Carrie Recaps: Part Seventeen

by thethreepennyguignol

Whoops. Well, it’s been a while since we had a Carrie recap, which is my bad, but at the same time I had some pretty fucking wild crazy exciting news that you may want to check out that will hopefully redeem me for this late recap. 

Ahem, anyway, aside from my blatant arm-waving about my own debut novel (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), I guess it’s time we headed back over to Stephen King’s debut and checked back in. We left off just as Carrie’s rampage left the school and headed out into the rest of the town. With the phone lines jammed and the emergency services overwhelmed by the number of explosions and raging fire taking over Chamberlain, the townspeople come out to see what’s going on for themselves:

“They came like an invasion from the graveyard that lay in the elbow creek formed by the intersection of The Bellsqueeze Road and Route 6; they came in white nightgowns and in robes, as if in winding shrouds. They came in pyjamas and curlers (Mrs Dawson, she of the now-deceased son who had been a very funny fellow, came in a mudpack as if dressed for a minstrel show); they came to see what happened to their town, to see if it was indeed lying burnt and bleeding. Many of them also came to die.”

At the moment, I’m reading Human Acts by Han Kang (I recently read The Vegetarian by her earlier this year, and it both ruined and fixed my life, so get on that), which is a book set around the brutal suppression of a student uprising in Korea in 1980, and this segment really reminded me of her depictions of people thronging towards an unknowable but certain death – the grim sureness of it matched with the mundanity, and how sinister those two things are in coalescence with each other. I really like this section, is what I’m saying. And also, read Han Kang.

We finally get back into Carrie’s POV, as she prays in the town church:

“No one was there – or if there was, He/It was cowering from her. God had turned His face away, and why not? This horror was as much His doing as hers. And so she left the church, left it to go home and find her momma and make destruction complete.”

I’m going to be honest and say that while I understand that religion is a major theme in this book, I really don’t think it’s handled super-well. I do think there’s some really interesting themes to be explored, about the way that religion is used to demonise women and their bodies and their experiences, but it just doesn’t land in Carrie the way it should. Yes, there’s some interesting stuff in Carrie about how religion can be wielded as a tool of abuse by individuals against other individuals, but I would have liked the book to take it that step further and delve into the abuse of large groups (in the case of Carrie, women) with these beliefs as a groundwork.

Not when King himself is talking out of the other side of his mouth about how Chris having tits was what got those poor stupid boys to commit acts of terrible violence, not when he frequently compared Carrie to a literal farm animal for being unattractive. Certainly not when no male characters are given enough characterization to act as a counterpart to Carrie’s treatment and underline the fact that the demonisation of her body and womanhood is blatant sexism driven by beliefs bedded in religion. Religion (as told through Margaret, but still) is arguably the biggest influence on Carrie’s life to date, and sexism and the relationships between men and women are one of the biggest running themes through the book, and I feel like there’s a natural marriage between those points that is never really taken where it could, and perhaps should, go.All the pieces are there, but they just don’t fit into place the way they should.

Anyway, we cut out of Carrie’s POV again for another fucking interminable Q&A session that just…come on, Stephen, be straight with me, is this just padding? It feels like it. It feels like every time we get really rumbling with a POV sequence from someone present on the night, we cut out to have someone talk about their memories of the evening and the urgent immediacy is lost at once. Plus, they all seem to feature lines that are just impossibly inhuman: “Georgette and I were walking toward Main Street, holding hands just like two little girls walking across a meadow after dark”. This is not how people talk! If you had this nice little image you wanted to fit into the narrative, stick it in the third person POV section where it makes sense instead of jamming it into dialogue!

The Q&A is a recounting by someone present on the night of watching their friend burst into flames in front of them, which is pretty cool and all, but if I have to read one more iteration of the phrase “fire raging out of control” I’m not going to be a happy camper.

But finally – finally – we get to the really juicy part of this third act, as we swing into Margaret’s POV and sit with her as she listens to Carrie returning to the house. It’s a genuinely tense section, mainly because it doesn’t stop for academic analysis halfway through:

“The door blew open. Steps in the hall.

She heard the plaster plaques in the living room (CHRIST, THE UNSEEN GUEST, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO, THE HOUR DRAWETH NIGH; IF TONIGHT BECAME JUDGMENT, WOULD YOU BE READY) explode one after the other, like plaster birds in a shooting gallery.”

Good stuff, man. Anyway, Margaret reveals that Carrie’s father and Margaret were pregnant prior to Carrie and that she miscarried, causing the two of them to swear that they would not have sex again until marriage: however, one night, Carrie’s father comes home drunk and, well:

“‘It wasn’t until he came in that I smelled the whiskey on his breath. And he took me. Took me! With the stink of filthy roadhouse whiskey still on him he took me … and I liked it!”

I’m not sure what to make of this section. Because Margaret is clearly a character as conflicted by her internalised religious beliefs as Carrie, and in some ways this section reads as though she means to intimate that her husband raped her (the implication that he “took” her, which is a terrible way to talk about sex at the best of times), but she goes on to describe how much she liked it in some detail so…I’m not sure? I think this is best left up to interpretation.

And the chapter closes out on this metal-as-fuck declaration from Margaret about Carrie’s childhood:

” I took this knife in hand again when you were three, and I backslid again. So now the devil has come home.”

And with that, we leave the White women in the midst of their confrontation, and hope to Christ that we get some Sue in the next chapter and not another punishing Q&A section.

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(header image courtesy of Empire)