More a tragedy than a horror, Carrie tells the story of a bullied and ostracised high school student whose torrid torment in school is surpassed only by her mother’s uniquely extreme religious fanaticism at home. Almost from the start, we know Carrie has some unusual powers, albeit underdeveloped, but by the end of the story, her phenomenal telekinetic and telepathic powers are subject to intense media coverage and academic scrutiny for the very worst of reasons.
Carrie was published 43 years ago, and not only have there have been at least two mainstream film adaptations and a musical since then, but the book cover itself contains plot hints, so before you cry foul about spoilers, know that Carrie isn’t about what Carrie does, so much as *why*; what forces her over the edge.
Foreshadowing is early and eager; from the immediate construction of the plot arch in that infamous first chapter, the signs of Carrie’s power, and the eventual extent of their use is hinted at. This is to the story’s credit; without the teasing and tantalising, the audience might be fooled into thinking that Carrie is the villain of the piece, rather than an extremely ambiguous anti-hero. The use of excerpts from court transcripts, AP tickers, books, and other retrospective publications written about ‘Prom Night’, serves to remind the audience again and again that the story is not going to end well, and that we much read on to discover why, and indeed how bad that end is going to be.
What sets Carrie aside from so many other high school novels is the departure from well-trodden narrative tropes and overused character archetypes inherent. Although we can see some of the usual battery of high school characters in place – jocks, popular kids, plastics, nerds, and outcasts – the individual characters are cleverly elevated to something more than their archetype. For example, Tommy Ross, the popular jock who, despite the poor history of his stereotype, is also a high achiever and, to quote one incredulous report repeated in the story, a ‘socially conscious young man‘. Chris Hargensen, for all that she resembles Regina George of Mean Girls, doesn’t so much alter her stereotype as embrace and intensify it, specifically her cunning, willfully abusive relationship with Billy Nolan, and her pursuit of popularity – and subsequently vengeance – at all costs.
Also, (super spoilers) everybody dies, and that’s gutsy. I can’t stress this enough; the level of destruction and death is terrifying to contemplate, and it’s to King’s credit that he actually went through with killing 450 people, many of whom were high school students, and burning down a town, rather than losing his nerve and ‘saving’ Carrie at the last minute.
While I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite King novel, it’s definitely up there.