I came at this book in a roundabout way. I don’t really like Stephen King’s books. I read the The Stand and The Dead Zone many years ago, and I think I read The Shining, but I can’t really remember. I know that The Shining is about a haunted hotel, and I think that one of the other ones is about some superflu that suffocates people with their own mucus.
I was reading Merlin Mann’s The Problem with “Feeling Creative” for inspiration. Or, as he says in his post, I was reading Merlin Mann to avoid doing something else because I wanted to feel creative instead of being creative.
Somewhere near the top of his post, he mentions books that talk about the creative process and singled out Stephen King’s On Writing as an exemplar of the genre. I downloaded it to read with my iPhone’s Kindle app, and it was pretty good.
Throughout On Writing, King talks about how he wrote his books which, for the most part, involved a lot of sitting down at his chair and writing. Mr King had something of a drug habit (it’s not clear whether prolonged chair-sitting caused or enabled it), and apparently Misery was about that. I was curious about the story of a fan mutilating a writer to keep him productive and docile.
I wasn’t going to spend money to get Misery either as a physical book or as a Kindle download, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being unemployed, it’s that the library has thousands of books you can read for free. Moreover, the library is air-conditioned (which my house is not), quiet, and very comfortable.
The Stephen King shelf had multiple copies of most of his books but only one copy of Misery. Either it was very popular and only one copy remained, or the single copy was an indication of its importance in the King canon. I was about to find out.
It’s a story of a successful writer who-- well, it doesn’t matter. It’s a book about a writer, so you know it’s going to be a lousy story because writers, by definition and by inclination, are self-obsessed boring people. This particular writer is stupid to boot: he doesn’t keep copies of his manuscripts. And he resents that his success is due to his frivolous historical romances instead of to his more serious literary works. Poor you; we should all have such angst.
He gets into a car accident and is saved by a woman who describes herself as his “number one fan.” She is a former nurse and a psychopath. (Incidentally, a wonderful book about psychopaths is The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley.) She nurses him back to health (sort of) and gets him hooked on a potent pain killer. Eventually, she’s going to lop one of his feet off. We know this because even people who have never read a Stephen King novel know this about Misery.
The problem with this novel is that it’s written by Stephen King. That means it has long, detailed descriptive passages punctuated by observations both pointless and banal. “I crawled from the bed to the window, the pain in my legs shooting to the base of my skull in sheets of searing white as signals traveled along the A-Delta fibers to my hypothalamus. The blinding pain mixed with memories of my mother baking pies. It was the image of the actress Mary Pickford baking a pie that cemented the image of apple pie as the icon of American motherhood.”
I made that up. It’s not a quote from the book.
Mr King is much better at that sort of thing than I am, which is the reason I never finished Misery.