Trudi's Reviews > Misery

Misery by Stephen King
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I've been re-visiting some of my King All-star Team this year as audiobooks and am reminded yet again that Uncle Steve is The Man. No matter what asshats and embittered douchebags like "literary critic" Harold Bloom say, King is one of the greatest storytellers in any language of all time, full stop. Is everything he's written pure gold? Of course not. Given the sheer size of the man's canon, that's to be expected. But even when I think King has put up something less than stellar, I always feel his heart is in the right place. In other words, King -- unlike so many other bestselling authors these days -- has integrity to spare. The words, the story -- they come first always. Even after all these years, I really believe he does it for the love of the craft, not for the next bloated paycheck (*cough* James Patterson *cough* whore).

I first read Misery when I was seventeen years old. I started it about eight o'clock that evening, and finished it about four in the morning. Heart pounding, bleary eyed and afraid to open my closet door lest Annie Wilkes was waiting there for me with an axe or chainsaw raised over her head. Whenever we're excited about a book, readers will often say "OMG, I couldn't put it down!" but we probably did, at least once, to go to work, get supper, put the kids to bed, whatever. It's not meant to be a literal expression per se, though sometimes it is and whoah to the power of a book that can hold you in its ironclad grip with such uncompromising resolution. That will make you stay up til the wee hours of the morning even though you have work or school the next day. Or breakfast to make for a screaming brood of little ones.

I couldn't put Misery down that first time. King has penned some page-turning mothers over the years, but the story of Paul Sheldon and his number one fan Annie Wilkes has got to be the most page-turning of them all. I guess you could classify this book as psychological suspense, since there are absolutely no supernatural elements introduced here, but for me Misery will remain classic horror because I really do feel like King's ultimate goal in writing it is to scare the shit out of us. And in this he succeeds brilliantly. We're trapped in that room with Paul Sheldon. The desire to escape is overwhelming. You begin to understand how an animal can chew its own leg off. And Annie Wilkes? Has there ever been a literary creation able to make you lose control of your bladder so effectively? She haunts my nightmares still.

(view spoiler)

King not only does an amazing job examining the sometimes deranged and twisted fan/creator relationship when a mental illness is introduced, but more significantly, the beating heart of the writing life. In Misery, King is able to inject a lot of what he knows and believes about the craft and all the tics and challenges that come along with it. Until he published On Writing, Misery was King's most passionate description of the weird and wonderful life of a fiction writer.
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.
I like to think one of my favorite passages is King's version of a big middle finger to the critics who have lambasted him (and likely will continue to do so into the afterlife) as a hack:
There's a million things in this world I can't do. Couldn't hit a curve ball, even back in high school. Can't fix a leaky faucet. Can't roller-skate or make an F-chord on the guitar that sounds like anything but shit. I have tried to be married and couldn't do it either time. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yeah. I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I CAN.
Can he ever. Am I right, Constant Readers? Can I get a witness?

When I listened to Gerald's Game a few months back, I argued that it shared a lot more similarities to Misery than to the book it's always paired with Dolores Claiborne. In my review for Gerald's Game I write: "what King is really doing is looking at the human body under brutalizing physical duress... at the body in extremis and what humans are genetically hardwired to do to survive and go on living another day."

Like Jessie Burlingame in Gerald's Game, Paul Sheldon is a miserable animal caught in a trap. While Paul has the indomitable Annie Wilkes to contend with, Jessie has her own problems, but it all adds up to the same thing in the end: "In telling Jessie's story King uncovers all the nitty-gritty minutia of human physical suffering and the desperation of one woman's attempt to end it. How far is any one person willing to go to keep on taking his or her next breath? Stephen King knows pretty damn far. Just ask Paul Sheldon or Ray Garraty. Or the castaway in "Survivor Type" -- him most of all. King also knows that the human body has an amazing capacity for trauma. It can withstand a lot -- so much so that the mind often breaks first."

Yes it does.

