The first time I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I considered it a dreadfully dull novel. I had trouble following all of the characters and the balls. The language and the customs were so thoroughly divorced from my experiences as a teenager that I couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about. Some years later, I reread the novel, and fell in love with it. To date, it is one of my favourites. I am of course, not alone.
It may seem strange for me to start a blog post about Stephen King’s first novel by talking about Jane Austen, but I do so because a second reading of Carrie led to a similar experience. Somewhere in my early teens I read Carrie, and found it dreadfully dull. All those news reports. Couldn’t they just get on with the story? Of course, all those news reports, were the story.
Is Carrie as outstanding as Pride and Prejudice? No, of course not. That is not the aim of such a story, however, what it does, it does very well. While I do not recall ever hearing what the genesis was for the story, if it did start out as a ‘what if’ story, it could certainly be framed as such. What would happen if a telekinetic girl who has been bullied all her life, has her one shining moment ruined? And the cause and effect in this story is very straightforward. Girl gets her first period during a shower at school, gets made fun of. One of the girls feels bad and asks her boyfriend to take Carrie as recompense. One of the girls who got in trouble for making fun of Carrie learns that Carrie will be at prom and decides to get her back by spilling blood on her. This is the final straw that sets Carrie loose on the whole school.
Does Carrie overreact? Uh, yeah, just a little bit. How would any of us react if we were in her exact situation, though? And that, I think is the point. A nice girl who has been picked on her whole life, including by a mother who was supposed to nurture her, but instead tried to turn Carrie to her warped view of the world. It was the last straw. How many of us might have done the same? I know that I might have got myself into several sticky situations if I had telekinetic powers.
As I said above, this was not my first read of Carrie, but this second time, much more worldly, and more well-read than I was at first, several things stuck out: the use of foreshadowing, and how religion is almost pitted against spirituality.
Having read Carrie previously, plus been subjected to the story as part of pop culture, Carrie’s climax was well known to me. (I’m tempted to think the entire movie series Prom Night may have been born from this scene). With that knowledge I was not distracted as much by having to follow the story to know what was going on. Therefore I could be much more attentive to the structure of the story. From the very beginning we know that something supernatural happened, and that Carrietta White was involved. As the story progresses we learn that it happened at prom, that people died, and that the carnage was not just limited to the school. Such information only serves the plot. You think you know what’s going to happen, yet when you get to those pages, you continue turning, hoping that somehow things will turn out all right for poor Carrie in the end. Alas, it does not, and we are treated to a revenge of epic proportions. The burst of psychic energy that Carrie used ends up killing her.
Prior to Carrie’s death, however, we see a strange phenomena that I’ve noticed has carried through to Salem’s Lot as well (and perhaps other of King’s stories): the idea of a collective consciousness of sorts. Once Carrie started using her telekinetic abilities on a large-scale, it became clear to people in the town who was doing it, even though many of them later admitted that they had never met Carrie. There seems to me to be a division in the book between religion and spirituality, at least in the cognitive sense. IN Carrie’s mother, we see all of the negatives of religion, especially fanatical religion. They are isolated from the rest of the world, which forms at least part of why Carrie is teased so much. When Carrie breaks and uses her telekinetic abilities, she is connected to everyone in town. True, her connection to them is for less than wholesome reasons, but had she not been so oppressed by fanatical religion, this story might not have taken place (in which case I wouldn’t have this story to enjoy, so I shall stop griping about it). Such division between the flesh and the spirit has been found within Christianity since the beginning, to the religion’s detriment, and to Carrie’s neighbours and classmate’s detriments in this novel.
More of a review than I intended. Sorry. Carrie lends itself well to a reread. One last thing that I did notice was missing in this first of Stephen King’s published works, is more of his usual voice, though that is understandable when a good deal of the novel is taken up by news reports, excerpts from academic works and from government reports. Looking forward to some of the later books where more storytelling happens (“The man in black fled across the desert . . . “).