Monday, February 14, 2011

A Week of "Misery," Day 1

Having stayed up until the gruesome hour of 5:17 this morning finishing up my reread of Misery, I am now setting myself a semi-daunting task: to write something coherent about this fine, rich novel once each day for a week.  If it doesn't happen, don't blame the novel: it'll be nobody's fault but mine.

More follows this picture, which makes all sane people chuckle.

Did you chuckle?

I can tell you one thing for sure, ole Annie Wilkes, she wouldn't have chuckled, and I'm not entirely sure ole Paul Sheldon would have, either, by novel's end.  Ole Paul's chuckling days are probably behind him at that point.

Speaking of crazy, one thing I ought to report, for the benefit of those of you keeping score at home, is that I ultimately did not read the entirety of the novel aloud to myself.  I stated my intention to do so in an earlier post, and I steamrolled through about seventy pages of it that way.  At a certain point, however, I wearied of it.  I think it's because I suck at doing character voices.  Narrating is acting of a sort, after all; I just don't have the slightest amount of acting ability, and that lack was doing the novel no favors.

Where to begin with Misery?  It's a great novel, one of the darkest and scariest -- one of the oogiest -- King has ever written, and it's entirely free of supernatural and fantastical elements.  About the closest it gets to having anything otherworldly comes when Annie mentions the Overlook Hotel.  There is also a mention of a Mrs. Kaspbrak, and that may tie this novel in very loosely with It (which would make sense -- The Shining has tie-ins with It).

For all practical purposes, though, Misery is a story of utterly human horror, and while there is a certain amount of coincidence that you have to swallow in order for the story to be effective (what, exactly, are the odds that Paul would crash in the vicinity of a crazed fan?), the vast majority of the novel is a nightmare of extremely believable proportions.

I still vividly recall the first time I read Misery; or, at least, I vividly recall the first time I read the chapter in which Paul's foot gets cut off.  It was either fall of 1989 or spring of 1990; I was in the tenth grade, in a social studies class, killing time by reading the novel after finishing an exam.  I don't remember specifically what -- it was probably the description of Paul trying to pull his foot away and succeeding only in further separating the leg from the foot -- but something in that scene caused me to make an audible sound of disgust.  Involuntary; unavoidable.  The teacher shushed me, a few people tittered, and we all went on about our days, me with a new mental image to try and avoid.

Same thing happened later in the week in a different class when Annie turned her lawnmower into a copmower.

I can also remember the dread with which I went to see the movie when it came out.  My father wanted to see it, probably just because he liked James Caan in The Godfather, and he knew I'd read the novel, so he took me along.  I was still holding onto my childhood fear of scary movies, and this was one of the first I'd ever seen in a theatre, so the irrationally-fearful side of me was hard at battle with the Stephen-King-fan side of me.  I was prepared in advance to take a long, grim look at whatever was in the vicinity of my own feet rather than look at the screen when Annie cut Paul's foot off; she only broke his ankles in the movie, of course, but I nevertheless spent a few minutes intently assessing the cleanliness of that theatre's floor.  

By the by, in case you're wondering why someone so afeared of scary movies was reading Misery in the first place, here's what I have to say to you: that's an excellent question which has an admittedly less excellent answer.  Unfortunately for you, I don't feel like providing that answer at this particular point in time.  Tune in later; next week, maybe.

I was struck by a number of things recently while rereading the novel, and one of them is that the horror of the amputation scene -- scenes; I'd forgotten the thumbectomy altogether -- remains undiminished.  The lawnmower scene, on the other hand, struck me as being just a wee bit cartoonish.  It's a bit like a scene in a Toxic Avenger movie.  Only a bit; there's nothing in it that strains credulity, or rings false.  It's just ... well, running over a guy's head with a lawnmower is, pardon the pun, over the top, no matter how believable.  Sure, it's probably happened at some point, somewhere in the world; might be happening right this very instant, for all I know.  But it seems like something Lloyd Kaufman would do to a cantaloupe, and I can't entirely dismiss that feeling.

I'm also struck by how well the novel holds up to my memory of it.  There's no way to recapture that innocence that caused me to give actual voice to my surprised disgust way back there in the tenth grade.  On the other hand, there's no way for that fifteen-year-old version of me to understand the co-dependency that Paul feels for Annie, and for Misery herself, too.  That's not to say that I understand it entirely now, because I don't; but I certainly understand it better.

Many people read a book once and never return to it, and that's a stance on entertainment that I wouldn't criticize, because hey, that's you and what you do is what you do.  Me, though ... I find a lot of value in returning to the entertainments that I most love.  It's a little bit like Wooderson's philosophy of gender relations in Dazed and Confused: "I get older," he says; "they stay the same age."

Well, that's creepy and off-putting, even if it does come from Matthew McConaughey in salmon-colored jeans, but there's some truth in it we can use.  We get older, and while books -- The Stand and The Gunslinger excepted -- stay the same, our perceptions of them change all the time.  Mine do, at least.  In many ways, I'm not the same person who read Misery in a social studies class as the eighties were ending; I can never be him again.  However, when I reread Misery, I can commune with him just a bit, and let him commune with me.  I find that we've still got a lot to say to each other.

It's not exactly a TARDIS, but it's better than nothing.  Also, this way: no Davros.

More tomorrow, probably a look at how King uses the notion of Africa as a theme in Misery.


  1. when I was about 15 I had to read Don Quixote and I hated it, but a couple of years later I reread the introduction informing me that this is the way it should be. further more it told me to reread the book at 30 and 50. in so I completely agree with the sentiment that while the book stays the same our impressions will not

  2. I've never read "Don Quixote" -- I need to check that one off the list at some point.

    As I've started to really, truly be aware of the fact -- the inescapable, but frequently ignorable FACT -- that I am not staying the same age but am instead continually getting older, I've found that I'm somewhat gathering all my favorite entertainments around me and beginning to value them more and more, and to want to focus more time and energy upon them.

    I think this started in earnest a few years ago when I decided it was time to revisit "Star Trek" and its various spinoffs after years and years away from them. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did they hold up, but they actually had resonances that I'd never picked up on before. That was a fun bunch of months, cramming episode after episode of Trek and then Next Gen and then DS9 and then Voyager ... I don't know if I'll ever do it again in so concentrated an amount of time, but I know for a fact that I'll revisit all of those shows again. (Which reminds me: I still need to finish "Enterprise"!)

    Similarly, I'm sort of devoted now to the idea of reading a Stephen King book at least once a month from now until ... well, until I bite the dust (no time soon, presumably), or until I get tired of doing it, whichever comes first...

    and watching all the James Bond movies in the year or so before each new one comes out...

    and rewatching "The Wizard of Oz" every Thanksgiving...

    and running through all my John Williams CDs once a year...

    and rewatching all of Alfred Hitchcock's movies every few years...

    and so forth. I don't think this is old-man syndrome kicking in early, because I'm still more than happy to explore culture as it's actually happening, and not restrict myself to my own dusty shelves. And I don't think it's any sort of OCD setting in; no, I think I'm slowly refining my view of the world, and the prism through which I do so is by self-examination fallig under the guise of re-exploring my past.

    I think we all do that, though; I'm just interested in writing about it a bit.