Author: Stephen King
Published: 1974
Publisher: Doubleday
Audiobook Narrator: Sissy Spacek

After reading, and loving, Stephen King’s IT recently, I’ve decided I want to go back to the beginning of King’s bibliography, and see how far I can make it. Carrie is now officially the third Stephen King novel – fourth if you count his Bachman books, because I did read The Running Man – that I have completed, and it ranks right in the middle for me. Pet Sematary is now my third favorite King book, while IT sits at the top (and I doubt that will change any time soon). I am glad I went back to the beginning because it’s interesting to see how he started, with this tiny novel that has an audiobook clocking in under eight hours. King was making a living as a teacher at this point, and selling short fiction to adult magazines to help he and his wife make ends meet with their two children, and you can see how this fits a similar short story build. As the infamous story goes, his wife, Tabitha, found the first few pages of Carrie in the trash can. She pulled them out, read them, and encouraged King to keep going with it because she felt he had something worth finishing. The rest, as they say, is history, as King went on to sell this story to Doubleday, and pulled in his first major paycheck as a writer.

Carrie White is a 16-year-old outsider. Her mother, Margaret, is a fundamentalist psycho who uses Christianity to justify her insanity. The day we meet Carrie, she is experiencing her first period, and genuinely thinks she is bleeding to death because her mother never explained the natural female body to her daughter. A group of girls take advantage of this ignorance, and mock Carrie while she cries, crouched in the corner of the girl’s shower. This is just one of the events in Carrie’s life that takes her to the edge, and allows her to discover the “flex” she is able to perform in her mind that has very real effects on the world around her. Though her telekinetic powers are still pretty weak, she will work this like a muscle until she is able to control it however she wants.

I’ve seen both of the film adaptations of Carrie, and have to admit that I am not a fan of either. I’ve seen the original a handful of times, so that is the one that was running through my head throughout most of this reading. That said, the book is much better than either of the films. The story of Carrie is rather simple, and there isn’t a hell of a lot of that happens here. We are introduced to our main players, the period incident described above occurs, and then it’s determined that one of the most popular boys in school, Tommy Ross, will ask Carrie to the Prom. I won’t spoil the rest, but I’m guessing everyone knows the result of that invitation at this point. What sets the novel apart from the films is the way that King jumps back and forth between the present, and the future via excerpts from novels written about that infamous Black Prom Night. Frankly, the present-day story could work as a novella, but these excerpts – the flash-forwards, if you will – add enough to the story to give it the length it needed to become King’s first published novel.

The world-building of IT is clearly not present here, but given the length of this one, that isn’t unexpected. Still, King does a nice job of creating this world of Chamberlain, Maine. Specifically, the characters of Chamberlain really drive this story forward. Tommy, the boy who escorts Carrie to the Prom, is a really well-written, multi-dimensional character that breaks every stereotype thrown his way. Chris and Billy, our story’s antagonists, have an intriguing as hell relationship as well. Chris is the typical snob that gets whatever she wants thanks to daddy’s money and power as a successful lawyer, while Billy is poorer, and greasier. It’s a real Romeo and Juliet situation. Here, though, Billy treats Chris like shit, which drives her even closer to him. It’s King’s take on an a physically and mentally abusive relationship, but it isn’t explored far enough to really get anything out of it. Still, though, it was an interesting addition to the novel.

Sissy Spacek narrates the audiobook version on Carrie that I completed. The last time I heard Sissy, she was narrating one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read, To Kill a Mockingbird. Though this story is significantly different, Spacek’s natural southern drawl works here, even though we are in Maine. She talks slowly and deliberately, and I just love her narration work. The fact that Spacek played the original Carrie in the 1976 film is an added bonus. It really helps with her performance of the titular character since she has already fully embodied this role during her lifetime. She puts on an excellent performance here, and I just can’t imagine her delivering a bad narration.

Carrie is short, bloody as hell, and works better on the page than it does on the screen. Though it is nowhere near as powerful and moving as some of King’s longer work, it’s fascinating to see where he began his journey into novels after finding some success as a short story writer. It’s clear that King added to this story to make it fit that novel length – something he admits in On Writing – but it doesn’t feel tacked on at all. These additional excerpts from fictional texts do a lot to add context and character to the story, and I really believe these are the main reason this story works better in novel form than on the big screen. If you are a fan of the films, though, there is no reason you wouldn’t enjoy the novel if you haven’t read it already.