I’m just gonna come right out and say it so I can get it over with and we can move on – I am 23 years old and just read my first Stephen King novel. If I’m being honest, and providing an excuse for myself, whenever I found out that he had written 50-60 novels I was overwhelmed. I feel the same way about TV shows that have too many seasons and too many episodes to catch up on. It seems like there’s far too much to consume and I’ll never be able to tackle it all, so it’s best to just not tackle it at all.
(Luckily this attitude doesn’t transfer into anything majorly important and seems to be mostly restricted to things like reading books and watching TV so for now I don’t feel a pressing need to take control of the problem, but maybe in the future if I’m looking for a Personal Growth Project I can return to this issue.)
A few years ago, I read Stephen Kings’s memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft on a flight. In it, there’s a passage where King describes breaking his leg in cringingly precise, gruesome detail. The way in which he described the pain and the entire experience literally made me feel light-headed as though I was about to pass out – THAT’S how good he is.
For my birthday, one of my best friend’s [& fellow former English major/book lover] Carly gifted me my first Stephen King novel – Misery. Having watched a few scenes here and there of the movie adaptation starring the incredible Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, I knew there was a fair amount of pain involved for King’s unfortunate protagonist. Based on what he’d done in his memoir, I mentally prepared for the worst.
As expected, Stephen King did not disappoint.
His 1987 novel Misery chronicles best-selling author Paul Sheldon’s involuntary residency with the equally psychotic and iconic Annie Wilkes. After spending several months in Colorado finishing a manuscript for a new novel, Sheldon decides to celebrate with a few drinks before heading west for an impromptu road trip. This celebratory trip is cut short when he loses control on the icy roads and flips his Camaro off the road. Unluckily for Sheldon, he’s discovered by his #1 fan, Annie Wilkes. She brings Sheldon to her house and essentially holds him prisoner until he brings back to life her beloved Misery Chastain, writing a special exclusive book just for her.
Sheldon soon realizes that Annie is not mentally stable in any sense of the word. I’ll leave out all the good examples because I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will mention that at one point she crushes a mouse in her bare hands while it’s still alive. If that’s any indication of her mental state, then you know you’re in for a WILD ride with this woman.
One of my favorite aspects of the book, and the reason Carly said she got it for me, was how metafictional much of the story is. While it’s always important to not automatically conflate the voice and actions of the protagonist with that of the author, there are certain parallels between King and Sheldon that seem to be more than coincidental. Many of the concerns Sheldon voices reflect not only the potential concerns of King, but they can be extended to fit any writer at a certain point in their career.
Sheldon worries that his most successful novels – his smut fiction featuring his Victorian-era female lead, Misery Chastain – will forever overshadow his more meaningful works, including his newest manuscript he’d been working on for months. He questions his ability to discover believable solutions to the problems he has to solve in his novel’s plot. He addresses, but consistently ignores, his addiction to the pain pills Annie’s been giving him. Similarly, King has openly talked about his past struggles with alcoholism and cocaine addiction, saying that there are some novels of his of which he has no memory of even writing.
The entire novel, from beginning to end, is psychological horror thriller that pulls you into the mindset of someone experiencing their worst nightmare. Even after I finished, I still felt the panic and terror that Sheldon experienced. I truly can’t imagine how many years of therapy he’s gonna need to work through that kind of PTSD.
Hats off to Stephen King for creating such a complex, terrifying individual as Annie Wilkes. I look forward to writing many more Stephen King book posts in the future.
Thanks so much for reading!