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A book by Stephen King.

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Stephen King's First Novel and it Still Has Strength

  • Aug 1, 2009
In the early 70's a young man named Stephen King had just married and was struggling financially with a teaching job.  When he'd be done grading papers for the night he'd spend much of his time writing.  The idea, for Carrie isn't really related to King's teaching job at all.  In fact, King channeled most of the ideas from two girls he knew in high school who were picked on pretty badly.  And most of us can remember the guy or gal who was picked on in school (High school or otherwise).  Carrie sort of channels that. 

When King began writing the story he was so disgusted with it that he later tossed it in the trash.  His excuse being that he didn't know shit about girls.  His wife, however, fished it out of the trash and urged him to finish it because she thought it was good.  And she agreed to help King with what he didn't know.  After a while, King did find the strength to write and finish Carrie.  And when he sold the rights to it, he could only get $2,500.  That's not a lot of money, even for 1973.  That was enough for King to fix his car (and a funny story King recounts is that he didn't have a phone so he didn't know it was accepted until the publisher sent him a telegram).  As Carrie inched closer to publication, King more or less forgot abut it.  That is until he got a call (when he actually got a phone) and heard that Carrie had sold for $400,000, of which King would receive half.  Suddenly King had a good financial situation.  Despite that, Carrie didn't do well in a hardback printing.  In fact, until it came out in paperback Carrie wouldn't become popular.  At the height of its popularity, though, Carrie became a movie.  One which King was pleased with, and one which really thrust him into the spotlight.  Suddenly King had a career as a novelist. 

Part of what made Carrie successful was that King came into his own at the right time.  The horror genre was popular and the story King had was going to fit in perfectly with the market at the time.  King likes to say there are parts about the book which he still doesn't like (in particular, he expressed in his memoir: On Writing that he never grew to like Carrie White) and that this wasn't even a strong first novel (which... when your second book is 'Salem's Lot then yes, Carrie comes off more like a novel King wrote to get his foot in the door).  

Is Carrie as good a novel as everyone says?  Well, sort of.  It isn't the strongest of King's efforts, but 35 years later it's still in print and still selling.  Mostly because it touches on the theme of bullying.  It's become a cult classic novel in this day and age because of how it addresses bullying.  Carrie centers on the title character.  As the story opens we are treated to scientific journals which speak of Carrie and what she has done.  In short, as the story begins the big events have already happened.  King is simply leading us to them.  There are scientific interviews spliced in with actions showing Carrie get picked on, how she's abused by her overtly religious mother and how she eventually comes to harness her telekinetic abilities which allow her to get revenge on her tormentors.  The book, despite being short, is fairly slow paced.  This is because of those scientific interview excerpts which King admitted he only put in there to inflate the length of the book. They work, sure, but the best moments of the novel are when we're actually seeing Carrie.

The book begins classicly with Carrie having her first period, and just not knowing what it is.  All the girls throw tampons and sanity napkins at her screaming "Plug it up!" and Carrie is humiliated.  The students who partook in the teasing are punished.  One in particular, Susan Snell, feels really bad about it and decides to put her boyfriend Tommy Ross up to taking Carrie to the prom.  He agrees rather reluctantly and Sue Snell doesn't go to the dance (she was lucky).  One girl in particular, Chris Hannigan isn't happy about getting in trouble--especially for leading the tampon crusade against Carrie--decides she wants to get back at Carrie.  In one of the iconic scenes in Stephen King's fiction, Chris and her boyfriend Billy, set up a horrible prank in which they cover Carrie in pigs blood upon her being elected Prom Queen.  It is when Carrie is covered in Pigs Blood--Carrie's shattering climax--that Carrie snaps and goes crazy and runs a rampage through a small New England town. 

In terms of fear, Carrie probably won't scare you.  But it is the story which introduced us to Stephen King and it's a well written story with an unforgettable climax.  On the other hand, most would probably agree with King himself that it isn't his best work.  People will always be in debate over which King novel is the best one, but many also agree that Carrie is far from being even one of them.  The story itself is remarkable, but the film directed by Brian De Palma seems to get more recognition than the book itself.  The book makes a fine story, even though it's really short (and taking out those interludes you'd have a story about half as long), but it's also kind of slow.  It doesn't quite show how King became such a huge iconic force in popular fiction.  But what you do get is an introduction to an author and his style.  Despite being fairly slow, Carrie does a good job at developing characters.  Even you might grow to like Carrie White, but we do grow to pity her, even sympathize with her.  It's a story about one tormented teenager pushed too far. 

