I can’t hold up CARRIE as an extremely deep or enlightening novel, but it was one that I had a lot of trouble putting down at the end of the day. It takes a fairly simple premise and milks it for all that it’s worth. It’s not particularly frightening or scary, just a simple, tense story told very, very well.
The characterization is really nothing to write home about here. The people have their places and their actions to perform, but don’t really exist in all three dimensions. I didn’t find this to be a problem though, as I wasn’t expecting anything particularly outstanding in this department. However, one character’s shallowness did begin to annoy me after a while. The eponymous Carrie has a mother, of course, and to describe this woman as a clichéd and one-dimensional stereotype would be to pay a compliment to the characterization. I’m not particularly offended by the single portrayal of an over the top, religious, fanatical fundamentalist, but the sheer superficiality began to seriously annoy me. Now, obviously, the book is set up in a way that the reader isn’t supposed to empathize with this insane woman, yet I felt as if I was being hit over the head with this crude caricature. Having a character that the audience can boo and hiss at is one thing, but to draw a person whose very presence in the story made me want to hurl the book the length of the room is another thing entirely. If she had just been a little toned down, I doubt she would have been nearly so aggravating.
The story-line is quite simple and probably known to many more people than have actually read the book (or seen the film). But this doesn’t work against the book. Indeed, the story constantly undermines climactic moments, by telling us the events far in advance of their appearance in the narrative. Nearly every shocking event that occurs in the book has already been mentioned in the little asides that are scattered throughout. This is a very effective way of heightening the tension. Learning a lesson from Hitchcock, Stephen King knows that it’s the suspense rather than the actual blood that keeps an audience hooked. We know precisely what’s coming, but it’s the journey itself that is of supreme importance. With every hint the book drops, the tension is racked up a notch. By the time I reached the conclusion, that I had already anticipated, I was completely spellbound.
CARRIE is a simple story of childhood bullying, nonconformity and revenge, with a healthy sprinkling of horror thrown in. The characters don’t need to be terribly deep, because anyone who ever interacted with children know these people already and can fill in the gaps. It feels slightly uneven and sloppy in places, but that certainly isn’t enough to derail the whole book. This was the first Stephen King book that I’d ever read, and based on my enjoyment of this one, it certainly won’t be the last.