I'm not sure which of Stephen King's novels I read first as a teenager, but I guess it's safe to assume that Carrie was probably among the very first ones. As you know, I've been revisiting some of King's early works to see how well they've aged over the years. I've always debated on rereading Carrie, however. Given that it's the author's debut, understandably it might not be as good as I recalled. But something kept nagging me to give it a shot and I finally did.

Carrie was King's fourth novel, but it was the first one to be published. It was also a book that almost never saw the light. Indeed, working on what was then a short story, the author threw the first couple of pages in the trash. It was his wife Tabitha who fished the material out of the garbage bin and encouraged him to finish the story. The book made little noise when it was released in hardcover format in 1974, yet it made it big in paperback. When the movie adaptation was released in 1976, sales reached four million copies. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I shouldn't have worried, for Carrie remains a powerful story that stays with you long after you've reached the last page. It's far from King's best effort, it goes without saying. But for all that it is a short work of fiction, it's raw and moving and unforgettable.

Here's the blurb:

Stephen King's legendary debut, about a teenage outcast and the revenge she enacts on her classmates.

Carrie White may be picked on by her classmates, but she has a gift. She can move things with her mind. Doors lock. Candles fall. This is her power and her problem. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offers Carrie a chance to be a normal...until an unexpected cruelty turns her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that no one will ever forget.

A great chunk of Carrie is written as an epistolary novel. Letters, extracts from various sources, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles are used to recount how Carrie destroyed vast swaths of the town of Chamberlain, Maine in her quest for revenge against her classmates and her own mother. Some of these epistolary-style sections worked well enough to foreshadow what's coming, but they also broke the momentum of the book more often than not. Hence, though there is a good story to tell, I reckon that some readers might find this unusual structure off-putting.

The book brings you back in time, back to your high school years and all that it entails. For most of us, that means a lot of awkward and painful memories. King doesn't shy away from showing us--and reminding us "older" folks--how cruel teenagers can be. In that regard, though the events take place in 1979 and certain things might seem a bit outdated, there is a certain timelessness to Carrie that survived through the decades since its release. Then as now, adolescents must deal with themes such as ostracization and the visceral need to fit in. Many of the scenes make you cringe and you can't help but feel for the poor girl who's had to deal with this sort of abuse her whole life.

Carrie White is a protagonist that hits rather close to home. Boy or girl, we've all known outcasts like her. And at her age, because we also wanted to fit in, the vast majority of us never stepped up to those who abused them. This is the most troubling and painful reality one must experience as an adult reading or rereading this novel. You can't help but think of the Carrie White analogues of your own past. And of course, there's no way to turn back the clock and do something about it. As such, Carrie just might be the most thought-provoking book I've read in a long time.

Unlike Carrie White, most of those teenage outcasts from our high school days never had a chance to strike back at their oppressors. This is what makes, to a certain extent, Carrie's vengeance so oddly satisfying. When the poor girl finally snaps, as we all know she would, what happens next is somewhat compulsively readable. You know it's bad and lots of innocents are about to get massacred, but you can't put the book down. The ending itself was more touching than I expected/remembered. All in all, this is a solid debut. No wonder it launched Stephen King's illustrious career.

For those wishing to read a classic or to revisit one of King's early works, know that Carrie is nearly as good now as it was upon publication nearly fifty years ago. If you can put up with an epistolary format that doesn't always work best as a narrative structure and don't mind reading a story that will dredge up disturbing memories that were best forgotten, this one's for you.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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