The following are quotes from Stephen King‘s Misery and the thoughts that they provoked in me. Disclaimer: I read the book on my Kindle Paperwhite so the locations refer to that version of the book (sorry if you were looking for page numbers).
“A kind of grand odyssey to somewhere, a way to reacquaint himself with reality after the fictional terrain of the novel.”(L. 423-424)
“His other deductions might be like houses built on quicksand, but this view of Annie Wilkes seemed to him as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.” (L. 1090-1091)”
He sat quietly, almost dozing, waiting for something to happen, really aware of nothing at all except that things were happening down below, that whole edifices of make-believe were being erected, judged, found wanting, and torn down again in the wink of an eye.” (L. 2161-2162)
In this novel, King had the seemingly impossible task of explaining a lot of things that not a lot of people can relate to, including himself. I mean how many people are forced with the treat of death to write a book? To do this, he uses the idea of landmarks as a conceit: Describing his back and forth movement from consciousness and unconsciousness, Paul Sheldon refers to a piling of rock at a beach that he had visited in his youth. With this idea he also describes how it feels to fall into the whole in a story (L. 423-424), the process of writing (L. 2161-2162), and the sanity of his captor (L. 354-356 [quote found in image caption], 1090-1091).
“He lay in the bed with his legs making shapes like broken branches under the coverlet and cold sweat running down his face in little slow creeks, he lay and watched as she crossed to the corner and set the bucket down and then picked up the pieces of the bowl and took them out and came back and knelt by the bucket and fished in it and brought out a soapy rag and wrung it out and began to wash the dried soup from the wall.” (L. 558-560)
I wanted to quote this sentence because it exemplifies King’s ability to entertain and teach. In the passage above, Paul is impatiently waiting for Annie to clean up the mess with the bucket so that she can give him his pain medication. By crafting a long and tedious sentence, King is putting the reader through the same impatience-inducing process.
“That she would do that to him—that she could, when he had spent most of his adult life thinking the word writer was the most important definition of himself—made her seem utterly monstrous, something he must escape. She really was an idol, and if she didn’t kill him, she might kill what was in him.” (L. 654-653)
Paul killed off the character that had made him famous. He didn’t feel good about the Misery series anymore. He hadn’t meant for it to go as far as it had and it was glad that it was over—but Annie forced him to revisit it, to make Misery a phoenix and bring her back to life. In the beginning this process made him feel like he was dying on the inside. Does this apply to all writers? Is it misery to write something you are not passionate about? What about—and this is the question that I ask myself when I’m laying around doing nothing instead of writing—what about being passionate and not writing at all? Isn’t that just as bad?
“Not all her gear was stowed right; lots of it was rolling around in the holds.” (L. 659-660)
In the quote above, King is describing the mind of Annie and perhaps the miserable mind of a writer—plus I enjoy this quote because at the time I was actually sitting on a plane with luggage stowed above my head. Location. Location. Location.
“God takes us when He thinks it’s time and a writer is God to the people in a story, he made them up just like God made us up and no one can get hold of God to make him explain…” (L. 770-771)
This idea, opining a truth about a writer’s relationship to his characters, takes a wider view of narration and gives an added meaning to the term omniscient.
“He had chalked it off to the pain and to being in a situation where he was not just writing for his supper but for his life.” (L. 2044-2045)
This made me think: What motivates a writer? Interestingly enough, JK Rowling was living on state benefits before she created the Harry Potter series. Rowling may not have been in a life or death situation, but could it be that being at that low point in her life motivated her to write? What would it take for writing to be necessary to survival?
“Yet there was always a deadline, a time after which you had to leave the circle, and most writers knew it. If a book remained roadblocked long enough, it began to decay, to fall apart; all the little tricks and illusions started to show.” (L. 2149-2151)
“A person might as well not write a book at all, if there’s no one around to read it. Do you get me?” (L. 2907)
“‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said, ‘I’ll turn in after awhile. Sometimes you get it down or it gets away.'” (L. 4993-4994)
When you get right down to it Misery is an extremely scary piece of horror, but is it scarier for a writer? What say you writers?—have you ever started a story that hit a roadblock? Have you ever worried about whether someone will read your book or not? Did you ever go to bed with an idea in your head—eh, don’t worry, I’ll remember it tomorrow—and then forgot what it was the next day? I can’t say that these three quotes didn’t provoke in me a little extra panic.
