I'm probably one of the few people in the world who has never seen the 1976 film version of 'Carrie'. But I'm not naive enough that I'm not aware of the story. Everyone knows that the menstrual euphemism "taking Carrie to the Prom" is a reference to a blood-soaked Sissy Spacek. And yeah, I had a pretty good idea of how the plot ends. 'Carrie' is such a huge piece of pop-culture that it's hard to avoid it. So basically, I came to this novel with some prior knowledge and yet I was still floored by the book.
I think that's probably Stephen King's major talent. His novels are never simple, they always have some substance to them. I think what really surprised me when reading 'Carrie' is how much of Stephen King's voice and story-telling technique is present in his first published novel. I was expecting it to stand out a bit, to be a little less polished, a little less, well Stephen King-ish. The narrative was suitably dis-jointed, jumping from one Point of View to another, interspersed with articles from magazines and extracts from scholarly books. The way that King presents Carrie White's story, it's easy to believe that this girl really did exist, that the terrible events at the Prom and afterwards really did happen. And that's what I love about Stephen King and this novel especially, you never have cause to question the reality of his supernatural elements. They simply are.
Carrie White dreams of going to the Prom. She just wants to be your average teenager. But with a religion-obsessed mother and no friends, she is lonely, vulnerable and the perfect target for the school bullies. Her classmates, her teachers, even her Mother, all beat Carrie down. And those that don't are blind to the events, to the hatred and the acts of violence going on around them.
But quiet, mousy Carrie can't be your average teenager because she's no average girl. She hides a terrible secret. She has the power of telekinesis. She can make things happen with the power of her mind. And the more the bullies try to weaken Carrie's reserves, the more her power builds inside her. Until, as the bullying reaches a horrifying climax so does her inner strength and she unleashes her telekinetic power on those who caused her pain.
This is a liberating novel. For anybody who has been bullied, Carrie's explosion on Prom night is kind of like the daydreams you'd hold close to your heart as the taunts rained down on you. Who hasn't wanted to destroy those who try to destroy them? And that's one of the most endearing things about this novel. We've all been in Carrie White's shoes. We've all experienced the horror of repression, of people trying to hold us back. Deep down we all just want to be accepted, to fit in, to be loved. We all have our own version of Prom Night, that thing we're yearning for and feel we'll never get to experience. Carrie gives substance to our own teenage experiences. She embodies our own morbid fears.
And that is probably what I love most about Stephen King - his ability to write characters that get under your skin and stay there. I wish I'd been exposed to this novel as a meek, vulnerable teenager who needed validation, who needed somebody to identify. I think I would have seen something of poor Carrie in myself. And it would have let me dream.
Rating - 4/5