Monday, June 27, 2005

Book report: Misery

The Romance Novel Challenge was designed to broaden my own reading horizions while teasing some of you who have never read a romance novel (or an inspirational romance novel) into giving one a try. I promised to share my impressions of the books I am "forced" to read, so here is the third of my book reports:

Chris Mikesell is a sneaky guy. He agreed to read his first-ever romance novel if I would read a Stephen King book. His choice for me was Misery, which happens to be a story about a romance novelist who is kidnapped and tortured by an insane fan.

Very funny, Chris. Now stop snickering and I'll get on with this.

It took me four sittings to read this book. I almost quit twice, but I stuck with it because I was fascinated by its sheer badness. The spectacular writing I enjoyed in Bag of Bones was nowhere apparent, but perhaps that is at least partially explained by the fact that Bag of Bones was written ten years after Misery. Those of you who have read both novels may wish to share your thoughts on that.

Chris said he'd be interested to know what I thought of the novel-within-the-novel, the romance story called "Misery's Return" that's pounded out under duress by protagonist Paul Sheldon, who has made a fortune writing such things. I found it wholly disgusting. How did the remarkably talented King manage to present a caricature of a romance novel without making it at least a little bit clever or amusing? It's just plain bad, and not in the delicious way it should have been.

On to the "scary" stuff. I didn't find any in this book. King did manage to revolt me, however; I had to skip some pages during the lawnmower scene, in particular. But the bottom line is that King could have scared me if he hadn't pushed so hard. Less is more, Steve. The thing that's so frightening about real-life mass murderers is that their neighbors think they're quite ordinary people. So Annie and her overdone temper tantrums weren't frightening, but ridiculous. I did begin to squirm a bit at Paul's drug- and fear-induced madness, but even that was carried so far that I finally disconnected from the story (not that I was ever fully engaged to begin with). Without the slightest emotional investment in the protagonist's struggle, I found the book's ending tedious and unnecessarily complex.

I realize this book is a favorite of King fans, and I'm curious to know why. Would anyone care to comment? What did I miss?

Next up for me is Joseph Nassise's Riverwatch, another horror novel. My previous book reports, on Stephen King's Bag of Bones and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, are here and here.


Laura from Denver said...

OK, you've shamed me into reading a romance novel. I never have. And you've mowed through three non-romances since you took up the challenge. I'm going to read one of yours. My local B&N had a whole shelf full of romance novels by a woman named Coulter, but it wasn't you. From the looks of it, she writes a book a month! Tell me which book of yours I should try, and I'll report back forthwith.

Brenda Coulter said...

And another romance holdout comes over to the Dark Side. I love this!

Laura, my second book won't be out until March and my first is now out of print, so it's available only online or at libraries and used book stores. Here's my link if you're still interested.

The "other" Coulter is Catherine. When my first editor asked whether I'd be using my own name or a pseudonym, I said, "Let's just use mine." I figured it would be easy for people to pronounce, spell, and remember.

"Great!" she said. "You'll come right before Catherine on the bookshelves."

I haven't read Catherine Coulter, but she's quite prolific and I know she's well liked by romance readers. You might just grab one of her books.

Now. What--besides a horror novel--would you have me read?

Anonymous said...

Hey Brenda, I got one for you to read , Could I have This Dance,
By Harry Kraus, I really Like his work! and if you like this one you will like the sequel( For the Rest oF My Life) give it a shot!

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the "used to be a rabid Stephen King reader" who really hated MISERY and had a hard time finishing it. I didn't like the movie, either (even though it had a great turn for Ms. Bates, an underused actress.) Like CUJO and CHRISTINE, it got a big THPPPTTTT from me. Haven't read BAG OF BONES, so can't comment on that.


Anonymous said...

I can definately agree that MIsery was not worth reading. I have yet to understand why King hasn't got a hold of the concept that when it comes to getting into peoples' minds, less is more. The more graphic and intense you get into it, the less is left to the mind. Give me a good romance anyday, espcially Christian romance. That's where the most amazing things happen. JMH

Brenda Coulter said...

Janice, I'm not familiar with Harry Kraus. Thanks for the tip.

Mir and JMH, I was afraid everyone would pounce on me for saying Misery was awful. ;-)

Fair said...

I can't explain why I liked Misery so much -- especially since I have low tolerance for the cutesiness in some of his other books, and the villain in Misery is very cutesy in her bizarre way. I also have near zero tolerance for extreme violence in books, and Misery is very disgusting. But I liked the book. I suppose I was drawn to the basic situation. I've often liked books about people who find themselves trapped and at the mercy of someone else (although usually I'm reading about someone psychologically trapped, not literally trapped).

