Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Misery” by Stephen King

I love Stephen King, and Misery was the next on my list. It was very similar to Gerald’s Game, which I loved.

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“Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident.

But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.”

Boy, was I in for a ride. We’re catapulted straight into the confusion and deliriousness that was Paul Sheldon’s accident, the mad pain of his shattered legs, and the feeling of utter entrapment as the crazy Annie Wilkes gushes over Paul’s writing, rages over his murder of her favourite fictional character, and punishes his ‘bad’ behaviour. This isn’t a slowly-but-surely, maybe she’ll let me go soon before realising something is wrong; no, this is a full-on, immediate, she’s crazy and I’m never getting out of here scenario.

I adored this book, which had me by the throat for the few days it took me to finish. Stephen King’s poetic delivery of mad ramblings, clever metaphors, and references to memories and private jokes are just a step above other writers. I usually detest things that are too popular (I didn’t watch Game of Thrones until 2019) but I’m definitely a King fan (maybe not his number one fan, though…)

Some hilarious quotes that had me chuckling:

“Her temper had apparently gone on vacation. But… it could arrive back unexpectedly at any moment, bags in hand: Couldn’t stand to stay away! How ya doin’?

“No phone call to the ambulance service: ‘This is Annie… I’ve got a fellow here, looks a bit like King Kong used him for a trampoline.’”

“And what then? A kamikaze dive out onto the back porch? A great idea. Maybe he could break his back, and that would take his mind off his legs for a while.”

Annie was a truly terrifying character. She wasn’t just insane, but unpredictable, remorseless, yet still human; an excellent recipe for a King villain. I can’t say much more without having to add a spoiler warning, but her acts and Paul’s reactions and trauma were flawlessly written. I think this might be my favourite King story so far.

Five stars for Misery!

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Get Misery on Amazon US
Get Misery on Amazon UK

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Apt Pupil” by Stephen King

So continues my venture through Different Seasons, Stephen King’s four-part collection of novellas. After Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is Apt Pupil, the story of a young boy and an old man who share and suffer mutual blackmail. A movie adaptation came out in 1998, sixteen years after the book’s release.

kapook_world-176686“If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn.

Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher, Mr. Dussander, and to learn all about Dussander’s dark and deadly past… a decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn his teacher in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to face his fears and learn the real meaning of power—and the seductive lure of evil.”

Todd is described in the very first line as an “all-American kid.” On the surface, he’s perfect. Sun-kissed blond hair, a great smile, and even better grades. Too clever for his own good.

He’s sussed out his neighbour’s true identity. The old German isn’t an innocent immigrant, but an ex-Nazi with a truly horrific past. Todd’s got the goods on him. But he doesn’t want money… he wants to be told. Told everything. Every grisly detail of the Nazis’ horrific acts on their victims.

If only Todd knew at thirteen where his actions would lead, he’d have left the old man alone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. Stephen King doesn’t digress as much as he did in Shawshank, which I preferred; we lived through Todd and Dussender’s mutual disdain, their hold on each other, the odd relationship not of friendship, but respect forming between them. Todd’s grades suffer; he has nightmares, his sick fascination with the unthinkable twisting his life in ways he could never have anticipated.

Horror isn’t always monsters and zombies; there are many horrors of real life that we have to live with, some more than others. In Apt Pupil, there was always something lurking, something that was going to happen, I could feel it. The tension was paramount throughout, leading to an explosive and satisfying ending. Neither characters were likable due to their natures, but it was fascinating to experience their discomfort, their constant fear, and their growing disdain of those they felt were beneath them.

The past is the past, but is it truly? Todd is affected by things that happened before he was born, and yet he is living them.

The dialogue was just great. I was in the 1970s, experiencing the slang of teenage Todd and the second-language love of idioms by Dussander. Stephen King also has a gift of taking similes and idioms a step further, making them his own. There were some quotes that had me laughing.

“It was impossible to tell his age. Todd put him at somewhere between thirty and four hundred.”

