Talk about “Stranger Things“! (sorry couldn’t help making a belated plug here for this gripping Netflix series I only recently completed watching)
From hardly reading any fiction these past several years to reviewing now my 3rd fiction book in less than a year. Who woulda guess?!
Wanna hear something even stranger (there I go again!)? I’ve never read a single Stephen King book in my entire life, yet here I am about to review one from the Master Horror Story-teller himself!
Horror? Thank you….next!
Not gonna lie but I’m dead-skunk terrified of horrors in any format — audio, motion picture, electronic, or print. And of course in real life (though I’ve not had any “stranger things” encounter to date — last time cross my heart!).
I still remember vividly when I was a kid around seven or eight years old. My family brought me to the cinema to watch an Indonesian ghost movie about a witch that terrified a neighbourhood with her snakes and spells. Since then, I’ve steered clear of horror. And yes I still hug a bolster to sleep every night!
While I certainly don’t understand why anyone would pay good money for a horror novel or film to scare one’s living daylights, I do believe fervently in the power of a good story told. Which usually happens with a good storyteller.
Like Mr. King.
Whom I now understand, albeit belatedly, why he’s an undisputed maestro in the world of suspense and horror fiction.
However, in keeping with my scaredy-cat persona, and recent impatience with long-form novels of any genre, I decided to pick a safe (read non-horror) novella from the man.
Well guess what? Turns out, he’s equally at home writing stuff that doesn’t make my hair stand!
Elevation of the “stranger kind”
If you’re a Stephen King fan, let me quickly say that I’m sorry.
Aside from what I’ve already sheepishly declared earlier about my ignorance of Mr King’s works, this is also a review that’s written some four years after this novella was published. But of course, if you’ve been following my blog, you’d already know most of my book reviews to be of less-than-current publications.
Still, with that said, here goes.
King’s novella “Elevation“, published in 2018, is not a horror story as much as it is a compelling tale with a universal theme of friendship despite differences.
Set in Castle Rock, Maine — a fictitious town that features in many of King’s other works — it’s a curious tale about a man named Scott Carey who is a lonely divorcee living with his pet cat called Bill D. Cat.
The story begins with a visit Scott pays to an old friend and retired doctor Bob Ellis to tell him about a strange thing happening to him. Scott was losing weight daily yet he wasn’t getting thinner! And to heighten the mystery, the bathroom scale continued to show his weight falling daily no matter how many layers of clothing he puts on, or if he steps onto the scale while carrying heavy things.
More than meets the eye
At first, readers would probably imagine that the rest of the book will all be about solving this mystery.
But it’s not.
Instead, we’re introduced to other characters, particularly Scott’s new next door neighbours. They were a married lesbian couple, with two dogs that loved to ‘fertilise’ Scott’s front lawn regularly, much to his indignation.
Needless to say both sides got off on the wrong foot.
Somehow though, Scott’s daily deteriorating weight loss changed him into someone who became increasingly selfless. Despite getting the cold shoulder from his neighbour Deirdre (the more assertive half of the couple), Scott soon finds out how the small town held big prejudices which affected the new restaurant business Deirdre and her wife Missy started in Castle Rock.
And so he decided to do whatever he could to help the couple. And over several heart-warming incidents, the frost in Deirdre’s heart finally melted to the point that even she and Missy were let in on Scott’s fading condition.
In the end, before Scott floated away (an unavoidable outcome when one’s almost weightless), we see Dr Ellis and his wife, as well as Deirdre and Missy giving him a tearful send-off.
Friendship forged against all odds
What I love about this novella (aside from the fact that it was thin enough for me to finish in a day) was how King developed the characters and their story arcs. In particular the two leads Scott and Deirdre; as well as various town folks in Castle Rock as they gradually transition from prejudice to inclusivity.
As readers, we quickly recognise in these folks our own selves as a society, with our inherent biases and often selfish refusal to accept someone different from us. Now while it might be easy to zoom in on the lesbian aspect of the tale, I believe King had a far greater cause to pursue by way of this book’s theme on friendship despite the odds.
I’ll leave you to read the book for details of how the protagonists evolve from foes to firm friends. For it’s when you do that you will, like me, see King’s mastery at character development. More importantly how he gets readers to root for Scott and Deirdre to turn from enemies into the best of neighbours, even as Scott’s imminent disappearance into the clouds loom writ large towards the end.
Yep, I don’t know how King does it, but he definitely managed to move this reader’s attention from even that light-weight of an elephant in the room (Scott’s mysterious condition) towards how the unlikely friendship was irreversibly forged thanks to Scott’s persistence.
And his dawning belief throughout the book that people really are often more than what we see, if only we take the time to find out.
So if you have a couple of hours to spare, go check this book out. It’s a page-turner guaranteed!