Acclaimed novelist Paul Sheldon, badly injured in a car accident, is held captive by deranged super-fan Annie Wilkes. A former RN, she vows to aid him back to health until he’s well enough to make the trek to a hospital. However, it’s on one condition; he write a new novel featuring his signature character Misery Chastain – just for her.
Outside of the legendary Randall Flagg, Annie Wilkes has to be the most terrifying villain King created. Mentally unbalanced and completely unpredictable, she’s everything you want in a horror novel “bad guy”. Driven by an insane goal, to see Misery Chastain resurrected from the dead and once again placed into the literary world, Annie will do anything to make sure Paul Sheldon “makes it right” with a novel written just for her. If Paul decides to make this process difficult, well, she has ways of making him write.
Having not seen the classic 1990 Rob Reiner film, I went into Misery blind. I knew next to nothing about the story other than Kathy Bates taking the Oscar for best actress and that very famous “wooden block scene”. If you think that was hard to watch, try giving the book a read – things get graphic and Annie’s punishments are downright brutal.
Seeing as Misery – for the most part – is a two person show, King writes both characters with a tremendous sense of depth. These are two characters who are far from cookie cut-outs of the “heroic” protagonist and the “crazy” antagonist. King kept me guessing right up to the very end, wondering what would happen – would Paul kill himself? Would Annie kill him and then herself out of desperation? Would Paul kill his captor and escape? I honestly didn’t know – which was fantastic.
After a particularly brutal finale, in which King blew my mind with the sheer ugliness of it all, he’s still intent on scaring the crap out the reader. Lesson learned – King isn’t truly finished until the book is closed. Misery is loaded with suspense and despite the story taking place over a period of several months, a sense of absolute urgency is constantly at the forefront. King should teach classes on pacing alone.