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Classics Review: Carrie

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on February 8, 2016

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A great deal of Stephen King's later books have been quite workmanlike. The words are there to get the story into the readers head and get out again as unobtrusively as possible. I took this to be a symptom of the pressures put on him to produce new material, at a high speed, that was as similar to the rest of his body of work as possible without being a direct re-telling. Although he has done a few of those over the course of his career too. So it always comes as a shook to me when I read some of his earlier work and discover that the man is a really good writer. The two books where he messed around with the format of his writing and it really stood out for me were The Dead Zone and Carrie. Of those two I read Carrie at exactly the right age for it to have its maximum emotional impact. So lets talk about Carrie.

Try to disregard everything that you know about Carrie from the many films that have plundered it. Some of them were good films. Some of them were not, but none of them replicated the experience of the book.

Carrie is a book about being a teenager. Parts of it are specific to being an unpopular teenager but the whole breadth of the bad situations that you come across as a teenager are on display. Outside of the titular character you have people going along with the consensus of their peers even though it is causing them great emotional stress to do so, you have people trying to do the right thing and making everything worse and at the heart of it all you have the very teenage problem of an idealised formative moment. The one moment in your life that will change everything for you, make you popular and happy and as perfect as you imagine others to be. In the case of Carrie the entire story is building up to a school dance.

Then we get to Carrie herself, the bullied child, miserable at home, miserable at school and desperate to be loved and accepted despite her surface differences from her schoolmates. The best that she receives at any point is pity. Both from the characters who are meant to care for her and frequently from the reader too.

In an awful way, Carrie is a wish-fulfillment fantasy for every bullied child. If the power to strike back against your oppressors in a decisive and catastrophic way was suddenly put into your hands would you have the courage to use it? Real life tells us that no, a bullied child does not lash out this way, if they were capable of viciousness then they would never be bullied to begin with in the brutal hierarchy of childhood. But it is a fantasy that every person in that situation has indulged in imagining. The idea that if they are pushed just that little bit further then they will unleash all of their rage on the world. That is what Carrie is. That is what Carrie does. You absolutely empathise with Carrie and the awful situation that she is trapped in, there is even satisfaction in seeing her destroy everyone who mistreated her but by the end the book's message is clear. Every living person is a ticking time bomb, just waiting to be pushed too far.

That is the true value of the story, a release valve on the high pressure pipes in the minds of the reader.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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