“Don’t you dare die on me, you old f***!”

“He looked like death with a hangover.”

It was a fun little Easter egg that Andy Dufresne of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was mentioned, too. He was one of Dussander’s bankers before he (Dufresne) was arrested.

Apt Pupil was awesome, and I might check out the movie at some point. I give this charming novella five stars.

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Get Different Seasons on Amazon US
Get Different Seasons on Amazon UK

Book Review: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King

Movie buffs, Morgan Freeman fans, or anyone with good taste in film has seen or at least heard of the 1994 masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Of course, it was a novella first, written by the American master of horror, Stephen King.

I recently received a paperback named Different Seasons as a belated wedding gift containing four of King’s novellas, one of which is the 129-page Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which would inspire the classic movie released twelve years after the story’s publication.

91h9ji0d2KL._RI_Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is the story of two men convicted of murder – one guilty, one innocent – who form the perfect partnership as they dream up a scheme to escape from prison.”

It isn’t a horror, though arguably the true “horrors” of prison life, such as “solitary” conditions, bribery, rape, are discussed. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a tale about perseverance, patience, and hope. It’s about holding onto what’s right and staying strong even in the toughest of times.

The book is just a novella, and a lot was added to make it into a movie. It’s not the only of King’s stories to be adapted in this way; more examples include The Mist and 1408 (which, incidentally, are both horrors).

It’s written from Red’s point of view, and though the story is about Andy and his time at the prison of Shawshank, we find out a lot about how Red observes, thinks, and feels. Interestingly, Red was a white man in the book (described as having greying red hair), but Morgan Freeman was perfect for the role in the movie adaptation.

Red is the person who can get things for you. In prison, he’s an important man who’s approached when someone needs things like alcohol, a pack of cards, or a dirty book. His friendship with Andy begins when the younger inmate asks him to get a poster of Rita Hayworth to put in his cell.

Andy shows up at Shawshank for killing his wife and her lover, and appears mild-mannered, calm, and even casual; he strolls about as though he’s at ease with the world and his words are carefully chosen. After advising a guard on how to keep his inheritance without it being taxed, Andy, who had been a banker before his stretch in prison, starts helping the other guards with his finances and, in turn, gets to live alone in his cell and is protected from the Sisters, a vicious gang of rapists.

You might know the rest of the story, and if you haven’t, I won’t give it all away.

Red tells the story in an order that isn’t chronological, often jumping back and forth between the years to talk about events and people. Much of it is also skimmed over, told rather than shown, which I thought would be against the number one rule in writing. Though it wasn’t completely confusing, it was jarring at times to go from the early ’70s back to 1959, but since I knew the story it wasn’t completely baffling. I did think, though, that I would have preferred to be shown through certain events rather than them being mentioned off-hand as something leading up to the “present.”

The movie also improved on many things. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, stop reading now. If you don’t care about spoilers or you know the tale, read on.

**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!**

There are some vast differences between Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and its movie adaptation. Here are a few examples.

  • In the movie, the leader of the Sisters is beaten to within an inch of his life for his treatment of Andy. In the book, they fade into the background when Andy is given protection.
  • Tommy, the young man who met the real killer of Andy’s wife, is transferred to a minimum-security prison, a sort of bribe by the Warden to get him out of the way. In the film, he’s shot dead by a guard; it’s an evil and shocking twist, though the concept of Andy’s only hope willingly leaving him behind is sadder and, in a way, darker.
  • Red doesn’t officially find Andy in the book. It ends with him out of prison and receiving the hidden letter he found after following his best friend’s clues and clinging to the hope that he may track him down someday. Movie watchers enjoy happy endings, and the on-screen story had a much more feel-good ending. Whether that means it’s better is debatable.
  • The best change from book to film was what happened to the Warden. After Andy’s escape (which is identical in both versions), Warden goes a bit loopy and retires early, always wondering how Andy managed to outsmart him. In the film, he’s found out for all the scams he’s running and fatally shoots himself.

