Updated: Dec 28, 2019
“Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions. It's what you say when you spill a cup of coffee or throw a gutter ball when you're bowling with the girls in the league. True sorrow is as rare as true love.”
I read Carrie a long, long time ago, when I was maybe 18 or 19 years old. I remember liking it, but that was the extent of my feelings toward the novel. It simply didn't stick with me and I didn't really think about it again until last summer when I took a copy of it with me on a family vacation to Florida, where I intended to re-read it. Well, a week long vacation with three kids meant there was very little reading to be done, and it went back on my bookshelf when we returned home.
I considered putting the novel on my Halloween TBR list for October, but instead, for some reason this week I felt the urge to pick it up and give it a go. I began to read Carrie on Wednesday and found it difficult to put down. I finished it last night and had to take some time to put my thoughts in order for a review.
Carrie White is not like other girls her age. Raised by a fanatically religious mother (who believes breasts and menstruation are punishments from God for sinning), Carrie is ostracized at school, but still yearns for acceptance. Oh, and she also has the power of telekinesis which happens to trigger when she is experiencing extreme stress. Carrie is well aware of her power, occasionally using it to rein her spiraling mother back from the edge.
After she gets her first period at school, she's bullied and taunted by a group of popular girls who throw sanitary napkins and tampons at her, yelling at Carrie to "plug it up". The gym teacher, Miss Desjardin, punishes the girls by giving them a week's detention and threatens to ban them from the prom if they don't show up. One of the girls, Sue Snell, feels remorse for her role in the locker room incident, and wants to help Carrie. She asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to ask Carrie to the dance, hoping that might bring Carrie out of her shell. Another girl, Chris Hargensen, refuses to take part in the detention and threatens to get her father, a high profile lawyer, involved if they try to keep her from the prom. When things don't work out in her favor, Chris vows revenge on Carrie and thus begins the spark that will eventually ignite the entire town of Chamberlain in flames.
I have to say, I appreciate this novel a heck of a lot more now as an adult than I did when I first read it. The way it's formatted, with the news articles and interviews interwoven into the story, keeps the momentum pushing forward and effectively builds the tension. King does a fantastic job with the teenagers while not making them feel cliche or one dimensional. He gives us Sue, someone who wants to be a good person and has a moral compass, and yet can't help but feel revulsion towards Carrie, something she can acknowledge. Tommy, who breaks out of the "dumb jock" mold and proves even the popular, handsome boys can be kind. And in Chris and Billy, we see an incredibly toxic relationship that probably would have ended violently anyway, even if Carrie hadn't gotten her revenge on them.
So often we see in King's stories, with teens and kids as the protagonists, that the adults are the real monsters, and for me, this remains true in Carrie. Margaret White is terrifying. It's not just the crazy, religious ranting, the belief that women are essentially forever punished by God for simply being women, but it's her disturbed notion that her own daughter is touched by the Devil, the knowledge that Margaret had tried to kill Carrie before, even as a baby. How Carrie didn't lock her door every single night in terror is beyond me. For me, Margaret White is right up there with Annie Wilkes in terms of King's most psychotic villains. And even then, she has some depth that makes her feel so eerily real.
Carrie's destruction of Chamberlain was some of the most intense horror I have read in a long time. Even more terrifying is how relevant this book feels today in terms of bullying and the cruelty of children and teenagers. Adding in technology and social media, it feels worse now than it did when I was in high school. Maybe TK is not a real thing, but let Carrie be a lesson of what can happen if you push someone too far. Carrie White deserved better. Better parents, better friends, better adults in her life to recognize her pain and help.
What a captivating and horrifying debut novel from King. I'm now of the mind that it is still one of his best.