Stephen King,
(Viking, 1987)

I cannot pinpoint an exact reason for it, but I waited until well into my 21st year to complete my first Stephen King novel, Misery. Some dub it a classic, and the tell-tale signs behind it are obvious: a quick, entertaining plot; sharp, well-written prose and a slow, horrific change in character on the part of Annie Wilkes, from semi-sweet morsel of goodness to axe-welding, scary-as-hell maniac.

Though it is a masterful horror story I would casually recommend, Misery has a significant shortcoming, which eventually led me to read the piece at a subdued pace. And more importantly, I couldn't help but feel like my expectations of the novel -- and of King -- had not been met once the story had completely unfolded.

For those who have yet to pick up King's novel, now aged 20-plus years, or even Rob Reiner's 1990 adaptation starring Academy Award- winning actress Kathy Bates, Misery tells the story of romance novelist Paul Sheldon, who, while driving home from Colorado, gets caught in a freak snowstorm and crashes his car. Later, his self-proclaimed No. 1 fan, Annie Wilkes, rescues Paul from the wreck and takes him under her care inside her remote house near the mountains. Unable to move very far because of two broken legs, Paul must obey Annie's commands while in rehabilitation, which includes writing a new novel just for her that resurrects Misery Chastain, Annie's favorite character who was killed off at the end of Paul's latest novel. With such a mission forced on to him, and with nowhere to hide, Paul must figure out a way not only to complete Annie's task, but also make it damn good -- because if his new story doesn't get Annie's seal of approval, Paul just may be killed.

Now, King is an accomplished, obviously great novelist, and as well is a strong believer in "freewriting," which is the thought that the best stories are those in which an author plants a seed -- an idea -- and lets the story grow from that seed, rather than planning everything out prior to writing. Though in theory this stylistic choice makes a bit of sense and allows an author to be more free, it is as if King doesn't know what best to focus on, so he just focuses on any old thing: a character's thoughts, outside sounds, voice inflections, the arrangement of objects in a room. And this downfall, at least to me, was fairly evident in Misery, where King's long-winded prose left me feeling like King merely put too much detail in trivial things, perhaps in hopes that his acute attention would gain in importance later on. Well, unless I missed something, I found myself struggling over blocks of text that in the end really served no -- or hardly any -- purpose.

But really, this is more a knock on King's style than on the book itself, which admittedly is a good read indeed. Annie is one scary beast, and you wouldn't really know it after the first few dozen pages. It takes a heck of a while -- King surely puts her evolution on slow boil. But once maniac Annie arrives, the speed of the story, and the question of Paul's survival, gets rather interesting.

review by
Eric Hughes

16 August 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new