Thursday, 14 January 2010

Review: Misery (Stephen King)

I can't say I'm much of a Stephen King fan. I may have read bits and pieces when I was a kid, but in adulthood I have read a novella, a novel and the first few chapters of one other novel.

The novella was The Body, part of the collection Different Seasons. It was famously made into the beautifully crafted 1986 movie Stand by Me, directed by Rob Reiner. Much of the book made it almost word-for-word into the screenplay. It certainly has some very readable, funny dialogue. But the book was just "okay."

Then I began The Shining. (I recently moved, and shelves of Stephen King paperbacks are all I've had to hand.) Frankly, it was a bore, and King's dialogue for a five-year-old was embarrassingly unconvincing (even for a five-year-old with psychic gifts).

Misery was a compulsive, exciting read, however.

It is easy to find flaws in King's writing, and they can get annoying at times. For example, he picks up a metaphor and uses it to death. In the first part of Misery he latches onto the metaphor of a tide washing over a wooden post, and all of a sudden it's everywhere, branching out into all kinds of sub-metaphors. He doesn't seem to know when to lay it to rest.

The excerpts from the central character's novel are pretty badly written, too - but apparently it turns out to be his finest novel ever. (The exception is the penultimate sequence with the bees, but I shan't be more specific and give anything away.)

However, Misery is such a tense, involving thriller, I could easily forgive these glitches. King writes truly riveting suspense sequences that leave the reader breathlessly anxious to read on. Several times I was feverishly flipping from one page to the next, uttering, "Oh shit!" under my breath as revelations were made and the plot twisted.

This is quite a remarkable feat for a story whose action mainly takes place between two people in a single setting - a setting I gained a remarkable sense for.

I look forward immensely to watching the film this evening. Although I've never seen it, it's familiar enough to me that I couldn't read the book without picturing the iconic Kathy Bates in the role of Annie Wilkes, a character King writes strikingly.


  1. Dave,

    I used to really like King's books, but as I have aged, so has my intolerance for him running on and on.

    I thought the Green Mile was a pretty good screen adaptation and stayed pretty true to the book.

    One that did not, though (IMO), was the television mini-series The Stand. The book was very good (probably my favorite King book) but making it into a mini-series was a bad idea.

    Glad to see you're still pounding away at the keyboard.

  2. Aw, Dan, it was so nice to see your name in my inbox. Hope you are keeping well.

    I've heard The Stand is a great book. I think King's non-horror stories have consistently made the best films. Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, Hearts in Atlantis (non-horror to an extent, at least).

  3. I have read The Stand at least twice, even though it is probably his biggest book, which is saying a lot. I know I'll read it again it is that good, but I'm also wierd like that.

    I did like the movies Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption (Morgan Freeman is one of my favorites) but have not read any of these 3 books. Anf I agree about his horror flicks not being such good movies (though The Mist is pretty good). Our own imaginations are much better at scaring us than a movie ever could.

    To tell you the truth, I have not done much reading lately, though I do have some catching up to do. I finally finished (at 47) my BS in Business Admin and will be going for my Masters (MBA) starting next year. As you well know, that takes up a lot of time. All the "grief" I got on XN about being ignorant (and I readily admit that in most cases it was true) helped push me to finally finish that first step.

    I am also a proud Grandpa (3 girls - including identical twins) and will (gladly) celebrate my 23rd wedding anniversary next month (obviously, my last e-mail to you 5 years ago did not come to pass). They are all living with us so there are 7 people living in my house. That also takes a lot of my time.

    I also wanted to let you know that Boris Karloff's real surname was Pratt, but it didn't sound "scary" enough, so he changed it. More Pratt trivia! You know us fools!

    I am glad to see you're writing has continued. I went through everything I could find here and on Google to see what you've been up to these last 5 years. You've been busy and sounds like you've come to a point in your life where you're happy and comfortable with yourself. I am extremely happy for you and wish you nothing but the best.

    I have posted my e-mail this time so you can contact me anytime. I'd like to see more posts. Come on! Write!