Monday, November 12, 2012

Book review: Misery by Stephen King

MiseryMisery by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where I got the book: well, I was staying in my niece's old room while I was in England, my sister and her husband being happy empty nesters, and there it was on the shelf. A tattered mmpb with exactly the schlocky cover shown above, its pages yellowed like the teeth of a 100-year-old smoker, smelling faintly of mildew even though the room was dry and pleasant. A used bookstore buy, or a borrow?

I have not read Stephen King (except for On Writing) since some time in the 80s when something in The Stand grossed me out so much that I decided to put the book down RIGHT THERE and I was done with King. So I was a little apprehensive about Misery; King, back in the day when I was still reading him, had a way of putting really unpleasant images in my head that stuck with me FOREVER. Was it worth it?

I was pleasantly surprised. There's horror in Misery but really very little schlock; what we have here is a thoughtful novel about the writer's craft and the relationship between writer and reader, wrapped up in a scary story that keeps you right where King wants you, with your nose stuck in his book.

The plot's pretty simple: Famed novelist Paul Sheldon has found his biggest fan by driving through a snowstorm with one drink too many inside him. He wakes up in Annie Wilkes' remote house with a smashed, broken body to find that he's Annie's prisoner, first of all because she's his biggest fan and then permanently when she finds out he's killed off his heroine, Misery, in his latest book. Oh no, says Annie, that's not right. You have to bring Misery back...

Oh my goodness, I couldn't get enough of Annie Wilkes. What a great evil villainess that woman is, all the more so because King gives her the occasional glimpse of humor and likableness. After all, she's a book lover. And she actually makes Paul see the worth in writing the preposterous sagas he both lives off and despises for not being the great literature he feels he ought to write. Misery is REAL for Annie, and in this she speaks for readers everywhere who could care less about great literature, they just want a character they can love and a story they can get lost in. I got lost in the Annie-Paul relationship, a wonderfully delicate balance of power because they both have something the other wants. And the way Annie talks is beyond priceless. I know that woman. She's an American type (seriously, she could be found in no other country) so sharply observed that I found myself chuckling with delight.

What King says about writing in this book--about the gotta, bringing it, finding the hole in the paper--is as interesting as his craft memoir On Writing. In fact, often more so. I recommend this book to all writers, and I'm going to acquire my own copy one day because I'll want to read this again. I may read Carrie and The Shining for good measure.

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