Stephen King’s writing was impeccable, as always; it felt very ’50s, with plenty of old slang that was a joy to read. There were some amazingly funny quotes, too, which had me giggling as I read the paperback on the train.

“A man humping his butt across country in a gray pajama
suit sticks out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.”

“Cell doors opened; prisoners stepped in; cell doors closed. Some clown shouting, ‘I want my lawyer, I want my lawyer, you guys run this place just like a frigging prison.’”

“One wit suggested that Andy had poured himself out through the keyhole. The suggestion earned the guy four days in solitary. They were uptight.”

The image of an inmate, who probably detests the guards and is good at acting dumb, making a completely useless suggestion for kicks tickled me pink.

Overall, the book was a charming day in the life (though the story spans over several decades) of two inmates, one of which manages the impossible out of patience, dreams, and hope. Andy is a gorgeous character, mysterious and calm and completely likable. Overall, I think I prefer the movie, but the book was still a pleasure to read and I’ll probably reread it in the future. I give Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption four stars out of five.

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Get Different Seasons on Amazon US
Get Different Seasons on Amazon UK

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King

Unless you’ve been deprived of all movies and books your whole life, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the man, the legend, the award-winning and best-selling American author, Stephen King. Even if you’ve never read any of his novels, it’s likely you’ve seen, or at least heard of, films based off his works such as The Green Mile, The Mist, or The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit, but Gerald’s Game is actually the first Stephen King book I’ve read. As a twenty-five-year-old supposed book lover, this isn’t what you might call ideal, but there you go.

Many authors who are supposed to be geniuses are really difficult to read; I bought a Hemingway book not too long ago and really struggled to get through the first few pages. I suppose I felt that any of King’s books would be the same. I was wrong, of course; King’s writing is beautifully smooth and I zoomed through the 468-page paperback in a couple of days.

First, the cover.

I’ve no idea if this is the first edition from 1992, though I’ve a feeling it isn’t. I love this cover. By today’s standards, some may say it’s too garish, too simple, but it perfectly covers the glaring horrors that lie with in along with 1960s nostalgia that becomes relevant once you know the story. I actually adore this cover.

“Once again, Jessie Burlingame has been talked into submitting to her husband Gerald’s kinky sex games – something that she’s frankly had enough of, and they never held much charm for her to begin with. So much for a “romantic getaway” at their secluded summer home. After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts – and Gerald crosses a line with his wife – the day ends with deadly consequences. Now Jessie is utterly trapped in an isolated lakeside house that has become her prison – and comes face-to-face with her deepest, darkest fears and memories. Her only company is that of various voices filling her mind . . . as well as the shadows of nightfall that may conceal either an imagined or very real threat right there with her . . .”

This psychological horror is the nightmare of “what-if” scenarios. The laughably unlikely happens, leaving Jessie in a terrible situation, her own thoughts and suppressed memories only making her experience more dire.

The story has layers upon layers, making it much more than a simple survival horror story: deep and dark memories which she is forced to relive and may ultimately help her in its own twisted way; events that make us question Jessie’s reality itself, and events that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. King delivers an expertly crafted exploration of mental and physical anguish and unlocks Jessie’s sad and horrific past, which despite being a long time ago, still clings to her in the present day.

There is a great movie based on this book, though there are several big differences. It’s a Netflix original, much faster paced than its book equivalent but still great. I won’t go into the differences right now as this review is spoiler-free. I recommend reading the book first for the full effect; you’ll feel your stomach dropping like a stone at the last few pages.

After reading Gerald’s Game, which thrilled and legitimately terrified me, I now consider myself a Stephen King fan! Better late than never, yes? An easy five stars for this fantastic novel.

Recommendations of more great King books are welcome! I’ll definitely get round to reading 1408 and The Mist, since I love both of those movies.

(Links aren’t working right now for some reason, but I’ll provide a link to the book on Amazon when I can.)

Thank you for reading! Please recommend your favourite Stephen King novel on my Twitter or in the comments below.