There are certain emotions and experiences universal to being human. Awkwardness and insecurity during adolescence is one of them. Stephen King seems to channel these feelings effortlessly, putting a level of realism into the descriptions of his teenaged characters that rings so true, it damn near hurts to read. Such is the case with Carrie, the story of one troubled teenager whose pitiful life culminates in destruction of epic proportions.
Carrie White just happens to be born the daughter of a man and woman so over-zealously, fanatically religious that she is convinced the world is nothing but one temptation of evil after another and her only means of salvation is to spend her energy repressing her basic needs and wants. Carrie is never informed about menstruation (and she lives in a time (1974) and place (Chamberlain, Maine) where such things aren’t taught in school) because her mother believes as long as her daughter stays pure, she won’t be cursed by God with a monthly period. So when Carrie does start her period for the first time, she thinks she’s dying and shrieks in terror. At the time, she happens to be showering in the girls’ locker room after gym and her classmates take the opportunity to viciously taunt and humiliate her by throwing maxi pads and tampons at her, all the while shouting things like “Plug it up!” They, of course, don’t understand her melodramatic terror and she doesn’t understand one damn thing about the situation.
Carrie also happens to be a born telekinetic, a condition that is later found to be a recessive genetic disorder resulting from a mutation on the X chromosome, incredibly rare and only affecting females. (Since it’s recessive, two X chromosomes with the mutation are needed for the disorder to be expressed. A person with one X chromosome with the mutation is a carrier.) All of this creates a kind of perfect storm of circumstances under which Carrie White becomes a monster – a confused and tortured teen capable of horrific doings. After becoming the victim of a cruel and degrading prank at her senior prom, Carrie’s limit for humiliation is surpassed and she uses her supernatural ability to wreak havoc on her town. In particular, she sets a fire to the gymnasium housing her prom that kills over 400 students and faculty members. She goes on to murder her own mother, set more fires that destroy several of the town’s local businesses along with one of its central churches and eventually takes down the city’s entire electrical grid.
King reveals the aftermath intermittently via excerpts of books written about the tragedy, radio and news broadcasts transmitted during or immediately following it, transcriptions taken from the hearing on the official investigation and memoirs from the one survivor, Carrie’s fellow student and a girl who played an indirect but significant role in it, Susan Snell. For the most part, these asides add depth to the relatively simple story and give great insight into Carrie’s life and background and the consequences of the incident but the sheer volume of them seem a bit much. It gets to be distracting from the central story. Or at least, they should interrupt the story less often. Placing the bulk of them at either the beginning or end of the central story, perhaps, would have been more to my liking. I found they interrupted too frequently, breaking my train of thought and interest in the narrative.
King may not write for a broad audience but his ability to slowly weave together a story and create characters in extraordinary circumstances but with whom his readers can relate and empathize has given him a large and faithful community of fans. Pet Sematary still remains my favorite of the handful of Stephen King novels that I’ve read but I enjoyed Carrie and would certainly recommend it.