Definition of a Page Turner
Let me get this out of the way up front. Stephen King is without a doubt my favorite author of all time, and Misery stands right up there with The Stand Uncut and The Long Walk as one of my favorite stories penned by him. For me to attempt to review this novel without any bias would be an exercise in futility. Yet if you didn’t want my opinion about the book; biased as it may be, you wouldn’t be reading this now would you? So without further adieu let’s get onto the main event.
By now the plot of Misery has been parodied so many times over, it’s likely you know it already even if you’ve yet to ever read the book or see the movie based on it (Which is an excellent film starring James Caan, best remembered as the guy who gets riddled with bullets in The Godfather). But just in case you aren’t in the know Misery is the story of the winter famed author Paul Sheldon spends with his number one fan Annie Wilkes, first as her patient and then as her unwilling hostage. Unlike the earlier mentioned epic The Stand; the equally iconic Shining, or the decidedly less epic Duma Key, King resists the urge to include the supernatural in this tale. There are no hands of god to help our hero triumph, or statuettes housing the spirit of a dark presence that’s responsible for his tribulations. Rather the reason that Misery is one of the most disturbing works I’ve ever had the privilege to read is because of just how goddamned grounded in reality everything is.
The conflict centers entirely around the twisted relationship that Paul ends up developing with his “caretaker”. You see Paul is a famous writer who is mainly known for his romantic novel series Misery. You know the type of novel where every good guy is a Mary Sue, the lead heroine has to choose between two equally desirable men who are both madly in love with her, and; judging by the genre, most likely includes an ungodly amount of over romanticized sex scenes. You know basically the type of book that no man can stand. As it turns out that extends to its creator; Paul is tired of being typecast as a romantic author, and he wishes to break into the mainstream. Fueled by this desire and by his own sense of loathing for the character he’s brought to life, he kills title character Misery Chastain off at the end of the intended final entry in the series; Misery’s Child, in an attempt to finally get started on some serious works.
After finishing the first of these serious endeavors, Paul makes the drunken decision to drive to L.A. and winds up crashing off a cliff breaking both of his legs in the process. By sheer chance super fan Annie Wilkes rescues him from the wreckage. Rather than taking him to the hospital though, the former nurse sets him up in her guest room and begins to care for him; the first sign that there’s something amiss here. Then after reading the manuscript for Fast Cars; Pauls attempt at establishing himself as a serious auther, and getting into an argument with Paul over some of its more obscene content, she forces him to down his painkillers with disgusting soapy water which had just previously been used to clean up spilled soup. If there was still any doubt about Annie’s mental state, then this is the moment it becomes apparent that she is seriously unstable.
Of course this is all BEFORE she’s finished her copy of Misery’s Child, and when she does it goes about as well as you would expect. Annie might have claimed to be Paul Sheldon’s number one but really she’s just obsessed with his Misery series. She coerces him to burn the only copy of Fast Cars, and sets about getting her captive to write a new novel which will logically bring the character back to life; no bullshit dues ex machinas or anything like that.
And thus the strange and demented relationship between the two is born! Yes Annie Wilkes might be the person who’s tightening the noose around Pauls neck, but she’s also the reason he still has a neck to tie a noose around. She might be forcing him to resurrect the character he despises, but the life and death situation he’s in seems to jumpstart his muse, and results in what Paul considers to be the best and least cliché Misery novel in years. Complex doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings at play here. Annie frightens the living shit out of Paul, but she’s also the one who’s taking care of him, so he uses all the charm he can muster to get on her good side which at times results in seemingly friendly banter being traded between them. And despite the fact that she’s described as unattractive given that she’s the only other person he has contact with, she becomes his somewhat sexual partner; or at least the person who helps him ‘finish’. I wouldn’t say that it goes so far as Stockholm syndrome; Paul never turns down an opportunity to attempt to kill her and free himself, but a strange sort of connection occurs between the writer and his editor/captor. Of course this is without even mentioning the event that occurs in the latter half of the book, which changes the dynamic of their relationship and completely heightens Annie into a godlike figure in Paul’s weary and pain killer addicted mind. For those of you yet to give this a read you are in for one hell of a treat.
While the two lead characters chemistry is the novels main selling point what’s most impressive about it might be its pacing. Seriously this thing starts out at 11 and manages to stay there throughout the duration. The book opens after the car crash has already occurred, with Paul semi conscious and already a patient in Annie’s care as his drug addled and pain filled mind attempts to fill in the blanks. Then within the first 15 pages it becomes apparent that his situation is seriously *bleep*ed, and that the one person you don’t want to have taking care of you is Annie Psychopath Wilkes. It’s impressive that a story which takes place inside of a single house; with even more of the action confined to one room, doesn’t have a dull moment in it. Even something so basic as Paul wheeling himself around Annie’s house while she’s out in an attempt to find her pharmaceutical drug stash, manages to create a level of suspense that most Hollywood blockbusters could only dream of.
I started off by proclaiming that this might be my favorite King story, and I as I finish this review I’m even more confident of that fact. This is horror at its purest and most refined. No ghosts haunting, no Randall Flagg, no giant monsters from another dimension. The main antagonist in Misery is just an overweight, middle-aged woman, who is batshit crazy and capable of performing atrocious actions upon her fellow man without feeling the least bit remorse. To me that’s more frightening than the other three combined.
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