Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King (podcast)


Coming of age has always been confusing, but never so very bloody!

Phenomenal. King’s debut novel hit the stands hard and quickly established him as a heavy hitter. The story of Carrie White is near pitch perfect. The author’s character development is so excellent it rejuvenates my passion in reading.

The protagonist’s struggle is set in common typical high school woes (feeling awkward and unaccepted). Yet, Carrie’s plight is compounded by her religiously fanatic mother. As a result, this young girl cannot feel accepted at school or home—her only two worlds. She’s the ultimate outcast. This loathsome condition changes when a third-world opens up to her after a now infamous and horrific menstruation scene. Carrie finally becomes aware that there is a side to her that is very different from everyone else: Carrie is telekinetic. This could serve to further drive a wedge between poor Carrie and everyone else; however, it also adds a new dimension to her life and provides temporary reprieve from the crushing isolation she has been undergoing.

The novel is written with a mix of point-of-view accounts from different characters, as well as epistolary entries from characters and other outside references. That was actually one of the parts about the book that I didn’t like (the book excerpts and letter extracts). Nothing wrong with that per se, it just felt a bit clunky. I’m not well-read in the Stephen King universe, but the author seems to get away from this device in what later works I’ve read. That is where I felt the “newness” of the book and the “debut” aspect. Perhaps this helped drive the book forward in a quick fashion while also giving the reader a chance to digest the heaviness of what was happening? I can also admit that adding the epistolary entries gave breath to the story, established world building, and provided believability—however I still could have done without it.

There are some things created in this book that show up in later works by King. Carrie’s religiously fanatic mother reminded me of Mother Carmody from “The Mist” (another great story). Telekinesis seems to have been a fascination of King for some time (reminding me of Fire Starter (which I’ve read) and maybe “The Shining” – which I’ve never read). Interesting, to see these ideas in one of their early incarnations.

The secondary characters of this book, the other teenagers, and the school staff are all very fleshed out. King’s characters are mostly thoughtful and he develops sympathy for most (save maybe Billy Nolan)—their motivations, and even how they question their own motivations. Lots of depth. The author avoids flat caricatures, and provides rally points in between the plummeting horror’s of teenage depravity and selfishness. The reaction of the school staff to what’s going on was particularly heartening, by not making them part of the horror show against Carrie.

That’s another thing, the focus is on Carrie—she’s not fighting against some awful nemesis. Even the antagonist has a weak vendetta going that is more about circumstances. All this adds to the tragedy. Everyone’s tragedy. They are all flawed (save Billy Nolan—he’s just a prick).

King’s character of “Carrie” is done with a masterful hand. I can’t stress this enough. There is a “revenge” aspect of this story that is both satisfying and horrible at the same time. Carrie is the embodiment of tragedy. Her triumph is riddled with concessions of unjustifiable horror. The collateral damage undeniable. Innocents are taken down in the final battle as well as the guilty. There is also the question of the punishment fitting the crime. In the end, it would normally be hard to sympathize with the protagonist when her revenge quest goes so over the top. And yet, we do sympathize with her. Not just for being bullied at school or at home, but because she just wants to have her chance at living.

To me, the book should have ended at Part Two and eliminated the final part which I felt as supplementary and unnecessary—almost like trying to tack on a happy ending or last jump-scare for the reader (sort of ambiguous). The last passage of Carrie’s thoughts are so disheartening and yet so real. King really makes you feel Carrie’s struggle. Truly. It’s perfect.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: "No Deodorant In Outer Space". The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: