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I don’t remember, really, what made me decide that re-reading Stephen King’s backlist was a terrific idea, but I dove in about a month ago. (Upon second thought, I think it might have had something to do with reading The Shining in preparation for September’s release of Dr. Sleep, and then trying to untangle my thoughts about the not-always distinct voices of Stephen King and his son and another favorite writer of mine, Joe Hill.)

With another remake of the horror flick, Carrie, just released, there has been a lot of press recently about the film(s), the book, and how they’ve all held up over the years. I remember liking the book enough, but it never cracked my top ten list. In fact, it’s never come close. But why? Obviously, I needed to go back and see. And if I was starting with Carrie (well, ignoring that I’d technically started with The Shining), I might as well read the books as they were published. And so I cracked open Carrie, nearly twenty years (ohmygod don’t even think about that too long, Katie my dear) after I first read it.

I liked it. I was surprised, but I liked the re-read just fine. It’s obvious that King hadn’t yet found his stride – his voice sounded so stilted sometimes, using awkward word choices in places where he so obviously (I thought) would have gone with something different had he written Carrie later in his career – but the story was very strong. I had forgotten how much of the narrative structure relied on faked articles, excerpts from books, and other media snippets, all just splashed down in the thick of things. But I still enjoyed the heck out of it. I like it a heck of a lot more than ‘Salem’s Lot, and the voice of that tome is a lot more Kingish than Carrie ever gets.

It was interesting tripping over themes and phrases that crop up frequently in King’s other works. Like an early mention of Carrie’s (re)discovery of her telekinetic powers.

Her mind had…had…she groped for a word. Had flexed. That was not just right, but it was very close.

King uses the idea of flexing the mind, whether it’s psychically communicating or controlling objects or what-have-you several times in his works. It’s one of his key themes. And “flexing” is certainly an idea he builds throughout his canon. I was surprised to see him use it so soon in his body of work – on page 24 of his debut novel, in fact.Another stylistic favorite of Kings – parenthetical asides used to show a duality of thought, of the narrator’s subconscious almost, also was used liberally through the novel. I had forgotten about that, as well. The idea, too, of being more there than there, a theme common to King’s Dark Tower texts popped up in Carrie’s description of Tommy when he arrives on prom night.

She ran to the window, unable to restrain herself, and it was him, Tommy, just climbing out of his car, and even under the street light he was handsome and alive and almost…crackling.

It was a joy to find so many repeated basic tenets of King’s “Facts of Fiction” in what I had mistakenly come to think of as his opening exercise. Still, even with my happy little finds, Carrie is still a middle-of-the-pack novel, a quick read that I dashed off in a couple nights before bed. (Yes, a King book that I could read after dark – and if that doesn’t say much about the pragmatic approach in Carrie’s narrative voice, I don’t know what does.) In fact, I found that I enjoyed one particular scene more than the main story itself. It was a side story – one of the kind King excels at, the rambling backstories and oh-by-the-ways of minor and practically non-existent characters. The things that mean almost nothing to the main action, but add all of the flavor other authors can’t create. The bit I’m talking about was an aside that reads almost like a stand-alone short story about bad-boy Billy Nolan’s car.

Billy’s car was old, dark, somehow sinister. The windshield was milky around the edges, as if a cataract was beginning to form. The seats were loose and unanchored. Beer bottles clicked and rolled in the back…and she had to place her feet around a huge, grease-clotted Craftman toolkit without a lid. The tools inside were of many different makes, and she suspected that many of them were stolen. The car smelled of oil and gas. The sound of straight pipes came loudly and exhilaratingly through the thin floorboards. A row of dials slung under the dash registered amps, oil pressure, and tach (whatever that was). The back wheels were jacked and the hood seemed to point at the road.And of course he drove fast.

See what I mean? God. It’s a brilliant description, the kind I could only come up with if I sacrificed a unicorn. It’s classic King stuck smack in the middle of a story that sounded less there after having read that one passage. Carrie’s good…but the bit about Billy’s car is great.All in all, a good start to my Stephen King adventure. Who knows what else I’ll rediscover, or even how long it will take me. But the year is winding down and seemed like as good a time as any to curl up under an afghan with some old friends. (Re-Read Number: 4, as best I can remember. 3 of 5 stars.)

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