Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Week of "Misery," Day 3

Welcome back for the third day of my look at Misery.

It's gonna be a brief one today, 'cause friends and neighbors, time is shawt, lawdy, lawdy.

One of the central images of the novel -- it appears on page 3, which is the first page with any actual prose on it -- is one of a piling jutting out of the surf:

"As time passed, [Paul] became aware that there were periods of nonpain, and that these had a cyclic quality.  And for the first time since emerging from the total blackness which had prologued the haze, he had a thought which existed apart from whatever his current situation was.  This thought was of a broken-off piling which had jutted from the sand at Revere Beach.  His mother and father had taken him to Revere Beach often when he was a kid, and he had always insisted that they spread their blanket where he could keep an eye on that piling, which looked to him like the single jutting fang of a buried monster.  He liked to sit and watch the water come up until it covered the piling.  Then, hours later, after the sandwiches and potato salad had been eaten, after the last few drops of Kool-Aid had been coaxed from his father's big Thermos, just before his mother said it w3as time to pack up and start home, the top of the rotted piling would begin to show again -- just a peek and flash between the incoming waves at first, then more and more.  By the time their trash was stashed in the big drum with KEEP YOUR BEACH CLEAN stencilled on the side, Paulie's beach-toys picked up" [...] "and the blanket folded again, the piling had almost wholly reappeared, its blackish, slime-smoothed sides surrounded by sudsy scuds of foam.  It was the tide, his father had tried to explain, but he had always known it was the piling.  The tide came and went; the piling stayed.  It was just that sometimes you couldn't see it.  Without the piling, there was no tide."  (p. 3-4)

The piling and the tide will quickly come to represent, respectively, Paul's painful injuries and the drugs Annie gives him to manage that pain.  More pointedly, they will come to represent Paul's addiction and the satisfaction of it by the Novril he is taking.  These images are used extensively at the beginning of the novel, and gradually fade away as the novel progresses, but they do a fantastic job of establishing Paul's status as an addict.  He is not, perhaps, an addict of his own making -- after all, having shattered legs seems like a damn good reason to get hopped up on every drug known to man -- but is, nevertheless, an addict.  As the novel goes on, though, we learn that while Paul may not have been an addict before meeting Annie Wilkes, he certainly had addict-like behavior patterns, and being trapped in a secluded farmhouse may actually be proving to be an odd sort of rehabilitation.  His writing, for example, seems to be coming easier and better than ever:

"Part of the reason was that he was living an amazingly straight life.  No long, muddled nights spent bar-hopping, followed by long, muddled days spent drinking coffee and orange juice and gobbling vitamin-B tablets (days when if his glance so much as happened upon his typewriter, he would turn away, shuddering).  No more waking up next to a big blonde or redhead he had picked up somewhere the night before -- a lass who usually looked like a queen at midnight and a goblin at ten in the morning.  No more cigarettes.  He had once asked [Annie] for them in a timid and tentative voice, and she had given him a look of such utter darkness that he had told her at once to forget it.  He was Mr. Clean.  No bad habits (except for his codeine jones, of course, still haven't done anything about that, have we, Paul?), no distractions."  (p. 151)

I wrote yesterday -- more through suggestion than in actual fact, but be that as it may -- about the curious dynamic in which Paul and Annie are each both captive and captor in the story, sometimes simultaneously.  In the same way, Annie represents both Paul's bad behaviors and his rehabilitation from those behaviors.  It's a rather fascinating set of symbolisms, and one leads to the other which leads right back to the first again, repeat ad infinitum.  I think this is a large part of why Misery -- and this is true of the movie as well as of the novel -- has remained as vital as it has done.

The piling/tide symbolism is one of the most important, but there are other examples of symbolism that I want to talk about for a just a bit now: the types of mental symbologies that Paul occasionally thinks and imagines in during the course of the book.

Paul's imagination is constantly active during the novel, and his thinking frequently becomes playful in odd sorts of ways.  For example, while he is abandoned by Annie for a stretch of several days, he finds himself in the situation of simultaneously suffering drug withdrawals, thirst, and extreme hunger; it's a dire situation, but Paul grimly imagines it as a horse race between King of Pain, I Got the Hungries, and Pretty Thirsty ... thoroughbreds all.

At various other times, he also creates mental memes for himself involving: Ducky Daddles; a gunslinging typewriter; thoughts of himself as Scheherazade; sportscasters commentating on his ability to return to the relative safety of his room before Annie arrives home and discovers him out; his storytelling ability being cast in terms of a furnace stoked by workers in a steamshop (somewhat prefiguring the roadcrew in "Stationary Bike"); and the state policemen as being David and Goliath.

Also, once the captivity has ended, Paul's mind continues to conjure vivid images of Annie herself: King pulls  fake-out in which Annie, apparently still alive, chops Paul to bits inside his apartment.  But we quickly discover that this is just Paul's imagination, and while there is relief in the realization, it's a grim relief, because it is evident that for Paul, Annie will never really be dead.  His imagination is simply too powerful.  He's used that imagination at random points throughout the novel to, almost like Frank Black from Millennium, enter into a sort of empathetic fugue in which he extrapolates how Annie will think and behave.  This is a large part what of keeps him alive; his instincts aren't strong enough to avoid losing several parts of himself, but they do keep him from being murdered.

I'm interested by all of this, but I'm perhaps most interested by the fact that Paul's extrapolative abilities and knack for imaginative planning and for colorful mental gymnastics seem to share a lot in common with Annie's own psychoses.  We get at least one prime example of Annie's own creatively cunning nature, when she details for Paul her plan for covering up her murder of the policeman.  Paul marvels at her ingenuity, and it is clear as can be that without being enormously gifted in this regard, Annie -- who is, after all, a serial killer -- would never have been able to evade detection for all those years.  Annie's creativity has gone to work in dark ways, as an aid to her murderousness; Paul's has gone to work in aid of creating imaginary people and situations.  But are the impulses really all that different?

That's for us to decide, I suppose.

I'll be back with more on Misery soon, although it's looking like my Week of Misery may actually take eight or nine days.  Hard to find the time this week, it seems, and I'm fairly certain I didn't do right by my topic today.  But tomorrow, as they say, is another day.

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