.

Carrie White is a sad, lonely girl with a terrible home life and no one to turn to. Her mother is a religious fanatic and certifiable lunatic. The kids and teachers at school, with a very few exceptions, range from monstrously cruel to blindly apathetic. The events of the opening scene alone would scar most people for life, and Carrie is even less prepared than most to face the horror of adolescence.

King takes an excellent tactic with this book--which was his first published--and weaves the supernatural/unnamed elements of horror with the even more disturbing psychological horrors of being a teenager. Carrie has a special gift ( she has telekinetic powers), and her abilities are integral to her development, and intensely horrifying once you see where the narrative is taking her. King tells the story with a highly effective combination of methods, interspersing the traditional storytelling with fictional primary source documents recording the “phenomenon” of Carrie White and the ensuing tragedy (this is a horror book, so I don’t consider this warning a spoiler). Carrie’s tale becomes the beginning of a much larger, untold story that affects all of society both scientifically and psychologically. Well, maybe not entirely untold, if you’ve read Firestarter.

As readers, we know from the very beginning that Carrie’s story will not end well; the tale is mostly flashbacks and analysis of events with heavy foreshadowing of calamity. However, this knowledge doesn’t keep us from dreading the outcome and hoping that we might be mistaken. Carrie is so obviously the underdog, and so pitiably lovable, that it is just as heartbreaking as it is frightening to watch the end events unfold.

As a horror novel, or just as a novel in general, Carrie is a great read, both powerful and enjoyable. A substantial amount of story is packed into a scant 200+ pages, and the tension builds to a powerful crescendo. Though I don’t think the book was ever intended as an anti-bullying polemic, I do think those who suffer at the hands of bullies could glean some amount of (slightly disturbing) comfort from this book. However, it is the bullies that should be reading it; I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that more clearly delineates the disastrous consequences of persecuting others. You can make all the after-school specials you want, but if you really want to teach someone not to be a bully, give them a copy of this book.

(In some ways, I think Carrie is a better version of a story King told under the name Richard Bachman, Rage, in which a deranged teenager holds his class hostage at gunpoint. Carrie covers similar themes, with much more power and originality.)