Recently, a young person that I know came excitedly up to me and asked “hey, have you ever seen this movie Pulp Fiction, It’s really good”. I resisted the urge to strangle her and thought about the question instead. This person was in her early twenties and unlike me, most parents would not think that Quentin Tarantino was appropriate for a young person to watch. I think that good cinema will work on the intelligence but I have to take into account that not everyone feels as I do. That this is a “new” find for her makes sense. I did, however, draw the line at her trying to explain the plot of this movie that I love to me. Back off kid, I know this movie so well I can think of it linearly. If you get that, I love you, I really do.
This encounter did make me think about the fact that there are so many good books and movies that people have not experienced because they were not around at that time or they were not interested when it was out. So, with that in mind, I am going to do a series of reviews on some of my favorite things. Starting today with Carrie by Stephen King. It’s Halloween after all.
Carrie White is an unpleasant character. She is not likable, not really, she is one of those people that everyone either dislikes or doesn’t really know at all. She is 100 things that make this book completely unworkable, and yet it does work.
This book starts and end in uncomfortable circumstances, and is filled to the brim with uncomfortable moments. The language is rough, the characters are rough, the places are rough, the pacing is rough and no one in this book, with the exception of maybe Tommy Ross, is actually likable. You don’t really have anyone to root for in this book and yet it is one that I sat down and ate whole in one sitting.
The book is essentially about the person in every school, a person that no one likes. I don’t know why that is (I don’t know why there is a universally liked person in every school either but I digress) I just know that this person does exist. Not a person that is unpopular, that is most of every high school. Not a person that is nerdy, for the record most nerds do have friends as they tend to “club up” on one or another mutual interest. This is a person that simply no one likes. Not everyone DISLIKES this person but no one, not a single person in the school actively likes this person.
Carrie white is that person in her hometown Chamberlain and its high school. She is a pale, flabby (not fat) girl, with hair of no color (Carrie as a redhead is a work of movie magic and seems to be the thing that sticks) and a personality that is also of no color. She is ushered into womanhood by a very public and traumatic event that sets the stage for a series of cataclysmic events. The novel itself borrows a little from the style known as Gothic Novel and also and epistolary novel; written as part story, part flashbacks and part articles and fictional post cataclysm book excerpts. There are several moments where the book could turn, could flee from the inevitable horrifying events but, like life, rarely do we take those opportunities.
The characters that aid in the terrible events are Sue Snell, a pretty popular girl, her boyfriend Tommy Ross and Chris Hargensen. Chris, a pouty, pushy, bullying brat of a girl angered by her own inability to twist the system to her will is the final piece in the puzzle that makes the whole bloody mess come to a head.
As I said none of the characters are very likable, save Tommy. Sue is almost likable but I think being one of those girls, those popular girls, makes her immediately unlikable in a way. She is one of those people that everyone knows, has tons of friends but no one can tell you why. Carrie is not likable because she is so uncomfortable. Her whole life is just uncomfortable. Chis though…
Chris to me is actively awful. She is the kind of person that gets my back hairs up. King is wonderful at making these people. She is everything that should make her a good person but she is not. She has everything that she could want and wants none of it. She is popular, attractive, rich (her parents are but in high school that is the same thing) and instead of being a decent human being she uses it as a bludgeon. She knows that she is a terrible person, and cultivates it.
At the climax of this book, you just feel cold. That is not a bad thing, there are several great works that leave you feeling that way. It is the mental opposite of the warm fuzzies. In the end there is no one that you want to win. You just want to put it down and hope you have never hurt anyone for the sake of hurting them when you were too young and insecure to know better. It is one of those books that make you wonder about your own schools poor kid, or the one that carried a briefcase in third grade or whatever your outcast was like in school. What if you had made them your friend? Would a single friend, and not the last ditch Tommy Ross prom date kind of friend but an actual friend, have saved Carrie’s …
If you trace her problems, the sad simple answer is yes, probably. I have read bloggers, and writers that likened Carrie and Columbine. I think that they are wrong in that comparison, The Rage maybe but Carrie is not like Columbine. Carrie’s problems could have, potentially been solved by one friendly gesture early in the girls life. The first part of the book, the trauma (minor spoiler) the shower and the first menstrual period could have been avoided if Carrie had one female friend in her life. That girl would have told her about periods, we always end up talking about that for some reason, and when she would have begun bleeding she would have been more prepared. Probably relived actually, getting your period at 17 for the first time would be pretty worrisome. If she had had one girl friend to tell her that, no tampons are not for lipstick blotting, and one person she could tell about Mama, she would have been saner. We are social animals and the lack of a society of any normal type was ultimately the catalyst of this cataclysm.
I guess here is where I should say the most useless thing in the world, I like this book. Useless because , it has already made its author rich, it launched one of the most prolific book writing careers in recent history and has been made and remade and remade again. It spawned sequels (bad, awful terrible sequels) and Halloween costumes, a Broadway show and cultural jokes. But I do want to say that I like this book. I don’t love this book, I like it, but I have read it six or seven times. I think it changes as you change, from the person is looking a possible future ( read to 13 or so) to a present ( read at high school) to a look behind. At each point it gives you some new thing to look at, some new thing to feel.
I like this book because it is simply a book of horror. It is a story, about a girl with a terrifying power, just as the original book proclaimed. It is also about high school. About the want to be accepted. About the people that are accepted and those who are not and why. A book about everyone you know, and no one you could ever know. That is why, while it is a work of its time it manages to continue to enchant.