book-review-miseryStephen King
Viking Press

He felt as he always did when he finished a book: queerly empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity.

Paul Sheldon, author of a bestselling series of historical romances, wakes up one winter day in a strange place, a secluded farmhouse in Colorado. He wakes up to unspeakable pain (a dislocated pelvis, a crushed knee, two shattered legs) and to a bizarre greeting from the woman who has saved his life: “I’m your number one fan!” Annie Wilkes is a huge ex-nurse, handy with controlled substances and other instruments of abuse, including an axe and a blowtorch. A dangerous psychotic with a Romper Room sense of good and bad, fair and unfair, Annie Wilkes may be Stephen King’s most terrifying creation. It’s not fair, for example, that her favorite character in the world, Misery Chastain, has been killed by her creator, as Annie discovers when Paul’s latest novel comes out in paperback. And it’s not good that her favorite writer has been a Don’t-Bee and written a different kind of novel, a nasty novel, the novel he has always wanted to write, the only copy of which now lies in Annie’s angry hands. Because she wants Paul Sheldon to be a Do-Bee, she buys him a typewriter and a ream of paper and tells him to bring Misery back to life. Wheelchair-bound, drug-dependent, locked in his room, Paul doesn’t have much choice. He’s an entertainer held captive by his audience. A writer in serious trouble. But writers have weapons too . . .

1987 was a pretty big publishing year for Stephen King. While cranking out a novel every year is impressive for any author, for reasons I’m not really going to go into here, 1987 was the year that King published four separate novels, each one a bit different in style and tone: The Eyes of the Dragon, which was straight fantasy, the second book in the Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three, which was a western/sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, The Tommyknockers, which fell squarely into the science fiction genre, and this one here, Misery, which is more of the psychological thriller side of the horror genre King was more known for.

I read Misery the summer before my Freshman year in high school, again because of my Junior High English teacher describing the story. That was also the summer in which I was confirmed, so I used some of my confirmation monies to purchase the book from the stands of whichever grocery store I accompanied my visiting father to. I remember, rather amusingly, him asking me, “Does your mother know you read these kind of books?” in a voice that made it sound like he just discovered me smoking out back.

Misery contains no supernatural horror, no fantastical elements, nothing to really indicate that this is springing forth from one of the more potent minds of pop fiction literature to ever emerge from the late 20th Century. Instead, everything depicted in Misery is very much realistic. Everyone has run into, or personally knows someone just like Annie Wilkes, who seems normal on the outside but there’s just something not quite right bubbling underneath the surface. And the thought of being helpless and at the mercy of someone like that, like author Paul Sheldon does in the book, gets under your skin like none other.

It’s pretty much a useless fact, but the copy of the novel I bought had a second fake cover of a Paul Sheldon Misery book, which was a take-off of one of those romance novels with a muscle-bound beefcake that had Stephen King’s face, which was something I found beyond hilarious. If you had this in there as well, you know of which I speak of. Good times.

Misery is often listed as one of Stephen King’s best novels written, and I tend to agree with that. Ultimately, my copy fell apart by the time I got through with the story. Such was the quality of the mass market paperback, I guess. But really, if you’ve only watched the (equally excellent) movie adaptation, you really should check out the original novel some time. Sure, I would urge that for every adaptation, but here I would urge it more.