Carrie by Stephen King

I have been a fan of Stephen King for a long time and as part of my original blog, I attempted to read/reread all of his work and look at how it developed over time. Eventually, I had to scrap this project because King wrote so many books and I found I was missing out on a lot of other authors. Also, while I will always be a fan, I will also be the first to admit that I don't enjoy ALL of his books and I didn't want to spend time forcing my way through books I didn't want to read when there are so many I do want to read.

I thought that since Stephen King is a major influence in my life and my writing, that it would be appropriate to kick off this new blog by republishing my original review of Carrie, Stephen King's first published novel.

Original Review:


Blood. From the opening scene where Carrie gets her first period at the late age of sixteen, through the prank she suffers at the prom that everyone knows about, to the aftermath where Carrie has her retribution, this entire story is dripping in blood. I've read this story twice before and this was my first time listening to the audiobook performed brilliantly by Sissy Spacek. King's tale of Carrie has always disturbed and fascinated me. On the one hand, the psychotically religious mother and Carrie's telekinesis seem so strange and unreal, while the bullying that Carrie endures at the hands of her classmates is so painfully, utterly real.

I have set out to read King's books in order of publication to look at the growth of his writing and his career. I know that Carrie was actually the fourth novel that he wrote and I admit now that my project will be flawed because I'm not reading them in order of writing. It's difficult to know exactly when each book was written first and I'm sure King tidied them up before release. I've also read many of his books before (out of order) and that will influence things as well. Besides, Carrie is the novel that gave King his big break and I think that alone makes it the best place to start.

When King published Carrie, he was living in a trailer with his wife and children. The novel began as a short story about a young girl with telekinesis, but King was intimidated by it and threw it away. It was his wife, Tabitha, who rescued the book and encouraged him to expand it into a novel and publish it. King relates this story in his memoir, On Writing, and in the introduction to the audiobook version. As much as I love Carrie, the story of a struggling author writing a story he almost threw away only to have it break him into the start of the big time is (almost) just as good.

The novel:

The plot is old news, so I will focus more on the style. I wasn't just being dramatic when I opened with blood, this book is covered in it and listening to the audio version just underlines it. The novel starts when Carrie gets her first period and this, along with the other girls' cruelty, triggers her latent TK. Her mother, Margaret, is obsessed with blood and a twisted version of Jesus. She often talks throughout the novel about how blood is both a curse and the key to salvation. Margaret more than once tears at her own flesh with her fingernails to punish herself and to manipulate her daughter. Then there is, of course, the pig's blood that Chris and Billy dump on Carrie at the prom.

Other themes centre on isolation and acceptance. Carrie has been alone her entire life. The whole school, and even the town, reject and mock her. She has no friends and doesn't talk to anyone. At home, one of her mother's favourite punishments is to lock her in a closet for hours until she begs for release. I think it's this extreme isolation that contributes more than anything to her final break at the end of the novel. Through a complicated series of events and the kindness/guilt/cowardice of Sue Snell, Carrie finally gets a chance to be included and a part of things at the school before everything gets ruined. Sue Snell, reeling from the guilt she feels over how she treated Carrie, manipulates her boyfriend, Tommy - the one good person in the entire novel - to take Carrie to prom as a sort of apology. This is all the more heart-wrenching because it's impossible to read Carrie's brief moments of happiness without knowing what is coming.

The big flaw of the book is length. When King finished Carrie, it was more like a novella than a novel and thus he padded it with clippings from interviews and articles about the aftermath of what happens at prom. Yes, even if you somehow get to this book without knowing what happens, the book spoils it for you. The articles both add to and detract from the story. Some add tension and some are just needlessly repetitive - especially at the end.

I'm going to wrap things up here with a brief look at Carrie and Sue as characters. King has done an excellent job setting up both of these girls as complex and living people. He may be known for his horror, but it's his characters that have always drawn me in. This early book, while rough compared to some of his later work (he uses too many adverbs and weird phrases like "their morning sweat was light and eager") his talent at creating dark atmospheres and real characters is already showing.
Carrie is sad and pathetic. While I sympathized with the girl who only wanted to be left alone, there was still a part of me that could see why they teased her. This isn't She's All That where once you remove the glasses, the nerd is the hottest girl in school. Carrie, whom King does describe as beautiful in her own way at prom, is overweight, dresses in dumpy ill-fitting clothes, and makes no effort to show off her beauty. Between her mother's treatment and Carrie's own desire to be invisible, it's no wonder she doesn't try. King does well in showing us a girl that we can believe to be a victim, but also one who we can cheer for with hopes and dreams for the future.

Sue Snell, however, I have no idea how I feel about. I think I don't like her. I don't entirely blame her for throwing tampons at Carrie at the start of the book. It was cruel, but there was a mob mentality of sorts happening. Sue is the only one of the girls to show remorse and to think about how this all affected Carrie - something the gym teacher, Ms. Desjardin doesn't even do, but Sue does not go talk to Carrie herself; she gets her boyfriend to do her work for her. The same happens with the teacher. Ms. Desjardin cleans Carrie up and punishes the girls, but she doesn't really go and talk to Carrie or do anything to help her. She's nice to her at prom and tries to run to her at the end, but it's too little, too late. I'm straying from the topic of Sue, but all of this brings us back to Carrie's isolation. It is important to look at how Sue is the one who is with Carrie when she dies. At the end of the novel, Sue is the one travelling through life alone. All Sue wants is to disappear where no one will bother her or accuse her of anything. Tommy is dead and Sue has no friends left. When Carrie dies, it is Sue who takes over her lonely life, and this is symbolized by the sudden onset of Sue's late period, reminding the reader of the opening scene. What began in blood, ends in blood.


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