And I found his depiction of the Misery romance novels silly in an amusing way, instead of annoying. I don't know -- it just worked for me. (I haven't seen the movie version.)

Fair said...

One thing I've noticed about my reaction to Stephen King's books: I either love them or hate them. There's never an inbetween for me when it comes to Stephen King. I hated the ridiculously bad "It" as much as you hated "Misery." Lots of writers leave me lukewarm, but never Stephen King. I think that's an accomplishment in itself.

Brenda Coulter said...

Interesting comments, Fair.

I forgot to say that I found one thing funny about Misery--Paul's "grinning" typewriter and its missing letters. I laughed when the "e" fell out.

Katrina Stonoff said...

I hated Misery, both the movie and the book (except for Kathy Bates; I always like to see her). Didn't care about the characters, found the plot unlikely...just didn't like it.

But I loved both The Stand and The Shining. However, since they are both at least as long as Outlander was, perhaps you made the best choice after all.

The "e" key was one piece of Misery that I did like. The "e" key on my keyboard is literally pitted from my fingernails and doesn't work maybe 20 prcnt of the time. ;-)

Chris said...

Here's what I liked about Misery:

1) The missing "n"; and the fact that Annie thought this wasn't an obstacle to writing.

2) And then the "t" and finally the "e"; Paul can't catch break. I liked the devolution of Paul Sheldon: from cock-of-the-walk to poor schmuck. I can't say I ever really empathized with him; that's not something I really look for in a story, though.

3) The cat and mouse game. Granted, when you only have two characters, this and "pattycake" are your only options. But the realization that the cat has known what's been going on all along upped Annie's creepiness factor for me. As with #2, King never gets the reader to play "mouse" with Paul, but as Gene Wilder said as Willy Wonka: "The suspense is terrible ... I hope it will last." I enjoyed watching the game.

4) The stories within the story; not only "Misery's Return," but also the newspaper clippings and the revelations about Annie's past.

5) The Scheherezade and "Sarah Winchester" elements of the story: keep writing (building in S.W.'s case) and you can stay alive.

Is Paul's manuscript really the best thing written? No. It's a first draft. It's supposed to be flawed. A lot.

6) Annie, oh-so-polite-and-proper and oh-so-cockydoody-psycho at the same time. Paul, I'll admit, was nothing spectacular, but Nurse Wilkes ... whoa Nellie.

7) The game of "Can You?". I don't know if it's autobiographical or not, but I liked the genesis of Paul Sheldon, writer. That and King's other "writer" bits, I've appreciated.

Did I like everything about the book? No, I didn't care for much after Paul left Annie's place. The Jason Voorhees moment at Paul's apartment really bugged me. The writing could have been tighter, especially in narrative mode.

Sorry it wasn't your cup of tea, Brenda. Maybe I happened to read it at just the right time of life; I was 18 when it came out and it really captured my imagination for being a writer. Glad you liked BoB, though (I thought it was overly-sentimental/weepy and didn't care for the cliched "Poncherello's Wedding" resolution to the love interest angle; but again, I dug the writer bits).

--Chris (dFm)

Brenda Coulter said...

Okay, I will (grudgingly) admit to (mostly) agreeing with you (but don't get cocky, or I'll take it all back), especially on points 1, 2, 5, and 7. There were some clever elements in this story, just not enough to hook me and keep me on the line.

I suppose reading Misery was more educational and inspirational to the writer in me than I like to admit. And I hate it that you made me admit that, Chris, because I really did not enjoy the book.


Chris said...

Fair enough.

--Chris (dFm)

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is if Chris read Brenda's book ?

Brenda Coulter said...

Actually, Anonymous, as he has resisted reading romance, I'd really rather he didn't read mine. I'd rather he hated someone else's book.


Anonymous said...

Brenda, my Sweetheart, wanted = time and wanted to tell you about a book he thought was good to read. Sharyn McCrumb (She Walks These Hills} I think he has read almost all of her books

Brenda Coulter said...

Janice, does that mean he's going to read a romance novel? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Brenda, he has and does read romance books, and likes them, and I like it when he reads them too!!!!!!!!!! ;-D

Michelle Pendergrass said...

Just so you a Stephen King fan, I couldn't make it through Misery. I didn't like it. He has done much better work.

I don't like a few of his more popular books. I do like his style though. He's got that all wrapped up.