I first experienced Misery in 1990 on the silver screen. I was fourteen years old at the time and Kathy Bates scared the bejesus out of me. I started reading the novel a couple of years later, but did not progress very far due to reasons that now escape my memory. Recently, and once again inspired by my niece, I returned to what may now be my favorite Stephen King novel.
Famous author Paul Sheldon loses control of his vehicle in a Colorado snowstorm and crashes off the road. Annie Wilkes, a certified nurse, extracts the unconscious and seriously injured writer from the wreckage. With the snowstorm raging, the phones are out and the roads are blocked so getting Paul to a hospital is impossible. She brings him back to her secluded home to nurse him back to health and it is there she learns who he is: her favorite author. Oh what a treat for her.
As expected, the film took quite a bit of creative license with the story and while I enjoyed it, the novel is leagues better. Where the film included multiple points of view, the novel is told exclusively from Paul’s perspective. When Annie is not in his convalescence room, we have no idea what she is up to and that frightens me much more. Just as with every Stephen King novel I have read, the characters are the strongest part of the book. When the majority of your entire novel has just two characters, they’d better be strong characters and King delivers as he always does. Annie Wilkes is one of the most frightening characters I have ever encountered because she is so vile, so sadistic, and so believable. She is not a monster under the bed. She walks among us, a hideous beast hiding in plain sight behind a sweet smile. We first see her as a benevolent rescuer but in short order, the veneer begins to crack and the true Annie is revealed. O, and the things she does to poor Paul!
Misery is truly one of the most intense books I have ever read. Anyone who has only seen the film needs to read the novel. In many cases, the film is enough like its source material that one could probably get away with not reading the book if one wasn't in the mood, but Misery demands to be read. King is so clearly expressing some personal concerns here that his words need to be consumed to gain a deeper appreciation of the author as a human being. Fortunately, Stephen King has never been in the same situation in which he places Paul, but you just know he received some fan mail that got his brain pistons pumping. When you are as famous a person as Stephen King, you no doubt come into contact with all kinds of people, most of whom are perfectly decent folk, but a few of whom are Annie Wilkes.
In a heart stopping instance of life nearly imitating art, Stephen King was struck by a car and seriously injured during his daily walk in June 1999. I don’t imagine that in that exact moment he subconsciously prayed that the driver was not an Annie Wilkes, but as he recovered in his hospital room, one has to wonder if he was grateful not just to be alive, but to be in a public hospital with the story plastered all over the news instead of being rescued by a deranged fan and secreted away to a secluded location in the mountains. As Paul Sheldon wrote during his imprisonment in Annie’s house, so too did Stephen King write after his accident to help himself heal. Being in such pain, King had considered retirement but in a recent interview with Bangor Daily News, King recalled that his wife set up a writing desk for him and encouraged him to work to help him mentally recover from the accident. It worked too because King has written over thirty novels, non-fiction books, and novellas since his accident. We all owe Tabitha King a note of gratitude.