Reading the King: Carrie

This is a very exciting reading challenge! Grad school is taking up most of my time, and the next few months up until graduation will be hectic, I can tell you that much. Choosing to read Stephen King is a deliberate choice in self-care because the man has been one of my favourite authors for over a decade now, and doing this feels less like a chore and more about me attempting to schedule some me-time, as well as being just a fun little side-thing.

And so, we begin this long journey with Carrie, Stephen King’s first published novel, which came out in 1974, marking the beginning of his career. While I’ve personally not read the novel prior to this challenge, Carrie has such a ubiquitous presence that I was basically aware of most of the pivotal moments in the story, even if I didn’t know the details. Already knowing these in advance, though, did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel and the movies! While I don’t think that Carrie will break into my list of Top 5 Favourite King Stories, it was still a fun, quick read. I think I finished it over two days during my lunch breaks at the office.

(For the record, here is my current Top 5, in no particular order: Pet Sematary, The Jaunt, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and 11/22/63. This might change the deeper I get into his work, although I do have a particularly strong fondness for Jaunt.)

Let’s begin! This post will talk about the 1974 novel, and the 1976 and 2013 movie adaptations. I made a deliberate choice to skip the 2002 movie due to time constraints – but also, the trailer was not very interesting.

Carrie, 1974

Ahh, the quintessential Stephen King classic. King presents the story through a variety of means: letters, Sue Snell’s book, newspaper headlines, and other methods, placing the tragedy firmly at the centre of the narrative. As per his style, he has crafted riveting characters who are characterized by deep inner conflicts of various forms, in this book mostly centred around sex and authority (I’m collapsing religion into authority in this context). Carrie also already features that Stephen King hallmark of writing: the stream of consciousness.

I think that my favourite character in the novel is Margaret White, which I did not expect. Margaret White read like an eerie exposition into how one of my deeply religious Pentecostal aunts would have become if they were a character in King’s universe. So much of her, even her speech, was hauntingly familiar and had parallels I could observe in my Pentecostal upbringing: the deep shaming of anything remotely sexual, deep religiosity, the distrust of Carrie.

The build-up to the prom scene, especially when Carrie was getting ready for prom, was also reminiscent of some of my feelings as a former religious girl, especially this line: “Wearing it gave her a weird, dreamy feeling that was half shame and half defiant excitement.” That intense dichotomy of half-shame/half-defiance was definitive of me from 16 to 20. I was actually forced to think back and confront some of my own (already-wrestled and buried) demons while I was reading it, emotions which I had not anticipated dealing with again, but hey. Stephen King gives me ~feels~.

All in all, I think Carrie is an okay book. Not the one I would recommend to a person just coming to Stephen King, but definitely recommendation should his writing become a favourite.

Carrie, 1976

Watching this movie was something that I was very much looking forward to! A few years ago, Mikaius had bought me a whole slew of Stephen King movies as part of my Christmas present, and since we both got so busy we hadn’t really had time to watch any of them. We did watch Misery and The Shining, but we’re both wimps and we finished neither. I mean, have you seen Kathy Bates in Misery? Terrifying, my friend.

I finished reading the novel mid-week, and was supposed to hang out with Mikaius at his place the weekend after that since he has the DVD for Carrie and we were supposed to watch it together but I couldn’t wait. I rented the movie on Google Play and saw it alone. Oh lordy, what a fantastic ride this De Palma movie was.

Overall, I feel like the De Palma version is an honest adaptation – the changes that were implemented made sense, and I don’t think that it changed the spirit of the book or altered Carrie in such a way as to render her unrecognizable. I think that this movie will be one of my favourite horror movies, it’s just so fantastically done. The entire time I was watching it I felt so uneasy – like I was being allowed a peek into this girl’s life that I shouldn’t have, but I could not for the life of me look away. The juxtaposition of the almost erotic shower sequence transitioning into the period freakout and being backended by the “plug it up” scene had me on edge from start to finish. I also did not expect that ending with Sue Snell, and I will be honest, I shrieked and just about dropped my mug that was still half-full of Kawartha ice cream.

I now really understand why Sissy Spacek is widely considered iconic in this role. The way she portrayed Carrie was beautifully nuanced: timid at times, trembling and terrified at others, but still with a defiant agency against her mother and her circumstances. While I get why her dress is not red in this movie – “It’s pink, momma!” – it would have been interesting to see Carrie in a red dress crushing an entire prom hall as a subversion of the Lady in Red trope.

