YA Book Club: Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’
Ahhh, Carrie. A movie I saw way, way too young at a sleepover (I was probably 10) and then a book I picked up when I was 11 (almost 12) and was banished to sleep in my brother’s room because my grandma was in town, and it was a known rule in our house that grandma couldn’t sleep in a boy’s room, that’s just science (not that my parents ever tested that theory.) Anyway, the experience of reading this book is buried into my mind, forever, because I found it in my oldest brother’s room, super tattered, and I was intrigued. I had already seen the movie about a year prior, at a sleepover, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to have because it was R-rated but my child logic justified it by thinking that if John Travolta was in it, he couldn’t be anything *that* bad, could he? (Narrator’s voice: Yes, young Katy Hudson, he could. Wait until you watch the trash masterpiece that is Staying Alive, in about 8 years’ time.) However, it seemed appropriate because I had just gotten my first period, and I figure, why not revel in it with someone whose first menstruation was going worse than mine? Enter “Carrie.”
Friends, this month we’re covering books we read as children that we were probably too young to read as children—and Carrie is no exception. I remember being completely titillated at the description of sex, swearing, and general tomfoolery that teenagers got up to in this one because at 11, being a sophisticated 17-year old was all I wanted out of life. I distinctly remember sitting on the tattered couch in my oldest brother’s room (believe me, it sounds fancier than it was,) reading this book night after night (after the Olympics were done for the day, of course) even though I knew how it would end—Carrie and I were one in the same. Girls on their periods who f*cking hated it. Carrie is forever tied to my first period, and as a result, I have a weird memory of the book, which I haven’t read since August 1996, that is, until this past week.
Anyway, I won’t spend too much time summarizing the plot of Carrie, which I think at this point, even people who haven’t read the book or watched the movie would know.
Carrie White is a f*cking weird 17-year old. No one likes her, and she doesn’t really give anyone a reason to. Her mom is a religious nut-job (which seemed like a thing that didn’t exist to me in 1996, and is now a character I feel like I intrinsically know already because by 2019, we’re all well acquainted with religious , conservative whackos) who calls breasts “dirty pillows” and won’t let her daughter sleep with an actual pillow because it somehow helps Satan. I don’t know.
Anyway, Carrie gets her first period while shower after gym class, only she doesn’t know what a period is so she thinks she’s dying. Since she’s a joke to everyone, the rest of the girls in the locker room decide to throw sanitary products at her, call her names, and shout “plug it up!” Even the gym teacher slaps her (to get her to stop being hysterical) because honestly if you’re a senior in high school how the hell do you not know what a period is?!
Well, Carrie doesn’t. So, the gym teacher cleans her up a bit (but not before some lightbulbs break in the shower room, because that’s called foreshadowing, friends) and then gets excused from her classes for the rest of the day because being naked and having people pelt you with s*it in high school is, like, everyone’s worse nightmare.
Sue Snell is one of Carrie’s classmates and she feels bad about throwing s*it at Carrie. Which, I mean…good? Chris Hargensen is another classmate of Carrie’s. She does not feel bad about throwing s*it. Watch out for that one, friends. She’s trouble.
Anyway, Carrie goes home and her mom soon joins her because nothing says “sorry for not telling you about your body, daughter” more than locking Carrie in the prayer closet and shrieking about Satan. Carrie’s mom sucks, a lot. Carrie’s dad is dead, so Carrie has no one in her life but that horrible woman.
Carrie is also starting to flex her telekinetic power, which comes out when she’s in a heightened emotional state—so basically any time her mom is being the worst, or she’s at school, because she’s horrendously bullied.
So, back to Sue, who feels bad. See—the gym teacher is pissed at the girls for throwing s*it, and institutes a week-long detention for everyone who participated. If they refuse detention, they get suspended and lose their ticket to prom. Chris refuses because she’s one of those people who think the rules don’t apply to her. They usually don’t, let’s be honest, but in this case it sticks. So, Chris gets pissed and vows revenge on Carrie White.
Sue, however, feels sorry for Carrie, and while she still doesn’t like her that much, she convinces her boyfriend, Tommy, to ask Carrie to the prom (instead of Sue going) so that maybe, Carrie could get some relief from being a social nobody and a weird outcast, at least for one night.
