Last month I devoured Misery for my Stephen King re-read project. For those who haven’t been playing along (and, um, maybe because I’ve been really bad about posting updates), I’ve been re-reading every book, novella, and short story King has written – in publication order. Why publication order? Well, because I seem to read and re-read my favorites over and over again and I wanted to make sure I read some of the books I’ve touched only once. Reading his published works in the order in which he shared them (and in a larger, though not perfect, sense, wrote them) has been fantastically interesting to watch themes, voice, and stylistic flair grow and develop.
Misery is about a third of the way through the list, although I still think of it as halfway (I forget to keep tacking on new books at the bottom of the list). It’s a book I was aware of when it came out, although mostly because of the movie tie-in. I wasn’t a King fan at the time – I wasn’t even a fan of Christopher Pikes or any gory, gruesome, scary stories. But it’s one of my favorites of his “early” works. I always remember that I adore it, but I forget how much until I’m zipping along through the story of our protagonist, novelist Paul Sheldon, and his captor, Number One Fan Annie Wilkes.
Before we go further, I need to warn you that my post is chockablock full of spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens in the story: turn around, don’t drown!
As with most times when I read Misery, I was pulled in (I want to say literally; it always feels that way) by King’s trademark charm and folksy voice. It’s not quite at its deepest and truest, but it’s definitely there. It’s definitely one of the stories where King sounds most King-ish. I always remember (and promptly forget again) how god-awful the Misery Chastain stories are, and how delightfully cheesy that King throws in a meta bestselling author whose life is crumbling around him, and has his meta-self write romance novels! Delightfully awful ones! I cringed and skipped over the Misery story bits (because gawd) and instead skipped merrily through the will-he-or-won’t-he best his crazypants captor who is hellbent on making him do her bidding.
And that’s when the wheels came off the wagon for me and I realized a profound truth that is sort of uncomfortable and I don’t really think, but maybe:
I can’t blame Annie Wilkes.
Oh, sure, I can – and do! – blame her for the really crazy bits! I don’t condone killing babies or patients (or, um, family) when she was a nurse, or chopping off Paul’s foot or thumb. She’s obviously batshit crazy in a bad way.
But…can’t you see the glimmer of batshit crazy that you can sympathize with a little? No, no, no – sympathize is the wrong word. How about…that you could indulge in, too, if given half a chance? I mean, if I was given half a chance to stuff Stephen King away in my guest room and make him write for me, I can’t say I would pass up the opportunity.
Okay, okay, I probably would. But I would be really conflicted about it. I’m too much of an upstanding member of our stupid society to ever actually do it.
But I would want to. (And that is the truth.)
So for me, this read-through of Misery was a wonderful romp in which I purposefully rooted for the bad guy and sided with the wrong team. I had fun with it and found new windows and new angles from which to peer at a well-known story. I indulged my inner wicked temptations and pretended new stories of Roland and his ka-tet were rolling out of the typewriter and the Sox were on the TV every night for us to yell at together.
It’s good to escape. From madwomen who refuse to die, and from the soul-crushing reality that stealing celebrities for your own good is wrong. World without end, Amen.