Stephen King’s debut novel. Carrie White is a fat, pimple-faced, black-haired girl who’s endured nothing but torment from her high-school peers and oppression from her deranged mother. But Carrie harbors a hidden talent. She can move things with her mind.
In On Writing, King tells the story of how his wife fished the abandoned first few pages of Carrie out of a trashcan, read them, and convinced King to continue with the story.
He debuts with his signature conversational voice sprinkled with folksy colloquialisms. For example, in describing Carrie’s mother:
In the more pungent phraseology of her soon-to-be stepfather, “Margaret had a face like the ass end of a gasoline truck and a body to match.” He also referred to her as “a little prayin’ Jesus.”
Some idioms stand out. Early King seems fond of the word redolent:
Kenny’s high-pitched cackle drifted back on the redolent darkness that trembled at the edge of summer.
His breath was redolent of tobacco; there was the smell of Brylcreem and sweat.
The air was redolent with the odor of flowers; the nose was constantly amazed by it.
Future King tropes are also present. The small-town and associate personas (town sheriff, town drunk), characters with jobs in academia, and bullying as an inciting incident.
In one bully, Billy Nolan, we get another King-trope, the greaser:
Nolan, who was like some strange time traveler from the 1950s with his greased hair, zipper-bejeweled black leather jacket, and manifold-bubbling Chevrolet road machine.
Said Chevrolet even sports a pink fuzz-covered wheel.
Indeed, Nolan proves the forgotten monster, not as over-the-top as Carrie’s deranged mother, or as sinister as Chris, the silver-spoon ringleader of Carrie’s torment, but monstrous in his own right. King offers a chilling glimpse into his mind.
He wondered how long she would last. Maybe not long after tonight. Somehow it had all led to this, even the early part, and when it was done the glue that had held them together would be thin and might dissolve, leaving them to wonder how it could have been in the first place. He thought she would start to look less like a goddess and more like the typical society bitch again, and that would make him want to belt her around a little. Or maybe a lot. Rub her nose in it.
Carrie proves unique in King’s oeuvre. Kings likes to write what he knows, and he didn’t feel comfortable writing a sixteen-year-old-girl. He didn’t even like her. His next books (‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining) would center on male authors his own age.
I suspect either book would have launched his career. But having Carrie, a high school aged girl, as the protagonist widened his debut audience. She’s more relatable than Ben Mears or Jack Torrance. We all struggled through adolescence. We’ve all felt like outsiders.
Thus, while Carrie works as a revenge fantasy, seeing through the various characters we gain the perspective our own adolescences lacked, making the book something of a catharsis. Said perspective also conveys a voyeuristic look at small town life.
King admits he added the newspaper and primary source excerpts to pad the length, which alludes to the book’s second outlier quality among King’s works. It’s lean.
Excise those excerpts and Carrie’s a novella. This isn’t a bad thing. As his career took off, King’s books ballooned, often with abrupt and unsatisfying endings. Carrie’s ending feels organic and satisfying, though it may have underwhelmed were the book twice as long.