So Tommy asks Carrie, and she says yes.
You know where this is headed—Tommy and Carrie are crowned Prom King & Queen at the dance in the high school, and Chris and her s*itty boyfriend Billy (John Travolta’s role in the movie) drop a bucket of pig’s blood on the duo. So, Carrie loses her goddamned mind and kills everyone at the prom like five times over. First, she electrocutes them by turning the sprinklers on and activating all the electrical equipment in the room. Then she burns the whole damn school down (so I guess that’s only killing everyone twice.) That’s not enough for Carrie, so she goes on a rampage across the town, burning s*it down, and killing people on a whim. She kills Chris and Billy, who escaped the school after the pig’s blood stunt by taking control of their car (with her mind) and crashing it. She kills her mother by literally stopping her heart in her telekinetic mind (but not before her mom mortally stabs Carrie, because nothing compares to a mother’s love) and succumbs to her injuries outside a roadhouse saloon, where Sue Snell finds her and proves to Carrie that she didn’t want the whole pig’s blood thing to happen.
See, that’s just the plot—the book is less straightforward than the movie. We get excerpts from the future, while things are also happening in real time, where people are recalling who Carrie White was, and what happened that night. One of the central things that many people recount is that Carrie was able to get in their mind and form a psychic link with them, even if they had never met her before. So, like, Sue demonstrated to Carrie her non-involvement in #PigsBloodGate through a psychic connection.
Carrie dies. The town is basically in ruin and probably will never recover. The End.
So … you ever read a book and think to yourself “wow, this is a great premise, I wish someone other than a straight, white guy had written it!?” I had that thought re-reading Carrie.
Why? Well, for starters, for the first half of the book, King cannot stop commenting on the women’s breast as part of their description. Gentlemen, I guarantee you that I don’t wake up in the morning and think about the state of my breasts unless something is wrong with them. In particular, the gym teacher’s boobs were remarked on way too many times. We get it, dude. They’re small. Cool. Cool. Cool.
I mean, I first read this one on my first period, so I had no idea how periods worked. Now, at 34, I have a vague idea. Stephen King, writing this book, did not. I chortled when he commented on Sue’s menstrual cycle being “like clockwork.” Which, LOL, no. No 17-year old has a regular menstrual cycle, my man. It’s certainly not “like clockwork.” Fun fact, getting your period is usually a surprise you find when you go to the bathroom—you certainly don’t feel it begin to run down your legs the moment it happens like he seemed to think it happened for Sue.
Also. Dudes. Stephen King has an “n-word” problem. I don’t give a s*it if this book was written in 1974. Everyone knew then it was a nasty, mean-spirited word, and it still is today. Now, I’ve only read two of his books (Carrie and The Stand) but they both use that word (The Stand beyond egregiously) and…well? Cut that s*it out.
Finally, and this is where the premise and execution really kind of diverged was that I got the impression that the book was written by someone who had observed the s*itty way teenage girls can be to each other and decided to write a book about it without trying to understand the nuance behind the psychological warfare or gain any empathy for what it’s like to be a girl. It felt like Carrie was about a weird girl and not a boy because there’s a stereotype out there that boys just physically abuse each other, girls do it mentally. I mean, sure, there’s some truth to that, but it ignores that girls do it mentally because we’re not allowed to express some of our uglier emotions physically.
That, for me, is a vital missing piece to Carrie in this re-read as an adult and would have made it much more interesting to read had it been included.
I’m probably asking for too much here, so I’ll leave that last bit of criticism out and stem my ultimate feeling on the book based on the racist language and the complete lack of understanding about women’s bodies by saying that Carrie was a great (in the sense that it felt forbidden), slightly age-inappropriate read for young me, but older me see that it’s trashy entertainment that’s not even that entertaining, because the use of the “n” word means I can’t mindlessly consume it.
Next week, continuing on with our age inappropriate theme, we’ll be doing Anne Rice’s “Interview With a Vampire.” Until then, friends.
Header Image Source: Signet Paperback