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A silhouette of elands grazing in the plains with raising sun in the background inside Mas
  • Writer's pictureBryce Chismire

Misery - Pre-Halloween Review

Updated: May 1, 2021

Warning: There are some moderate spoilers in this review as well as some obscenities in the referenced passages.

One of the shows that I have been watching thus far is Game of Thrones. While it's undeniably epic and interesting, there have been times, I’ll admit, where I left feeling pretty PO’ed over the deaths of some of the main characters of the show. But that’s nothing compared to the outrage I’ve seen from online by those who felt as emotionally connected to them as I was. The outrage ranged from despair to boycotting the show over them to overflowing with hatred for the creators for them to even just flat out tormenting them with death threats over them. And, from I’ve read at this point, there have been times where this occurred with other forms of entertainment before.

But that’s not what I’ll be talking about here. The reason I brought this all up is to say this...For anyone who went through those exact experiences or rather just similar experiences such as these, I have only two words of advice for you:

Read/Watch Misery.

Written by the famous writer of horror himself, Stephen King, this story chronicled Paul Sheldon, author of the famous ‘Misery' book series, who ended up in a car accident and was taken in by a woman named Annie Wilkes, who claimed to be his number one fan. However, Annie was beyond upset with him when she found out that he killed off Misery his latest book. So, in a fit of rage, she used violent methods – including, of all things, breaking his legs – to persuade him to write a new novel (Misery’s Return, it was called), one that would have brought Misery back to life, and one that’s all for her. Even as Paul started writing that novel, however, he started to become more and more victimized by Annie's mood swings and her then-increasing methods of violence as he continued to write the novel not only for her pleasure, but also for his survival.

I can safely say that after reading this, there’s a reason that Stephen King has become such a heralded writer, especially one who was experienced in horror stories. His prose in his work heightened the suspense of any particular situation, and he exceled in writing in ways that alerted the readers, and in some cases, even the main characters, of the imminent dangers the closer they came. In this case, King's writing made Paul and the reader feel uneasy about Annie’s quirks until it all came to a boil with Annie becoming more unpredictably threatening than ever before.

While I’m on the subject, I should talk about the two main characters of this story. Paul Sheldon, the first time you meet him, was your everyday writer who relished the success of his books before being changed by unforeseen circumstances. What made him particularly memorable, however, were several things. One – and that’s a given – was the predicaments he had to go through. It’s unimaginable that someone like him had to endure all the physical and even mental tortures Annie exulted on him, and it made us sympathize with him even more.

Two, there may have been shades of his past self exposed in some of the flashbacks highlighted through his inner ramblings. To name a couple, there was one when his manuscript of Fast Cars was about to be burned up by Annie...

“No,” he said, crying and shaking. One thought worked at him, burned in him like acid: for less than a hundred bucks he could have had the manuscript photocopied in Boulder. People—Bryce, both of his ex-wives, hell, even his mother—had always told him he was crazy not to make at least one copy of his work and put it aside; after all, the Boulderado could catch on fire, or the New York townhouse; there might be a tornado or a flood or some other natural disaster. He had constantly refused, for no rational reason: it was just that making copies seemed a jinx thing to do.

Well, here was the jinx and the natural disaster all rolled up in one; here was Hurricane Annie. In her innocence it had apparently never crossed her mind that there might be another copy of Fast Cars someplace, and if he had just listened, if he had just invested the lousy hundred dollars—

...and another when he was contemplating about the novel and his then-current condition.

So what was the truth? The truth, should you insist, was that the increasing dismissal of his work in the critical press as that of a “popular writer” (which was, as he understood it, one step—a small one—above that of a “hack”) has hurt him quite badly. It didn’t jibe with his self-image as a Serious Writer who was only churning out these shitty romances in order to subsidize his (flourish of trumpets, please!) REAL WORK! Had he hated Misery? Had he really? If so, why had it been so easy to slip back into her world? No, more than easy; blissful, like slipping into a warm bath with a good book by one hand and a cold beer by the other. Perhaps all he had hated was the fact that her face on the dust jackets had overshadowed his in his author photographs, not allowing the critics to see that they were dealing with a young Mailer or Cheever here—that they were dealing with a heavyweight here. As a result, hadn’t his “serious fiction” become steadily more self-conscious, a sort of scream? Look at me! Look how good this is! Hey, guys! This stuff has got a sliding perspective! This stuff has got stream-of-consciousness interludes! This is my REAL WORK, you assholes! Don’t you DARE turn away from me! Don’t you DARE, you cockadoodie brats! Don’t you DARE turn away from my REAL WORK! Don’t you DARE, or I’ll—

What? What would he do? Cut off their feet? Saw off their thumbs?

If these passages were anything to judge Paul by, I think there was a certain cockiness and narcissism that he lived by before killing off Misery in his books and ultimately ran into Annie Wilkes. If that was the case, then it made his odyssey under Annie’s roof all the more intense, and the resolution at the end all the more satisfying.

And that leads to the third thing I found interesting about him: for all his authority as a writer, this journey made him realize that not only was he still human, but there were things in life that were beyond his control, made more blatant by his limited movement on account of his busted legs. Yet, it’s his abilities to adapt to the scenarios and environment to survive, and his methods of doing so, that made us root for him all the way through. In the end, the experience also gave him a greater appreciation for writing in general, as well as writing from the heart, which was enlightening in and of itself.

His caretaker, Annie Wilkes...what can I say? She was a psychopath, and her following infamy wasn’t without good reasons. The first time you meet her, you’d think of her as being sort of a walking, talking minefield: one wrong step, and she’d blow up all over you. But the more you learned about her, the more threatening she became.

It started when Paul roamed about the house after escaping the bedroom. When he stumbled into her scrapbook entitled ‘Memory Lane’, he, and the reader, discovered that it was a collection of newspaper clippings discussing about up to 30 victims in the past, the ones she killed herself, ending with a newspaper clipping of him being labeled as a missing person. This realization made us fell like she was too dangerous to belong in a prison.

Next, there was the scene where Annie held a dead rat in a mousetrap in front of Paul. She called it a ‘poor, poor thing’ before untrapping it, squishing it with her bare hands, and smearing its blood all over herself. This convinced me that whatever sanity and decency, if any, remained in her had just sunk deeper and deeper into oblivion. This propelled her, in turn, to being seen as too unstable to belong in an asylum.

Finally, there was the incident where Annie used her wooden cross and her lawnmower to slice down the arm and head of a visiting policeman who just noticed and recognized Paul Sheldon. Is it weird for me to say that this made me feel less frightened of Annie and more infuriated with her instead? Because that’s how I felt as I read it, grossed out as I also was, as if to say that she just crossed the line and became ‘too inhuman to live’ in my book. From there on, I became more interested than ever to see what tricks Paul had up his sleeve in spite of his handicapped condition, whether it was to beat Annie at her own game or if it was to concoct new ways to make himself found by outside forces while also finishing up the novel for Annie.

Put simply, Misery was a crazy novel, but in a good way. The suspense was fruitful, the characters were interesting, and the stakes sure went as high as they could’ve gone in a suburban or even such a remote setting. Amidst all the chaos I dealt with as I dove into this story, it left me with a good message about appreciating all the things in life, as well as all the gifts, that we have, and that no matter what, we should never let anyone who's not us dictate it. Never. (Unless you’re seeking help with it, then it’d be appropriate, just as long as it doesn’t get as extreme or one-sided as it did here)

Just the right kind of story about stories, especially for Halloween, to get our creative juices flowing and our blood frozen.


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