Stephen King’s Misery (1987)

king_misery_covKing draws a love-hate relationship from me, and he tends to evoke both a numbing rage and blissful joy at every plot juncture. Misery‘s fantastic. It doesn’t get drowned out with the ‘King-isms’ that tend to crowd his plots with cockadoodie savant children, classic rock-quoting writers, nonsensical endings full of deus ex machinas and left-field twists, and hallucinated comedic relief — with jokes so unfunny and drawn-out their inclusion is the scariest part.

Misery dips into this, but it’s contained enough and focused enough to keep cool. It’s a story of a man and a woman, set mostly in one room. The lady holds complete power over this man, and the extent of her strength is well-developed and frightening. Really frightening.

Paul’s your textbook King hero, a self-deprecating model of the writer at work. He might be a little too good of an imitation, and the ending left me with a couple memorable observations:

Paul writes as King writes. Misery features synopses and chapters from Paul’s work. Paul’s work-in-progress is treated as a masterpiece of melodrama, and it’s, well, more weird than good. Paul makes frequent allusions to H. Rider Haggard, and one guesses this fiction-within-a-fiction is supposed to riff off of those high adventures in Africa. But the supernatural Queen Bee is more It‘s (1986) alien spider than King Solomon’s Mines‘ (1885) Gagool.

king_misery_movie2
Rob Reiner and William Goldman adapted Misery into an excellent 1990 movie starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. It was a rare instance of the adaptation being just as good as the source material.

Paul’s drug addiction is sometimes as eerie as his relationship to Annie Wilkes. King had a well-known drug problem in the ’80s, giving the descriptions an extra, terrible autobiographical layer to Paul’s characterization. There comes a point where his addiction stops adding plot and starts adding pages — dangerous ground, yeah?

After getting an earful from Paul on the proper denouement, I believe we actually spent half of ours knocked out on drugs by choice. Ain’t a major letdown, but it certainly could have been much, much more interesting if Misery‘s narrative force didn’t lock itself in a bathroom and down a box of Novril before a hasty The End.

Does the real-life context of addiction add to the novel and its discomfort, or detract? I’m conflicted. I can at least say I liked it. King’s good when things’re as simple as a man, a woman, and a room. Real good.

8 / 10

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