The horror aspect of the story in this day and age often gets overlooked.  For two reasons.  The first being that Carrie probably won't frighten too many people.  I often argue that just because horror isn't scary doesn't make it bad.  There are other aspects to horror than simply scaring you.  The other is because the bullying and tormenting themes become far more widely discussed when talking about Carrie.  It has become a cult classic because it probes deep into the mind of a girl who was abused, humiliated and tortured through her life.  Not just by outside forces at school, but by inner demons at home.  King is good at creating good, yet flawed, characters.  Carrie White isn't the best example of this, but it is a testament to how King can make us feel about his characters. 

The movie was adapted into a film in 1976 and remains one of the best adaptations of King's work.  The film managed to become a cult classic as well.

Despite being published in 1974 one thing is clear, King had staying power from the get go.  And from Carrie he managed to write several works that got better and more amusing.  There are parts of Carrie that can grate on the nerves, the least of which is its prose.  For a Stephen King fan who might've come into the game late, you owe it to yourself to check out his first novel and see just how far King has climbed since first writing it.  Today he is a far more accomplished writer (though as a storyteller we don't know, the STORY in Carrie is certainly better than most of the stories he comes out with today, but the WRITING in his books today is better than that of Carrie).  

You may or may not be scared, but even if you aren't, you might still take home a fun read.

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August 02, 2009
Great review! I have to say that I haven't read this book in about a decade and have seen the film only twice since it came out. What'd you think of the recent reboot of "Carrie"?
August 02, 2009
I only saw the remake once, and it was a few years ago.  I thought it was okay, but very boring... and very long.  I hear they were trying to use that as a pilot for a television series.  I guess it didn't pan out.
More Carrie (book) reviews
review by . July 07, 2010
Good read, but left me wanting more.
       I loved the movie Carrie, so I was excited to find used copy of the book and promptly read it cover to cover.        Carrie White is a damaged young adult who suffers intense isolation at school and violent psychological abuse from her lunatic mother. When Carrie hits puberty, strange things begin happening around her whenever she gets upset. Soon Carrie finds she can control these episodes and harness her strange new powers. A lifelong underdog, …
review by . June 08, 2010
   I mean, are the events of Carrie horrifying? Sure. The destruction of an entire town and the deaths of 400 of its inhabitants, including half its graduating high-school seniors, is pretty horrifying, as is the way they died. Is Margaret White a horrifying glimpse into how religion can go really, really bad in a person's life? Absolutely. (For what it's worth, I tend to consider myself a fairly fundamentalist Christian...and Margaret White is not only pretty much crazy, she is …
review by . December 18, 2009
Carrie White is a 17 year old high school student.  Her mother is a deeply religious person who dominates ever aspect of her daughter's life.  One day during near the end of her P.E. class, Carrie experiences her first period.  Horrified by it and being humiliated by her classmates They bombard her tampons and sanitary napkins.  This event is just another in a long line of pranks, insults and other humiliating acts that she has experienced all of her life in the town of Chamberlain.  …
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Is creepy but good. For me this is a story of a lot of monsters and the sweet Carrie. She came with the radical power to punish disrespectful and loveless people.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
Really good first novel from Stephen King that shows a lot of his trademark style just beginning to develop, but, despite the tempting short length, probably not a great introduction to Stephen King.
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
Stephen King's scary book excellently written but scary book about a mistreated girl with unusual powers who tries to fit in with the cxowd. But when some revenge.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
serves every one right...what they got
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
Really creepy story. I read this when I went through a reading scary stories and novels phase back in my teenage years. If you like the creepy, scary stories then this is a good one.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
excellent book, I could read this one over and over
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this book


Why read Carrie? Stephen King himself has said that he finds his early work "raw," and Brian De Palma's movie was so successful that we feel like we have read the novel even if we never have. The simple answer is that this is a very scary story, one that works as well--if not better--on the page as on the screen. Carrie White, menaced by bullies at school and her religious nut of a mother at home, gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers, powers that will eventually be turned on her tormentors. King has a way of getting under the skin of his readers by creating an utterly believable world that throbs with menace before finally exploding. He builds the tension in this early work by piecing together extracts from newspaper reports, journals, and scientific papers, as well as more traditional first- and third-person narrative in order to reveal what lurks beneath the surface of Chamberlain, Maine.


News item from the Westover (ME) weeklyEnterprise, August 19, 1966: "Rain of Stones Reported: It was reliably reported by several persons that a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky on Carlin Street in the town of Chamberlain on August 17th."

Although the supernatural pyrotechnics are handled with King's customary aplomb, it is the carefully drawn portrait of the little horrors of small towns, high schools, and adolescent sexuality that give this novel its power, and assures its place in the King canon. --Simon Leake --This text ...

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ISBN-10: 0671039725
ISBN-13: 978-0671039721
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy

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