Trish and Sophia Talk Books: Carrie by Stephen King

Trish and Sophia Talk Books
An occasional collaboration in which mom Trish and twenty-something medieval studies major daughter Sophia read and discuss books!

Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Our Quick Take: We both liked King’s short 1974 novel, though had different takes on the strengths of the prose and the subtext.

“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow.”
Trish: I was a big reader when I was a kid, and whenever anyone asks who my favourite author was when I was a teen I always claim it was Stephen King. I do believe this to be true: no one author had more of an impact on my reading life than King. Although I can’t remember clearly when I would have started reading his books, I’m betting it was about age 10. I remember trolling the aisles of our local used bookstore and picking up mass-market paperbacks (usually the only books besides hardcovers back then) and devouring them, savouring each page, deliciously creeped out. I had a huge collection, and only in the last few years did I start thinning them from my shelf. I still have a few time-weathered paperbacks that I’ve kept.

I can’t remember when I read Carrie, but given it was published in 1974, I bet it was in the early 80s, one of the first of his I read. It wasn’t one I read repeatedly (those would be ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand most notably), so I have hazy memories of the book. When Sophia picked it up, her third King, I decided to read it again.

Sophia, what spurred you to read Carrie?

Sophia: I’ve read two Stephen King books previously: The Shining (when I was a teenager) and Misery (a few months ago). Despite the major hype around King, I found these two to be “just ok.” Despite that, I still wanted to connect with King, seeing as he’s one of your favourite authors. I decided to give Carrie a chance, seeing as it has a lot of themes that I really enjoy reading about, such as religion, female hysteria, and coming of age.

Overall, I found Carrie to be my favourite of King’s novels so far, but it still lacked something for me that I can’t quite put my finger on. I did really enjoy the book’s exploration of the aforementioned themes, though. I chatted with a friend post-read, and she also mentioned that Stephen King’s books fell short of the hype for her too! Maybe it’s generational, or she and I just have the same reading style. I also think that perhaps I need a little more gore in my horror, as King’s style is mainly psychological.

Trish: Yes, there’s certainly not a lot of body horror in a King novel. What stood out to me with Carrie was how it does stand the test of time. In my experience, this is one of the more tightly written of King’s novels and so it doesn’t get lost in its own prose. Though I love them, some novels like The Stand now seem a bit loosely written in terms of modern standards, which isn’t a criticism; rather, it’s something I notice that may not appeal to a modern readership. 

But more importantly, the way that King writes women here is quite insightful. It’s interesting, given that this was his first novel, though I’ve read that his wife Tabitha may have helped a bit too. Chris, the female bully of the piece, may not be admirable, but she is known by King, and thus by us, the reader. He does this in really short sections, which is amazing. There’s a passage about her boyfriend Billy’s car that is so perfectly written and stands in as an explanation of their relationship. And Sue Snell!

Sophia: I really liked Sue’s character! She was my favourite character in the novel. I really did enjoy King’s exploration of mob mentality through Sue’s mental debate concerning her and her classmates’ treatment of Carrie. I also think the most interesting relationship in the book by far was that between Carrie and Sue. I could have read a whole sequel where they go and have their happily ever after. The ending scene where Sue finds Carrie on the road, and the two share a telepathic connection, was incredibly moving and well written.

Trish: It’s a very simple story, but effective. There’s not much to criticise but perhaps I found the first half more compelling than the second half. The description of the town’s destruction went on and on, and I’m not sure that King set up enough to justify the carnage. In fact, there were some pretty kind adults in this story including the principal and vice-principal, and Miss. Desjardins. In fact, the tentative kindness shown to Carrie as she attends the prom with Tommy by some of the other teens showed that not all was black and white, despite Carrie’s years of torment. They almost all died anyway: perhaps a case of too little too late, or the vagaries of collateral damage. Billy and Chris forced a reckoning, and a collective bill had to be paid.

Sophia, do you think you’ll read any more King? If you do, I’d recommend The Stand or The Talisman (co-written with Peter Straub), but they’re also classics and I’m not sure, given what you’ve said, that you’ll love them the way I did. For a more modern take, perhaps Mr. Mercedes (which introduces Holly Gibney, one of his recurring characters) or 11/22/63, which is much lauded but I haven’t read.

Sophia: I’ll definitely try some more! I do really want to enjoy his books, and maybe I just haven’t found the book for me yet. But I think I’ll take a break from King for the near future.

Trish: Okay, I’m going to suggest a buddy read another King sometime soon, and you can choose the book. I look forward to it!