This is Stephen King’s first published novel and reading it now, it’s easy to see how he burst on the horror scene like a new force. Like James Herbert and The Rats, King also started with a particularly nasty but real part of life, and then took it to an even darker level.
In the case of Carrie, the issue that was being dealt with was school bullying. It tells the story of Carrie White, an overweight, plain-looking girl with a overbearing religious mother. Because she stands out, in terms of her strange clothes and naivety, she is the victim of relentless teasing. The twist, which King introduces early on, is that Carrie has telekinetic powers – she can move objects using her mind alone.
To make this more believable, interspersed regularly throughout the book are excerpts from various books, news articles and scientific journals – all analysing, several years later, the Carrie White situation. At first these excerpts are a bit strange, because they keep interrupting the narrative, but they’re cleverly placed. As the story continues, the “non-fiction” excerpts start to discuss an event known simply as “Prom Night”. You’re not sure exactly what happened on Prom Night, but you realise very quickly that it wasn’t good.
And so the novel starts to build up a sense of impending doom which only intensifies as the story heads toward the Prom Night. I must confess that I did kind of have a heads up on this because for years, I’ve seen the image on DVD covers of Sissy Spacek covered in blood, with a raging fire in the background and heard something about a prom night going disastrously wrong.
But still, nothing quite prepares you for how expertly King pulls off the Prom Night. It is indeed the horrific finale to everything he has been preparing you for. But what makes it so horrific is that, at all times, we are clear that what brought this situation on is “man’s inhumanity to man” – both that of Carrie’s sadistically religious mother and the viciousness of her schoolmates. Especially poignant, I thought, were those people who sat on the sidelines, wondering if they could have done anything different to make a difference in this girl’s life and avoided the disaster that occurred.
For me, it was a clear reminder that the true horrors in life are sadly not things that writers dream up – they’re real events that occur to people around us all the time. Are there Carrie Whites in your life?
4 ½ out of 5.