I'm going to end this review the same way I ended my review for Gerald's Game, with a quote from Bondama made in the Stephen King Fans forum here on Goodreads. I keep coming back to this quote because I think it really captures what is so deeply disturbing and terrifying about both these novels. And what makes them so very hard to put down once begun. Each go:
straight to the oldest, reptilian part of the human brain: fight or flight -- but here, flight's out of the question. This is true horror -- helplessness.
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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Nataliya Wonderful review that very eloquently reminded me why exactly I love Uncle Stevie's books so much!


Trudi Nataliya wrote: "Wonderful review that very eloquently reminded me why exactly I love Uncle Stevie's books so much!"

:D Thanks Nataliya! It's been wonderful to go back and revisit these books. They're like old friends (with axes and chainsaws haha!)


message 3: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 The review of a very enthusiastic fan. Always good to see on goodreads! I've never read any Stephen king. Was thinking of startingwith the stand. Do you think this would be a good place to begin?


message 4: by Trudi (last edited Aug 14, 2012 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trudi Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Was thinking of startingwith the stand. Do you think this would be a good place to begin?"

Die-hard King fans are divided into two camps -- those who without question think The Stand is the best thing he's ever written (hell, one of the best post-apocalyptic novels anyone has ever written), and those who do not. I'm one of those. Don't get me wrong -- The Stand is awesome. And if it turns out to be the only King book you ever read, you could do A LOT worse. Since The Stand appeals to so many readers, even non-King fans, it's probably a good launching off point.

My desert island King books include:
It
The Long Walk
The Talisman
Different Seasons

And last, but certainly not least, the monumentally epic, change your life Dark Tower series. Fans who don't think The Stand is the best thing King has ever written, are fans of the Dark Tower :)

And my other thought: your first King, ever??? King virgins are so rare these days. You lucky duck. I'm so jealous. You have an entire King canon to dive into. The diversity of pleasure (and horrors) is an endless horizon ;)


Nataliya Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "The review of a very enthusiastic fan. Always good to see on goodreads! I've never read any Stephen king. Was thinking of startingwith the stand. Do you think this would be a good place to begin?"

Trudi wrote: "Die-hard King fans are divided into two camps -- those who without question think The Stand is the best thing he's ever written (hell, one of the best post-apocalyptic novels anyone has ever written), and those who do not. I'm one of those."

I'm in the camp of those who did not care much for The Stand. I'd recommend "IT" as a starting point - it's a quintessential King.


Trudi Nataliya wrote: "I'd recommend "IT" as a starting point - it's a quintessential King..."

I 100% agree with this statement :)


message 7: by James (new)

James Thane Nice review of a great book...


Trudi Thanks so much James!


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Am I right, Constant Readers? Can I get a witness?


Hallelujah!


Trudi LOL :D




Trudi Carol if you haven't read Pet Sematary, you must!!! Then watch the movie (where King cameos as a graveside priest). Awesomeness ensues :)


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] I went through a King phase in high school--I think the last one I read was Pet Sematary, which had me completely freaked out and afraid to babysit in any unfamiliar houses for months. Thankfully, the movie was silly enough to temper some of the fear. I wonder why his stuff doesn't translate to screen well?


Trudi I can definitely count the number of great adaptations of King's work to the big screen on one hand, two if I'm drunk and being really generous. Well you know what they say, don't judge a book by its movie!

Okay, I know it hasn't aged all that well but I LOVE Pet Sematary the movie :D :D Fred Gwynne as Judd is freakin' awesome! And those Zelda scenes! Eek! I love how they captured the Micmac burial ground too. King wrote the screenplay and I think it shows. Then again, he also wrote the original screenplay for Maximum Overdrive!!! So bad it's good :D


message 15: by Bill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bill Great review Trudi!

I also stayed up way too late to finish this one. This was back in the early 90s, and I was burning out on King at the time. But he sure won me back with this one.


message 16: by Jrosenberg (new)

Jrosenberg trudi do you run a resort in door county on kangaroo lake?


Trudi Jrosenberg wrote: "trudi do you run a resort in door county on kangaroo lake?"

Nope! Sounds like a sweet gig though :)


Peeta M. love this review! :)


Trudi Peeta M. wrote: "love this review! :)"

Missed this comment Peeta. Sorry about that. Thanks so much!


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