“Paul had known writers who found it impossible to write after so much as a minor marital spat, and he himself usually found it impossible to write when upset. But there were times when a kind of reverse effect obtained—these were times when he had gone to the work not just because the work ought to be done but because it was a way to escape whatever was upsetting him. These were usually occasions when rectifying the source of the upset was beyond him.” (L. 2838-2841)
When I read this I thought about whether this was true or not in my own life? What roles do emotions play on a writer when he is writing? And then I wondered if King was just admitting to this being a truth in his own life. What emotional state was he in when he wrote Misery?
“Because writers remember everything, Paul. Especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels, not amnesia. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is that ability to remember the story of every scar.” (L. 3907-3909)
Writing isn’t for everyone; trust me I know—I’ve been fighting off the gnawing question of whether it is for me too. But does the theory in the quote above hold any merit? If so, perhaps it hinges on the old adage write about what you know.
“So he bent over the book again. In a weird way it was just too good to put down. It was like a novel so disgusting you just have to finish it.” (L. 3262-3263)
“The gotta. Nasty as a hand-job in a sleazy bar, fine as a fuck from the world’s most talented call-girl. Oh boy it was bad and oh boy it was good and oh boy in the end it didn’t matter how rude it was or how crude it was because in the end it was just like the Jacksons said on that record—don’t stop til you get enough.” (L. 4011-4013)
These two quotes seem to suggest that this is how King perceives his relationship to his readers and what drives them. His horror fiction is often crude and disgusting but he has so many followers, so many adoring fans—he’s on to something.
“The thought that grieving for a fictional character was absurd did more than cross his mind during his tossings and turnings.” (L. 4130-4131)
This quote unearths the relationship between readers and characters. A good book will have you sad when something bad happens to a specific character. How did you feel when Albus Dumbledore died? Primrose Everdeen?
“When I start a book I always think I know how things will turn out, but I never actually had one end exactly that way. It isn’t even that surprising, once you stop to think about it. Writing a book is a little like firing an ICBM…only it travels over time instead of space. The book-time the characters spend living in the story and real time the novelist spends writing it all down. Having a novel end exactly the way you thought it would when you started out would be like shooting a Titan missile halfway around the world and having the payload drop through a basketball hoop. It looks good on paper, and there are people who build those things who’d tell you it was easy as pie—and even kept a straight face while they said it—but the odds are always against.” (L. 4614-4619)
In contrast, this quote unearths the relationship between writers and their characters. A story can change drastically from the way you envisioned it as characters seem to take on actual lives in your head. They have their own aspirations. Their own drive. Sometimes they steer you in a direction even better than what you imagined.
“…beldame.” (L. 924) “…gravid…” (L. 945) “…untoward…” (L. 3333)
King expertly uses these Old English words when he is in the head of Paul Sheldon; as the author of Misery set in the early English period of colonization, Sheldon has an arsenal of words to fit the era.
“If she was dead he would die in here, a rat in a dry trap.” (L. 839)
“She took not notice at all. He lay in bed, cocooned in pain, trying not to moan and moaning anyway.” (L. 867)
“His legs were beginning to hurt again, but in the dawning horror of this recognition he barely noticed.” (L. 1116)
“Soon enough, however, he was looking at the typewriter again with avid repulsed fascination, not even aware of just when his gaze had shifted.” (L. 1268-1269)
“Now there was all this white space below CHAPTER 1, looking like a snowbank into which he could fall and die, smothered in frost.” (L.2067-2068)
“He had been dreaming awake.” (L. 2185)
“When one woke, however, the tide began to go out and soon the rock was visible again, a barnacle-encrusted thing of inarguable reality, a thing which would be there forever, or until God chose to wash it away. And this fool dared to come here and prate of ghosts.” (L. 2225-2227)
“I’ll write THE END, and you’ll read, and then you’ll write THE END, won’t you? The end of us. That’s one I don’t have to guess at. Truth really isn’t stranger than fiction, no matter what they say.” (L. 4626-4627)
“So suck my book. Suck my book.” (L. 5217)