Carrie, the tragic story of Carrie White and the destruction of Chamberlain, Maine, is Stephen King’s first novel. Having read some of his others before Carrie, it’s pretty clear he was something of a rookie when writing this—but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. In fact, I think it might even make it MORE worthwhile, if only because you can see the way his writing developed over time. And it was clear from the very beginning that he knew what he was doing, even though he initially threw the first few pages of Carrie out. Lucky for us, his wife fished them out of the trash and made him continue writing!
Carrie White is a familiar figure to all of us: the perpetually teased outcast, the one who has never fit in and never will. Carrie’s particular brand of “strangeness” comes mostly from a fundamentally religious mother, who often banishes Carrie to a closet chapel to pray. Unable to relate to other kids her age, Carrie suffers through a miserable existence at Thomas Ewen High School.
The opening scene of Carrie perhaps shows us better than any other what kind of stress Carrie White is under. Showering with other girls after the gym period, Carrie gets her period for the first time. The other girls, not realizing it’s her first time nor that she has no idea what menstruation is, yell at her to “plug it up” and throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her. Finally, when Carrie makes it clear she believes she’s bleeding to death, the other girls stand in shocked silence as the gym teacher, Ms. Desjardin, finally comes to her aid—at which point, seemingly innocently, a lightbulb in the locker room burns out.
After the incident, Carrie begins to realize that she caused the lightbulb to burn out by flexing something in her mind. She’s not entirely sure what it is at first, but begins working on it at home, first lifting a hairbrush off her dresser and then eventually lifting her own bed, just with the power of her mind. Meanwhile, Chris Hargensen, the main perpetrator of the locker room incident, has lost her senior prom privileges but is plotting a revenge that will spark Carrie’s personal destruction—and, though Chris doesn’t know it, the destruction of the entire town.
One of the biggest things that keeps me glued to Carrie every time I read it is that there are so many places where things could go right, but instead they go horribly awry. Just when you think it can’t get worse…it does. And it keeps getting worse.
It’s also written in a very interesting format, one that I happen to like quite a bit: the normal novel narration is infused with excerpts from newspaper and journal articles, memoirs, and other documents. It gives a much wider variety of viewpoints than a traditional novel would, and I think it rounds things out very well. Rather often I find myself wondering what a story would be like from other points of view, and in Carrie, Stephen King is really good at filling those holes. (That’s not to say this would work for every novel ever, because sometimes having only one viewpoint is necessary to the story, but it works very well here.)
Even after Carrie made him famous, Stephen King still isn’t really her biggest fan. He has said that he never really liked Carrie as a character, and that the book itself is “a young book like a young writer,” not unlike “a cookie baked by a first grader—tasty enough, but kind of lumpy and burned on the bottom.” Despite Carrie’s shortcomings, however, I’m grateful to her for launching my favorite author to the limelight he deserves.