Ambitious Summer Reading List: Misery By Stephen King (1988)

Reading something like Stephen King’s Misery has been an interesting reading experience for this year’s Ambitious Summer Reading List. I have not seen the movie based on the novel, but I am a horror fan, so I knew the basic story and had seen clips of the hobbling scene. So, going in, I knew that author Paul Sheldon wound up the unwilling captive of super fan Annie Wilkes who forces him to write a new novel for her. I was surprised, though, at how quickly the book starts off. You’re right in there from page one. Paul’s already being held captive by Annie and we learn what’s going on as he remembers through the fog of pain (his legs were mangled in a car accident).

From there it’s a completely intense psychological thriller as the increasingly unbalanced (read: batshit crazy) Annie finds new and horrendous ways to torture Paul and bend him to her will. It seemed like a really real and honest depiction of the kind of mental torture that someone in that kind of spot would go through as Paul splits into a few different people: the one who wants to survive at all costs and the one who wants to destroy his captor.

I’ll be honest, when I realize how quickly the book got into the action, I wondered how the 338 pages would get filled. Next thing I know, it’s a few days later and I’m already done with the dang thing. This book propelled me through it, much like the last King book I read Under The Dome. I was driven not only by the fascinating character sketches being composed of Paul and Annie, but also by what Paul in the film calls “the gotta.” I hadta find out how or if Paul would get out of this one alive.

In addition to the psychological, thriller and horror aspects of the book (can’t tell you how many times I cringed reading scenes), I was also really interested in the fiction writing aspects of the book. Who better to create a character based on a wildly popular author than King? With that in mind, I really read closely the aspects of the process he talked about like falling through the hole in the paper to capture the story. I also thought the few parts where he wrote about super-fandom were really interesting, how people have, since the beginning of serialized fiction, become obsessed with the characters they love. He even throws in references to things like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes and the backlash that caused. The same thing can be said today about Harry Potter or Twilight. Maybe it’s because, for some people, the experience of reading or watching the adventures of a person don’t really seem all that different from listening or viewing the experiences of real people. I mean, think about it, you can never really get into the head of another person and understand them, but you can with a character in a book. Maybe that’s enough for some people.

For me, it’s enough to just read and move on to the next one, though some scenes like the mop water one or the rat one will definitely live on with me for a bit. With King currently working on a book that will follow up with The Shining‘s Danny Torrance, I’d actually be interested to see if he’d ever return to Paul’s life, even if for just a short story. Did he ever get over his boogey man-like fear of Annie? Did he ever write another book? What’s he up to now? But, it’s better to be left with questions than be unsatisfied with all the answers, so I’m cool if he doesn’t go back. Oh, also, I thought it was cool that he made a reference to The Shining in the novel. Looks like King was trying to keep people away from Colorado just as much as Maine.

Up next for the ASRL will be Petal Pusher, a memoir by Laurie Lindeen a woman who I’m not familiar with who had some success with a band in the 90s. You had me at band.

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