Tracing Trails : Carrie, Revisited
Returning to this book after having gone through King’s entire catalog, I think a part of me was expecting to notice a really stark contrast in style and prose from one to the next. It was for this reason that I thought re-reading Carrie would be a poignant way to end this project, returning back to where I started. I’ve read Carrie several times but I was eager to see what I would think of it, given this new context.
I think what I found most interesting was that in terms of the prose itself, I don’t know if I can notice a huge difference in his style. The content of the books themselves, sure. There is a difference but the tone of the writing still feels like King. He has always seemed to have a solid, blue collar understanding of people across the entire spectrum. I think it’s one thing that has always attracted me to his books. That even though he’s a famous, rich author, I’ve always gotten the feeling from his writing that he would also be the kind of guy I could be comfortable just hanging out with. He’s never put off an air to me of snobbery or judgment and I think that can be seen in the sympathetic treatment in his books of all his characters, heroes and villains alike.
There is one aspect to King’s earlier books that I was happy to return to. If I had to characterize the vibe of King’s recent work it would be that they all feel very polished and composed. I don’t mean that in a bad way but I often feel like I’m reading a fairly standard thriller formula. He does it well and there are still some moments here and there that show the classic King intensity but by and large, the books feel more on the safe side than I recall from his earlier work. Coming back to Carrie, I loved how danger had returned. His early books often had a feel of gritty B horror films and they could be brutal. No one was safe in a Stephen King book. And that hasn’t completely vanished from the landscape of his fiction but it was what I fell in love with in the early days of his career and reading Carrie again was a reminder for me.
I couldn’t help but feel the sharp edge underneath the narrative. With King’s recent books, while there are moments that are gripping, underneath it all is the sense that things are going to turn out okay, for the most part. This was never an aspect of his earlier work and I don’t know if that has to do with where he was in his life and his overall outlook. It goes without saying that as you age, that nihilistic streak tends to diminish as families grow and priorities change. Did King’s view on his own life affect his writing and the overall themes of his books? There’s no way to know for sure, obviously, but it was a thought I found running around as I went back to Carrie. Throughout the book, King interlaces the narrative with excerpts from books and interviews, all retrospective accounts looking back on some horrible event that we, as the reader, are about to bear witness to ourselves. It is an amazingly effective means of foreshadowing and injects a feeling of dread into the entire book that I think is incredibly evocative of King’s earlier books.
With On Writing, King put forward the notion that in all books, villains should be treated like real people. No one actually sees themselves as an archetype and are instead the star of their own story. We often fall into the trap of seeing everyone in context with the protagonist, as if the other characters in the story were nothing but pieces of furniture, only there to serve the needs of someone else. With Carrie, King manages to make all the characters complex, whether they be good and bad. And what I find most effective is that most of the characters have good and bad aspects. This isn’t just incredibly good characters being persecuted by incredibly bad characters. And in a brilliant twist as the story goes on, I found that the hero was edging close to being a monster while the monsters were actually shifting back to being sympathetic victims.
The morality of Carrie as a character and what she does is something that has held this book high in my regard over the years. I think it’s an interesting question to ponder, whether or not acts of such violence we see here could ever be justified. Can a person be pushed so far in the process of bullying that literally all bets are off and any kind of response is okay? Or is it that, by allowing herself to lash out at the people she had been hurt by, did Carrie become just as reprehensible as the rest?
I have always seen Carrie’s mother as the real monster of this story, the one who led her daughter to this mental place where an act like this could be conceivable. As a parent myself, it was hard to see a child treated so badly by a parent, to see the life she was subjected to. But then again, is it also possible that Margaret White could be redeemed in what she does? Is it possible she was more aware of Carrie’s latent abilities and acted the way she did because she recognized the inherent danger present in her daughter?
They are all interesting questions to pose and that I think were effectively laid out within the covers of this book. It was a piece of literary work that launched a career of more best sellers than I could keep track of. I’ve moved carefully through every book of Stephen King’s and returning now, to this first one, I feel reinforced more than ever that I chose wisely in selecting Stephen King as my favorite author.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.
Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page