Stephen King’s Carrie…hurt my heart. I’ve read Stephen King before, but it always surprises me how good of a writer he is. Whether or not you enjoy reading the genre he writes in (and I hesitate to call it horror because, while there’s certainly the fear element, it’s so much more encompassing than that), his stories are engrossing. They hold up mirrors to society, like this one does. After all, bullying is a big deal now. As is the courage to not bully.
Carrie is the town’s weird girl. Her Mom is super-religious, she dresses strangely, and she has no friends. In other words, she’s the perfect person to bully because mean girls (and other people) always want to pick on someone. That’s how they’re powerful; they can’t be mean silently. But the thing about Carrie is that—all her peculiarities aside—she’s not your average 17 year old. She has abilities, and she might just use them to turn those mean girls’ worlds inside out. Maybe she’ll teach everybody a lesson. Even her mother.
This book isn’t scary; it’s tragic. It’s the story of so many isolated individuals (sans the superpowers). Or maybe it is scary, but not in the way you expect: it’s scary because of mob mentality, in the ability for good people to follow the crowd, the herd, and not stand for the weak and disenfranchised. It’s scary because it still happens. All. The. Time.
While Carrie is the main character—the tortured teenager who just wants to have friends and a regular life—she’s not the most fascinating person in this story. Her evolution is fairly straightforward and logical. Girl is torments; girl gets revenge.
Sue, on the other hand, is a different story because her motivations are murky. She’s not mean, but she was caught up in the crowd mentality. Does she accept blame to avoid further punishment or go to the dance? Does she do a nice deed to quiet her conscious or to help another? I tend to think that Sue is a legitimately good person, which is saying a lot of a teenager because their worlds often revolve around themselves and the thirst to belong. The fact that she made sacrifices, regardless of the motivation, is something.
Then there’s Carrie’s mother, Margaret. She’s a religious zealot—and that’s like calling the Spanish Inquisition a slap on the wrist—but the book isn’t about religious zealotry. Rather, one of the themes is mental illness, which Margaret clearly has.
I loved the “after the fact” portions of the book from a research point of view and Sue’s point of view. It adds logic on one side and personalizes it on the other. Unlike other Stephen King books, there wasn’t a twist. We knew what was going to happen almost from the beginning; if not the details, we knew that Carrie’s abilities would come into play. We knew that it was a tragedy (especially if you read King’s forward). But the suspense was like waiting for a dam to burst. Likewise, we knew that Carrie was fracturing and burst as well just not exactly when and how (unless you watched the movie).
Stephen King is a beautiful writer. It’s amazing that such moving prose and touching dialogue can be found amidst some of the most terrifying literary horror in modern writing:
“Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions. It’s what you say when you spill a cup of coffee or throw a gutter ball when you’re bowling with the girls in the league. True sorrow is as rare as true love.”
How true is that? Sorry and sorrow differ so much. Not that I think it’s as rare as all that; there are very good people in this world who know and live the difference.
Then there’s this quote, another commentary on the brutality of the human animal:
“The low bird is not picked tenderly out of the dust by its fellows; rather, it is dispatched quickly and without mercy.”
And this one:
“People don’t get better, they just get smarter. When you get smarter you don’t stop pulling the wings off flies, you just think of better reasons for doing it.”
As much as I love Stephen King’s writing, these quotes are only half-true. There might be the natural man aspect, but there’s also that divine spark of goodness and love. There’s Sue, who tries. There’s the neighbor girl who wanted to save a young Carrie. This book looks mostly at the dark side, but there’s never just darkness.
Carrie has depth. It’s about bullying on the surface, about the fate of those left behind and ignored. It’s about mental illness on a deeper level, about those who need help and don’t get it. It’s about human nature on the deepest level, about the ability in each of us for great kindness or great cruelty. It’s about the difficulty of standing alone—whether through the choice of others or your own—because the human being is social by nature; we need people. This story is about us, about the darkness in all of us. And about the light.