Carrie Recaps: Part Four

by thethreepennyguignol

It’s the first day of October, the month where – and this is true – every single day is Stephen King’s birthday. With Halloween fast approaching, what have you got planned for the year’s spooookiest holiday (aside from, of course, gathering round a campfire with your friend to read these recaps aloud to one another in reverently hushed tones by torchlight)? Give me your favourite scary movies, books, TV shows, and music. I live for this shit.

Anyhow. We left off last week after checking in with Sue Snell, the hero of our piece; yeah, Carrie’s our protagonist, but Sue is the one who goes through an obvious morality arc, starting at her horror at herself for tormenting Carrie along with the other girls in the shower in the first chapter. Her boyfriend, Tommy, recounts to her a story about a time when he engaged in the beating of a fellow classmate who he felt had wronged him years earlier. He asks Sue if she’s going to apologise, and she asks him if he apologised to the victim of his attack. He says no:

“‘It’s not seventh grade any more. And I had some kind of reason, even if it was a piss-poor reason. What did that sad, silly bitch ever do to you?'”

I think this whole scene is really interesting, because Tommy makes it clear that he thought it would have been dumb for him to apologise for what he did, while he clearly thinks that Sue should make amends with Carrie for what she did. It’s a boys-will-be-boys situation, where the beating that Tommy and other classmates meted out against the allegedly-deserving bully isn’t worth apologising before because it was righteous (even if Tommy does admit to feeling bad about it and considers his reasoning, as quoted above, “piss-poor”) and retributional, but what Sue and the other girls did to Carrie was unacceptable and worthy of Sue’s guilt. It’s interesting that the book frames (at least through the character’s perspectives) active acts of violence basically worthy, while the comparatively less violent act against Carrie is seen as indefensible. Boys will be boys and solve their problems with violence, but girls should be above that and not give in to their baser urges to torment and hurt their peers. I’m not sure if it’s something that the book is commenting on or simply reproducing, but this division of violence and aggression down gender lines is something that comes up a lot in Carrie so it’s worth noting how it’s framed here.

I know it’s apropos of nothing, but a good few pages into this scene (which takes place post-coitally in Tommy’s car), we get this:

“‘Guess I should have kept quiet,’ he said, and pulled up his pants.”

Which put in mind the hilarious image of Sue and Tommy having this long conversation about morality and violence while Tommy has his cock out because I am extremely and very mature. Tommy discusses the way he thinks his life is going, and the whole sequence just kind of…jars to me. This comes after Sue asks him if he thinks his popularity matters:

“‘No. It’s not very important. High school isn’t a very important place. When you’re going you think it’s a big deal, but when it’s over nobody really thinks about it.”

Now, I’m not saying that no high schooler has had the self-awareness to understand that high school wasn’t that important in the grand scheme of things and that your achievements in high school don’t matter a whole lot, but this speech (and one that follows, where he talks about marrying a “nagging broad” and reminiscing on his high school triumphs with friends) really distinctly feels like a grown-ass man putting words he wished he’d had the wherewithal to realize were true into the mouth of a teenager who, at least as he’s been characterized so far, probably doesn’t have that amount of self-awareness. It just jars with how Tommy has been set up so far, but apparently it works on Sue:

” ‘Love me. My head is so bad tonight. Love me. Love me.'”

And we get into the first sex scene of the book. It’s brief, but man, what is it with authors who just can’t write sex? Stephen King is just one of them, with notoriously weird and out-of-place sex scenes cluttering up a large percentage of his books, but so many “real” (read: non-romance) authors have such a hard time writing anything but the purplest, stupidest sex scenes. This one isn’t the worst, but I do have questions. Apparently, this is the first time that sex hasn’t hurt for Sue, so of course that means that she’s ridiuclously and crazy orgasmic and comes a bunch of times with no stimulation other than Tommy’s dick. Yeah, some women have solely vaginal orgasms, but it’s pretty rare forgive me if I think it’s unlikely that Tommy (who was also a virgin up until a week or so before) has mastered the art of delivering sublime vaginal orgasms by the third time he’s hooking up. Oh, and then there’s the description of that orgasm:

“[her] body filled with sunlight, musical notes in her mind, butterflies behind her skull in the cage of her mind.”

What the fuck is this? Look, I didn’t want to have to rag on another book for writing sex badly, but this is just…it’s just silly. Where did this notion come from that the female orgasm is some pseudo- religious experience where our entire body turns into a metaphor for how much we love that dick? I’ve never, ever heard a male orgasm described in terms that flowery, but God forbid a woman, you know, just feel sexual pleasure without it turning into a chance for an author to dust of their Big Book of Overwrought Similies. Also, musical notes in her mind? What, like, the literal images of music notes? I mean, this scene is all of ten lines long and it’s just so irritatingly dumb. Maybe it’s just the erotica writer in me (shameless plug: buy my books!), but it really gets my hackles up when I see sex scenes that are just so lazy and purple-hued.

We mercifully leave Sue and Tommy behind and jump to a brief little excerpt from a scientific journal regarding the implications of the “Carrie White incident”, and the back to Carrie and her mother the day Carrie comes home from school on her period.

This is the first time we actually meet Margaret White in the present-tense narrative, and she’s still one of the most imposing bad guys that King has ever come up with. She shoves Carrie to the ground when Carrie protests at her mother not telling her about her period, and insists that they come pray:

“Let’s pray to Jesus for our womanweak, wicked, sinning souls.'”

I think this is another important line, specifically, the “womanweak” part: there’s no arguing that Carrie’s womanhood (or the old-school version of womanhood that King invokes in her getting her period) is tied to her powers. She’s not woman-weak, but if anything, woman-strong – but, so far, King has inadvertently tied that womanhood to frightening, dangerous, and destructive powers (mostly in the flashforward newspaper articles and journal excerpts after the events of the prom). He could have played this story straight and not hinted at the violence that Carrie was to wreak in such an explicit way, but he constantly reminds the reader that something terrible is coming and that Carrie and her powers are at the centre of it. Margaret White, the villain, is framed as being both crazy and cruel for inflicting these notions of womanhood being inherently destructive on Carrie, but King himself doesn’t want the audience to forget just how dangerous and violent Carrie is going to become as a result of her “womanhood”.

But, on the other hand. What follows in the famous scene where Margaret White makes Carrie repent for her “sins”, and Carrie actually protests and stands up for herself:

“‘I didn’t sin, Momma. You sinned. You didn’t tell me and they laughed.'”

Carrie’s mother continues to beat her, and it’s by far the scene that most informs what we know about Carrie’s character. While, yes, King links Carrie’s period/womanhood are tied to violence and destruction, it is also the arrival of her period that allows her to stand up to her mother for the first time. The galling anger she feels at her mother for keeping this from her, despite the violence her mother metes out at her for fighting back, gives her the strength to protest her treatment at her mother’s hand:

“‘YOU SUCK!’ she screamed.

Momma hissed like a burned cat. ‘Sin!’ she cried. ‘O, Sin! She began to beat Carrie’s back, her neck, her head. Carrie was driven, reeling, into the close blue glare of the closet.

‘YOU FUCK!’ Carrie screamed.

(there there o there it’s out how else do you think she got you o god o good)”

Here, Carrie turns her mother’s own natural instincts – for sex – back on her the way the girls at her school used the natural process of her menstruation against her. She’s using her victimization and twisting it up into something to defend herself from the greater threat of her mother. Her power comes from what has been kept from her. And Margaret has nothing to say to her – trapping Carrie in the closet and leaving her there, which is where this chapter leaves off.

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