The other standout in this film really was Piper Laurie as Margaret White. She gave me all of the heebie-jeebies possible: her intonation, her costumes, even the way she moved her hands when she was stroking her daughter’s hair was terrifying! For me, her interactions with Carrie were some of the best parts of the movie – the way that her fundamentalism seeped into every single part of her life and changed her behavious was too real.

Runner up: I was pleasantly surprised by Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, who I had just seen a couple of weeks ago in Robocop (our local movie theatre screens a lot of old movies)! I think that her portrayal of the spoiled high school senior was aptly disturbing, and she was absolutely fantastic in this role.

Carrie, 2013

The 2013 remake by Kimberly Peirce was charming, but I think that the right word to describe it is adequate. It wasn’t disappointing, but neither did it cross the line to being a really good movie. In this one, we see an update in the time when Carrie was set: we hear the kids talking about 2010s-relevant pop culture references; Carrie’s freakout while covered in blood, pads, and tampons is uploaded to the internet by Chris Hargensen; and Sue Snell receives a text message that sends her frantically driving to the prom. While Chlöe Grace Moretz’s Carrie is sweet and shy, I feel as if she lacks the bite beneath the surface that was evident in Sissy Spacek’s portrayal. She wasn’t horrible, but she wasn’t as good.

To be quite honest, the only times that I was riveted was when Julianne Moore as Margaret White was on-screen, and even her portrayal came nowhere close to how deeply unsettling Piper Laurie was in the 1976 version of the film.

Final words:

Of the two adaptations to Carrie that I saw, the 1976 one is absolutely the winner.

Of E-readers and Personal Reading Challenges

I can’t tell you how long I hesitated over purchasing a Kindle! I bought myself an iPad Mini 2 a couple of years ago thinking that it could be my dedicated e-reader, but it really didn’t work for me: the glare coming off of the screen was (a) distracting, and (b) hurt my light-sensitive little eyes. Eventually, I realised that with the way I studied and did my readings, I could use the iPad as a tool to complement my Mac, especially with the Notability app. This became how I mainly used the iPad – well, that and Tapped Out, which is my favourite mobile game because it literally lets me play god as an urban planner. While the iPad didn’t become my primary e-reader, it did help me in other ways and I don’t regret the purchase.

Now, I’ve been starting to get back into reading again as a hobby, especially over the summer. Goodreads says I’m on track to finish 12 books for 2017, which is great! With my 27th birthday coming up, and also as a reward for making it out of year 1 of this program alive, I bit the bullet and bought a Kindle Paperwhite three weeks ago. Amazon Prime Student and their discounts can be very convincing.

Was the Paperwhite worth the purchase? For me and my lifestyle, absolutely! First, it is conveniently-sized. I am that person who buys outerwear based solely on whether the biggest pocket can fit a standard-sized paperback comfortably and the Kindle slides right in where my book would usually go – taking up less space, and being a fraction of the weight of your usual paperback. I also specifically chose the Paperwhite because I wanted the built-in light, and let me tell you, it works like a dream. One time last week, I woke up at 2 in the morning unable to get back to sleep so I picked up the Paperwhite and started reading Martina McAtee‘s Dark Dreams and Dead Things (book 2 of the series!). I finished the book, fell asleep, and then woke up without a headache because there was no glare from the screen. It has been absolutely fantastic.

This purchase also inspired me to come up with a personal reading challenge: I’ve compiled a chronological list of Stephen King’s oeuvre, and I want to make my way through it. Honestly, that should take me a good chunk of time. While King is one of my favourite writers, there are works of his that I haven’t read, like the Bachman books and the Dark Tower series.

Here’s the plan, which of course will see some change over the course of this reading challenge: I will read one book of his every two weeks, then publish a post with a short synopsis. If the work in question is a collection of short stories, I will pick favourites. If it is a book in a series, I will rank the work with the others in the series. If there is a movie and I can access it, I will compare the book and movie(s) – and this, my friend, is a big maybe because I just found out that there is not one, not two, but three Carrie movies.

The only real restriction in this challenge is that I will not watch the associated TV series, if there is one. I am still in grad school, after all, and only have so much time to spare on fun things like this. I am very excited! The first one up is Carrie, which should be interesting as I’ve never read the novel before, nor have I seen the movies. I mean, I know what’s going to happen because Carrie is ubiquitous, but it should still be an interesting reading and watching experience.

Let’s dive into this, and I hope I make it to the end of the list!