What could I possibly add to what has already been said about this astounding novel in the last thirty years? It is a bonafide King classic, an excellent entry in the man’s oeuvre by virtually any standard of judgement. Kick-ass villain? Check. Tightly-wound plotting? Check. Believable situation? Check. Avoidance of cliché? Check. Likable protagonist? Check. Appropriate ending? Check. In Misery, King does what is so rare for authors to do (especially authors who are fifteen or so years into their career, as King was in 1987) — he gets everything right.
I have a very special relationship with this book. It was the very first thing I ever read by Stephen King, years ago. At the time, I had a friend who was a big fan of the guy and raved about his works whenever he got a chance. I loved to read when I was growing up, but I lost interest around the age of 13 or so. I had begun to outgrow the stories I loved as a (younger) kid and hadn’t yet found anything I liked as a young teen. Finally, at the insistence of said King-loving friend, I checked the ‘K’ section at my local library. Lo and behold, I found a mess of his novels and didn’t know where to start. Under the Dome was King’s latest release then, and while it seemed interesting, I suspected I would never make it through its 1,000+ pages. Maybe one day, I told myself. After sweaty, anxious scanning of all the King titles on my town library’s shelves, I texted my friend and asked for suggestions. He immediately responded with something I’ll never forget: “They’re all good. Just don’t get Dreamcatcher. It sucks ass.”
Alright! Feeling moderately liberated, I felt relief in the knowledge that I could check out any of the titles before me without worry of it being a time-waste (besides Dreamcatcher, mind you). Finally, I noticed a slimmer volume, its one-worded title in a font that looked like blood: MISERY, it said. The hardcover’s art immediately gripped me, as did the goofy-ass author photo on the back — that photo still cracks me up, by the way. Say sorry, Sai King!
To the checkout counter I went, with Misery (and The Stand, if memory serves — though I did not even attempt that one before its due date) in hand. A few days later I went on vacation with my family to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We camped out…. in tents…. in an RV park. Oi. It rained almost everyday, and when it wasn’t raining it was almost a hundred degrees. But that trip wasn’t so bad — after all, I had Misery. I remember sitting in the tent I shared with my sister, holding the book in my clutches, eagerly drinking in the story by flashlight as the rain pelted down. Ah, good times. Funnily enough, it was not until a few months after that trip that I read another novel by SK. That one — Christine — was what turned me into the fanboy I am today. But Misery laid the groundwork, and pushed me to expand my literary interests in the first place.
So what was it? What was it that I loved (and love) so much about Misery? Why, it’s King’s commentary on the writing process, of course. I’m a pre-published (he said optimistically) writer, which made this story more appealing now than it ever was before. While I don’t write in the same genre as King — horror and suspense are not comfortable to me — his words of advice on the craft are endlessly fascinating, and so helpful. The stories and novels in which King deals with the arts and the impact it has on everyday life are my favorites, just because those are the titles I relate to most.
And let us not forget the vividly drawn characters — Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes. I love to write, therefore I dig Paul and can feel for him. Of course. However, I also have more than a little bit of Annie in me. I’m obsessive, lonely, paranoid, depressive, manic. Just being honest. I feel for her. I feel her pain, her turmoil, her ideology — even when she’s wielding an ax or chopping up coppers with a lawnmower. What kind of person does that make me?
The reader can sympathize with all of King’s characters, even the most despicable ones. That’s the mark of a truly great writer, and it’s a lesson I’ve tried to apply to my own stories. In fact, Annie is so well-realized that I’m always heartbroken over her death. I know she deserved it. I know that. But . . . still. It’s a hard one, at least for me. I love Annie Wilkes.
So, yeah. This has been a shit review. Apologies! Didn’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said, so I decided to go with whatever came out. Hope you stuck around, and thanks for reading!
Pg. 103 – Paul imagines the voice of his typewriter as being that of a ‘teenage gun-slinger’.
Pg. 192 – The phrase ‘off the beam’ is thought of by Paul. Is that a Dark Tower reference? Almost certainly. The Drawing of the Three was released in 1987 too, so it was definitely on King’s mind.
Pg. 194 – Events from The Shining, namely the Overlook Hotel burning down, are mentioned by Annie. And there’s the fact that this novel takes place in Colorado, which puts this one firmly in the same universe as that which is occupied by the Torrances.
“As always, the blessed relief of starting, a feeling that was like falling into a hole filled with bright light.
As always, the glum knowledge that he would not write as well as he wanted to write.
As always the terror of not being able to finish, of accelerating into a brick wall.
As always, the marvelous joyful nervy feeling of journey begun.”