October is all about the spooky for me, and King is my preferred supplier. I’ve read roughly a third of his body of work and, while I’ve enjoyed all of them for the most part, most of them have been suitably creepy without actually scaring me. Exceptions to this have been Revival and IT the first time I tried to read it. I can now add Misery to that list. This book legitimately gave me nightmares while I was reading, because, though not probable, every event in the book is actually possible.
For the majority of the book there are only two characters present: Paul Sheldon, severely injured writer extraordinaire; and Annie Wilkes, former nurse and Paul’s number one fan. When Paul has a terrible car accident while driving through a snow storm, he is discovered and rescued by Annie, his aforementioned biggest fan. Instead of taking him to a hospital like any normal person would, she brings him home with her and becomes his caretaker. Over the course of the novel Paul grows to dearly wish that he had died on impact. As these two characters comprised the bulk of the narrative, I’m going to spend a bit of time breaking them down.
Let’s talk baddies first. Annie Wilkes is perhaps the most terrifying villain King ever penned, and there’s nothing supernatural about her. Which just makes her all the more terrifying. King’s description of her as unnaturally solid, with no room for blood vessels and organs, like an idol from some ancient civilization, was incredibly disturbing. I’m of the firm belief that, should Annie Wilkes and Pennywise meet in some back alley, the sometimes clown would flee in mindless terror. I known I was petrified of her. She is a deeply disturbed woman and every artist is terrified of picking up such a fan over the course of their profession. And yet she was sometimes difficult for me to read, not because she was disturbing so much as the fact that her manner of speaking when enraged made me groan and roll my eyes. Which is the only reason this book wasn’t a 4.5 star read.
I think that Paul Sheldon is the personification of some of King’s deepest, darkest fears. Every artist is afraid of getting trapped by their own creation, sentenced to recreating the same popular story or song over and over and over again instead of being given the freedom to craft something new. And every artist is afraid of the critics, of being relegated to the popular fiction corner where pedestrian fluff resides instead of being respected for their work. Paul Sheldon is an incredibly popular author who has just killed off his cash cow, so to speak, in hopes of writing something with a little more class and finally being taken seriously. Over the course of literary history this has happened time and again, the most famous example being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s decision to kill off Sherlock Holmes. After the immense public outcry he felt forced to resurrect the character, finding himself once again boxed into writing stories about a character he had come to despise. Sheldon totally feels Doyle’s pain, and though the fury he faces is on a much smaller scale, it’s also deadlier.
Something that King kept repeating through Sheldon’s character was the knowledge that he wrote stories first and foremost for himself, as do all authors. While the plot itself was incredibly compelling and disturbing, what I loved the most about this book was the raw honesty about himself that King allowed to shine through his protagonist. What he has to say about writing and being an author resounded with truth. I found these passages impactful and moving, which I honestly wasn’t expecting from this book. King has this openness in his writing that I really respect, and the way he lets himself shine through and be known even in his most disturbing fiction feels like a gift to his readership.
“Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.
Art consists of the persistence of memory.”
I didn’t expect this particular King book to become one of my favorites from him. But here we are. Misery is incredibly scary, far scarier than King’s more supernatural works. And the things this book had to say about writing and what makes a good story and the dangers of becoming or attracting radical fans are thoughts that will be staying with me for a while. If I ever manage to become a famous writer or musician, I know that the words “I’m your number one fan” will fill me with dread and make some part of me want to run away screaming. Anonymity seems so much safer.
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