There are some authors whose work you can’t just sample and decide isn’t for you. I’ve struggled to get into King for most of my life and never finished one of his books. I got a Kindle copy of Misery on sale and finally decided that since I paid money for it, I’d better finish it.
Besides, maybe I’d love it. I’ve tackled difficult-to-get-into material and loved it, like Dracula and Lovecraft’s complete works.
When I got about four pages into Misery and hit the world’s most ridiculous and inappropriate rape metaphor, I immediately Googled ‘best Stephen King books.’ If it wasn’t on any lists, I was going to drop Misery and try something else, partially to dodge any future ‘you didn’t like it because it’s not one of the good ones’ suggestions.
Nope, Misery is beloved. It appeared in the top 5 of the first three lists to show up on my search.
With that in mind, I figured the book could be off to a rough start and decided I’d give it a chance.
I need to stop doing that.
At this point in my original version of this review, I gave a content and spoiler warning before I started diving into snippets from the book in order to defend my feelings about it. Mostly, I wanted to preemptively defend myself, but I don’t need to do that. It’s a big world, it’s full of books, and not everything is for everyone. Lots of people love Stephen King, and he seems like a lovely gentleman, and I don’t like his writing, but I wish him well.
I know that after the fact, King identified Annie as a personification of cocaine and his personal addiction. Even before I found out, it’s not like I had trouble identifying the ‘Annie as addiction’ metaphor, even if I wouldn’t have necessarily gone to cocaine specifically. I understand what he was doing, and that doesn’t mean I have to like it. As soon as King found a metaphor he liked, he beat it into glue in the hopes it could hold his plot together.
This book is repetitive, filled with a stunning contempt for women (not just Annie, but all women, everywhere, most especially the women who dared love the wrong books written by the main character. How dare all those bitches make him rich), and it’s got surprise racism of the kind I haven’t seen since I was reading Lovecraft. It lacks any subtlty, and the craft is extremely sloppy, trading on sloppy Hollywood psychology, literary serial killers, and wannabe grand guignol gore that clearly helped inspire modern creepypasta.
It also started at about a 9, so when the horror cranked up to 11, it didn’t have very far to go. It was wearing instead of horrifying, and sometimes funny instead of gross. Late in the book (page 306 of 338), the main character thinks this:
She looked honestly sorry; tears stood in her eyes. Paul thought that the occasional moments like this were the most ghastly of all, because in them he saw the woman she might have been if her upbringing had been right or the drugs squirted out by all the funny little glands inside her had been less wrong.
If only we, through the course of the book leading up to that point, had seen more of that side of Annie. Instead, we’re introduced to her as she saved Paul’s life, and he complains that receiving mouth-to-mouth from her is like being raped (specifically, like being a woman who is being raped). He’s angry because the woman who saved him isn’t fuckable (and identifies women as only having value if they are, after reducing women to nothing but appealing curves and ‘welcoming orifices,’ a turn of phrase that literally made me gag when I read it). The book is relentless about making Annie un-womanlike and unappealing and incapable of doing anything right, including complaining that she was a good cook, but all her food was bland and institutional, and that she could sing on tune, but tonelessly.
After finishing the book, I ended up watching the movie again. The movie filed off the rough edges from the book and made the wise decision to cut back on the ridiculous gore and completely eliminate the weird racism. Also, Kathy Bates managed to take a shallow depiction of evil and fill it with so much humanity that she created a far more compelling monster.
Maybe someday I’ll try King again. People are certainly eager to give me suggestions and demands regarding his books. In the meantime, it’s a big world filled with lots of books, and King’s definitely going to be fine without me.