The first novel by Stephen King I read was Carrie, and I have to say it underwhelmed me. There was just something about it that was almost tame compared to what I was expecting. But maybe I was judging it based on what I’d remembered of the movie. I mean, Sissy Spacek was pretty creepy in that role.
I’m glad to report that I had the opposite experience with Misery. I had seen the movie multiple times, and I absolutely love James Caan and Kathy Bates in general, so I’d thought that their acting in the movie was excellent. But then I read the book and the movie all of a sudden paled in comparison.
First of all, let’s talk about Annie Wilkes. You guys it’s our first female psycho, and she puts at least half the men to shame! She’s patient for one thing; she obviously can play with her food for a long time before going off the handle. I genuinely felt afraid of her in this book and saw how pathetic and helpless Paul Sheldon actually is in his situation. First of all, he’s there for months on end–not the short couple of weeks as portrayed in the movie–and Annie doesn’t just break his ankles. She chops one of his feet off, hobbling him. Ironically, though, Annie’s nursing skills are the only thing that kept him alive fro that point on. Much like Hannibal Lecter who was a psychiatrist, Annie also enjoyed holding her patient’s health in her hands.
I’ve heard it said that Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense. Well, Stephen King is neck and neck with him in my opinion. When Paul was descending into madness at the end, I was actively experiencing anxiety. He really snaps and it came at the most perfect time. There were two parts at the end that absolutely chilled me to the bone. One was at the end of chapter 48: “‘There’s blood and broken glass and charred paper in there…but there’s no one in the room at all.'” Kathy Bates sure portrayed the quasi-immortal Annie Wilkes to a tee. That lady just wouldn’t die. Well, until she does. Thank goodness, because the other line that got to me was, “They had found her outside of Misery the pig’s stall, with one hand wrapped around the handle of her chainsaw” (336). I just started imagining all the damage she could’ve done to him with the chainsaw and I might have been almost as glad as Paul was (though he still had to suffer nine months later when Annie just won’t die in his head) to know she wouldn’t get to use it.
Paul was a different sort of protagonist, too, than we’ve had so far. At a point toward the middle of the book, it was starting to get difficult to get through because he seemed almost comfortable in that house–like he’d accepted his fate. That just threw me because James Caan does such a great job of depicting Sheldon’s urgency, fear, and tact while Book Annie Wilkes is obviously about fifty times smarter than Book Paul Sheldon. Sure, he holds the book over her head to keep her from killing him, but she holds his sanity. She’s not only some crazy, obsessed psycho: she’s a crazy, obsessed psycho who knows exactly what she’s doing (like most killers we’ve read so far seem to do). Sheldon is her puppet and she plucks his strings until she dies.
I guess the typewriter really was the best way for her to go. She lived and died with Misery.