Monday, June 11, 2012

Misery, by Stephen King

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This is a book only a writer could have written.

Who else would understand the brutal anguish of burning a stack of papers -- or even the desire to spend two years pouring forth sweat and tears and energy and life creating said stack of papers in the first place? Who else would understand the power of a story to tip the scales of life and death? I don't even mean in an external, my-crazy-number-one-fan-has-me-trapped-oh-god-what-do-I-do situation, but in a I-cannot-leave-this-mortal-coil-until-I-know-what-happens way.

For a writer, the true horror of Misery isn't the axe-wielding, or the forced drug addiction, or the psychological domination. The horror is that Annie Wilkes is all the worst traits of an editor, a publisher, a fan base, and a meal ticket rolled into one.

I think that the biggest development as a person for writer-turned-prisoner Paul Sheldon is not whether he overcomes the physical hardships, or whether he gets free (can't have spoilers leaking into this blog!). It's whether he recognizes, and then acknowledges, the kind of writer he truly is.

You see, I find that so many fresh, new, young, up-and-coming, developing, whatever-other-euphemism-for-"beginner" writers (and in fairness I'll include myself in this bunch) have an idea of what sort of writer they think they are. That's the sort of writer they want to be, and you'll almost always hear these writers saying that they hope their novels get picked up and then strike gold -- and until then, they'll just have to toil through day jobs. Some fraction of these writers figure out that they can write "other things" to pay the bills. At least they're still writing, and on the side they can still work on their real projects.

That second one is the kind of writer Paul Sheldon is in Misery. Every writer who makes it that far has a decision to make (or maybe more accurately, a self to uncover). Are they the kind of writer they think they are, the one whose best and most soul-enriching writing is the side-writing that might not sell but dammit is good? Or are they really the kind of writer who has pretensions about being a "serious novelist," but whose true talents lie in the smut-and-pulp realm of popular fiction?

The first of those two shudders at the very concept of "popular fiction." The second, which I think includes Stephen King, embrace their talents and run with them.

No judgment calls here -- plenty of canonized Novelists made their wages writing for the masses, and plenty of canonized books were smut-and-pulp upon first publication. (Vonnegut or Chandler, anyone?) Just thoughts. Thoughts that so many beginning writers would be happier upon doing a little soul-searching and discovering what truly gets their mind-gears greased and their fingers twitching.

So amend that first sentence: Misery is a book only a self-aware writer could have written.

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