Misery is one of Stephen King’s novels that I’ve always considered “canon”—like I mentioned back in this post—basically his better known novels. Many of you have probably seen at least part of the iconic 1990 Kathy Bates/James Caan movie, particularly the famous hobbling scene, which I’ve posted below. (It’s actually very different in the book, by the way, so don’t be afraid of too many spoilers if you watch the clip below, but do be aware that it’s…pretty gruesome. Also, don’t scroll down in the comments on Youtube if you don’t want spoilers). For me, and I would think for many, Misery is one of King’s most haunting stories. You’ll see at least one reason why in the video below.
The story begins with Paul Sheldon waking into a twilight of unimaginable pain, unable to remember how he got there. He feels himself slipping further away—apparently dying—before being yanked back to the land of the living by a woman with rancid breath resuscitating him. This woman is Annie Wilkes, Sheldon’s self-proclaimed biggest fan and avid devourer of his “Misery Chastain” series of romance novels. She has rescued him from the wreck of his car that he rolled off a remote Colorado highway while drunk. Annie lives outside the tiny town of Sidewinder, Colorado, far from any neighbors, who she claims don’t like her.
Paul, whose legs and pelvis have been shattered in the accident, quickly realizes two things about Annie Wilkes: first, she must have been a nurse at some point in her life, due to the expertise with which she has nursed him back to health; second, he realized that Annie Wilkes is deepy mentally disturbed.
He suffers countless—and increasingly painful—injustices at Annie’s hands. First, she wants him to destroy his most recent manuscript, Fast Cars, that he has no second copy of and believes might be his best work to date, because she disapproves of the violence and bad language. When he refuses, she withholds his medication until he finally acquiesces, at which point she makes him wash the illicit codeine-based pills down with soapy water. The horror quickly escalates when Sheldon’s final “Misery” novel, Misery’s Child, hits the shelves and Annie discovers that Paul Sheldon, her favorite author, has killed off her favorite character.
It would have been really easy for someone less talented than King to mess up this story. With only two fully developed characters and really only one setting, a lesser writer could quickly have run out of ideas. But not King. There are quite a few times where it seems that things could not possibly get worse—but then they do. (This seems to be one of King’s specialties.) you might think there are only so many things that can happen with two people in a house together, and you’d be right—but you wouldn’t know it from this novel. What makes it so scary, maybe, is that no supernatural activity comes into play in this novel at all; Annie is not a demon. She is a very disturbed, very real woman who is to be feared but also, in a way, to be pitied. And the scariest part of all is that, while very unlikely, something like this could definitely happen in real life.
The first time I read Misery, back in high school, it disturbed me quite a bit. I had no intention of reading it again until I started this blog—and I probably won’t read it again after this second time through. (I was only able to get through it because I remembered where most of the scary parts were and skimmed through those as quickly as possible.) that’s not to say you shouldn’t read it, though—as usual, it’s a wonderfully written and incredibly creative novel. Just be prepared for a good scare!
- “Misery”: A Good Lesson for Writers (selfpubauthors.com)
- Cujo – Stephen King (nothanksidratherread.wordpress.com)
- Writing with Emotion: Horror vs. Terror (melodiesoflife.net)