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Misery

by Stephen King

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11,821167369 (3.96)244
Paul Sheldon, author of a series of historical romances, wakes up in a secluded farmhouse in Colorado with broken legs and Annie Wilkes, a disappointed and deranged fan, hovering over him with drugs, ax, and blowtorch and demanding he bring his fictional heroine back to life.
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Showing 1-5 of 154 (next | show all)
This is wonderfully claustrophobic, with most of the book spent confined to one room. ( )
  Tara_Calaby | Jun 22, 2020 |
This is a fantastic example of what Stephen King does best. It is terrifying, but not in a jump scare way, and I had no idea how it was going to end. There were some parts my eyes glossed over (like the excerpts of Paul's writing), and there's definitely some graphic scenes, but overall I was riveted. I've read a lot of Stephen King, and I have to say that MISERY is a new favorite. ( )
  bookishtexpat | May 21, 2020 |
Happy the movie spared us the blowtorch scene. whew ( )
  NAgis | May 6, 2020 |
Jesus christ ( )
  hatingongodot | May 3, 2020 |
"Good Christ." (pg. 358)

I've long grappled with the question of the worth of Stephen King, and those usual conflicts – is it story, or junk? Is a Big Mac meat? Does it have protein like they say? – returned in Misery. I should have enjoyed the book more, because my usual misgivings about King were not present. His usually gamey prose was sharper, he did not go into his usual random 'hey, buddy' digressions which a less successful writer would have cut by an editor, and he stayed away from the dorkier supernaturalisms that he often writes. Don't get me wrong, Misery still feels like Stephen King (the first line is 'umber whunnnn yerrrnnn umber whunnnn fayunnnn') but it's a sharper, focused King – the born storyteller, delivering a psychological thriller with two main characters who come alive. So why did I begin to feel unhappy, a bit queasy?

To those who have read the book, it might seem obvious why I would become 'queasy'. Without giving away any spoilers, the book takes a turn, at a crucial point, away from its compelling psychological suspense and into hyperviolence and the cheaper, pulpier vein of horror. I like to think I have a strong stomach for depravity in fiction, even if it's not my thing, so I was a bit surprised that I began to feel more negatively about the book at this point. The shift in events made sense for the story. It was all well-written (although I felt the ending was weak). There is, bracingly, never anywhere to hide when King's at the wheel. So why the unhappiness?

I think it's because the sour, sullen feeling gets to the root of why I have this immovable love-hate (or, more accurately, like-hate) relationship with King's books. Until this crucial moment in Misery, the bottle-episode, character-driven, slightly metatextual masterclass in suspense writing was almost rising above itself. It felt Hitchcockian, like Rear Window. It almost – as strange as it is to say for King – felt classy.

The book has, in Annie Wilkes, a truly vivid villain; one of the best I've read. "Not all her gear was stowed right; lots of it was rolling around in the holds" (pg. 33), and you can really feel the tension, the danger of her. Consequently, you focus on every eye twitch, every shift in tone as she speaks, just like her captive Paul does. Similarly, Paul, the writer imprisoned by his 'number one fan', is brought to life by King; it's obviously harder to do than the depraved Annie, but King captures not only the sadism of writing and writer's block (the typewriter "grinned resplendently at him with its missing tooth" (pg. 75)), but Paul's mental degeneration. Part of the reason the horrific turns in the story have their effect on the reader is because King has written them so well.

But part of it may also be something else. I know this may come across as a rather wanky thing to say, but there's something almost bourgeois about King's fetishization of violence, like there's a certain kind of audience who like such vivid and depraved incidences of violence because it's the only safe way to indulge. Bear-baiting and public hangings of the riff-raff are illegal nowadays. Circus freaks are unfashionable. You've already recorded that poverty porn on Channel 4, and wife-swapping is only on at Geoff's house on Thursday nights. So read your Stephen King to titillate you.

Misery changes – in retrospect, with a sense of inevitability – from a sharp psychological thriller into something of a video nasty. Many readers will like this plunge into shallow violence, but it's not for me, even if I find it silly to clutch pearls about it. It seems King, for all his talent, can't help but go low. The strange thing is that many will see it as heroism that he has gone there. There's a sort of sanitised image of King nowadays – borne of his phenomenal success and equally phenomenal work-rate – that seems a bit off-kilter with the content of his stories, which is often indulgent body horror, subverted Americana and teenage rape fantasies. I suppose my lingering dissatisfaction with King comes from bewilderment that people can knit all that together into a man of American letters, even taking into account King's impressive ability to draw you into a story.

Perhaps it's the case that only the writers who are capable of going high can go so low. Even so, it's not so much that you feel like King's wasting his gift. Some writers can go to places you don't want them to go and they bring back something of worth (Nabokov in Lolita, for example), and other writers seem to go there just to find somewhere quiet where they can pull the wings off flies. King seems like he's doing what he's born to do.

It's like a McDonald's has just opened up at the end of the street. You want to eat healthily, but the McDonald's is right there, and the smell of greasy chicken and chip fat is wafting in on the breeze. It's not that you want it to go away, or that you want more willpower. Rather, it's that you wished McDonald's, and fast food in general, had never existed. Because you know you'll always gorge on it much more readily than you ever would a more refined meal. And you hate yourself for that, not them. So it is with King. You read him with greater ease than you would a much better author. Misery becomes something equivalent to a hate-watch; it pulls you in, despite yourself. It makes you feel sick, makes you feel shabby compulsion and, yes, misery too. And I'm still not sure that's a good thing. ( )
  Mike_F | Apr 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 154 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Writing does not cause misery, it is born of misery.

-- Montaigne
It's no good. I've been trying to sleep for the last half-hour, and I can't. Writing here is a sort of drug. It's the only thing I look forward to. This afternoon I read what I wrote. . . . And it seemed vivid. I know it seems vivid because my imagination fills in all the bits another person wouldn't understand. I mean, it's vanity. But it seems a sort of magic. . . . And I just can't live in this resent. I would go mad if I did.

-- John Fowles

The Collector
"You will be visited by a tall, dark stranger," the gipsy woman told Misery, and Misery, startled, realized two things at once: this was no gipsy, and the two of them were no longer alone in the tent. She could smell Gwendolyn Chastain's perfume in the moment before the madwoman's hands closed around her throat.

"In fact," the gipsy who was not a gipsy observed, "I think she is here now."

Misery tried to scream, but she could no longer even breathe.


-- Misery's Child
"It always look data way, Boss Ian," Hezekia said, "No matter how you look at her, she seem like she be lookin' at you. I doan know if it be true, but the Bourkas, dey say even when you get behin' her, the godess, she seem to be lookin' at you."

"But she is, after all, only a piece of stone, Ian remonstrated.

"Yes, Boss Ian," Hezekia agreed. "Dat what give her powah.

-- Misery's Return
Dedication
This is for Stephanie and Jim Leonard, who know why. Boy, do they.
First words
umber whunn

yerrnnn umber whunnnn

fayunnn

These sounds: even in the haze.
Quotations
"I'm your number-one fan!"
Then he would look at the blank screen of his word processor for awhile. What fun. Paul Sheldon's fifteen-thousand-dollar paperweight.
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Paul Sheldon. He's a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader - she is Paul's nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house. Now Annie wants Paul to write his greatest work-just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an ax. And if they don't work, she can get really nasty... (0-451-15355-3)
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HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

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HighBridge

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

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