Not Your Ordinary Cinderella Story
(A Book Review of Stephen King’s Carrie)
I know it’s a bummer, but let’s face it, I bet any of you who has gone through this rite of passage called “high school” might’ve had felt or experienced that: you’re wearing the most awkward (baduy is actually the word I’m striking for), unfashionable clothes; have a hard time “fitting in” and wished you were popular and cool; beset with insecurities; bullied, taunted and the constant butt of jokes; or worse, the receiving end of a humiliating prank.
These troubles and concerns perfectly reflect Carrie, Stephen King’s 1974 debut novel that not only catapulted his career, but also played a pivotal role in making him a household name.
Written by King in his early 20s, Carrie, set in a small, quiet town in Maine, is the tale of the eponymous Carrie White, a shy, socially gawky, outcast teenager gifted — or afflicted — with the power of telekinesis. I was quite amused to know that this was King’s retelling of an inverted version of the Cinderella fairy tale, with, well of course, his trademark supernatural twists.
When Carrie experiences her first menstrual period following gym class, the other girls — fulfilling the roles of the wicked stepsisters — torment her, cruelly asserting their superiority. The viciousness doesn’t end there: in place of the evil stepmother, we find Carrie’s biological mother, Margaret White, driven to the point of madness by an unbalanced personality and religious fanaticism. Just as the beginning of Carrie’s period seems to trigger her own dormant telekinetic abilities, it also heightens Margaret’s instability. This scenario of a parent being threatened by a child’s encroaching adulthood, of a child standing on her own against her brutal, abusive mother is presented with grit and heightened to horrific extremes. Needless to say, any fairy story wouldn’t be complete without the Fairygod Mother herself and the dashing Prince Charming who escorts Carrie to the ball/prom. I’ll spare you all the details Gentle Readers in case you might want to pick this book up, but it’s crucial to mention at the climax of the story just as Carrie is scorned and shamed just one time to many that all hell will break loose and a holocaust of destruction unleashed.
Incidentally, the story behind how Carrie came about also serves as Stephen King’s own Cinderella story of a virtual unknown author’s rise to fame. Constant Readers (a term of endearment King ascribes to his loyal fans), might already be familiar with how his wife Tabitha fished it out of the trash bin and encouraged him to finish it; no wonder the novel is dedicated to her: “This is for Tabby, who got me into it — and then bailed me out of it.” The advance money for the book allowed him to quit teaching and focus on writing full-time. Following its publication in hardcover, Carrie would also be adapted as a popular and critically lauded film by Brian DePalma, garnering two Academy Award nominations for stars Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. The film sparked interest in the book, sending the paperback printing shooting off the charts. “The movie made the book,” King later mused, “and the book made me.”
The central tragedy in Carrie stems from Carrie White’s inherent personality. As her abilities make manifest, Carrie seems to willfully choose not to be a victim any longer. Carrie, bolstered by rebellion against her mother and acceptance of her abilities, proves to be charming and even funny. Here King underlines another truth of school society versus adult society: when given a chance, outcasts can blossom. Her experiments in moving objects with her mind seem exciting rather than threatening; I even entertained thoughts that Carrie would mature into a woman with full control of her “talent.” This makes Carrie’s final rampage more poignant. We are not dealing with simply a victim or a monster; in the course of his short novel, King manages to make Carrie White a fully-realized human. King wants us to sympathize with Carrie, rather than pity or fear her.
Interpolated throughout the text are excerpts — from newspapers, court transcriptions, eyewitness accounts, several books and scholarly articles from which King “quotes” over the rest of the novel — purporting to be real. Working with a cast of mostly young people in a genre that had yet to be critically accepted or understood, King subtly insists that Carrie’s story be taken seriously. Though it has roots in fairy tales and the paranormal, Carrie emerges — as many of King’s fictions do — as a story about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Unlike the whitewashed Disney versions of the classic fairy tales, however, there is no happy ending in Carrie. As so often happens in Stephen King’s books — like The Dead Zone and Cujo — the good perish frequently and haphazardly as the bad. As in Cinderella, the bad are punished. But in Carrie the good also suffer; those who don’t perish must deal with the aftermath of the tragedy for the rest of their lives.
In the real world, King reminds us, sometimes Cinderella herself doesn’t survive the ball.
Published by Signet
(Mass Market Paperback, 1988 Edition)
Started: November 27, 2010
Finished: November 30, 2010