Stephen King launched his literary career on April 5, 1974 with little
fanfare. Doubleday had printed 30,000 copies of
Carrie, but the novel
only generated sales of 13,000 hardbacks. The author received an
advance of $2,500 for his efforts—a reasonable amount for an
untested author, but hardly enough for King to quit his day job as
a high school teacher.

If you want to buy one of those hardback first
editions nowadays, be prepared to pay a
thousand dollars or more. If Stephen King’s
signature is attached, the cost will be closer to
five grand. For the unproven author of Carrie
would turn into the leading horror writer of the
late 20th century. Stephen King would go on to
sell more than 350 million copies, and accumulate
a net worth of $400 million. When he wrote
he was living in a trailer and writing on a borrowed
typewriter. He now owns three homes, including his
famous Victorian mansion in Bangor, Maine that
looks like a haunted house from one of his novels.

King had actually thrown away his first attempt at telling the story of horror at
a high school prom. But his wife retrieved the discarded pages from the trash
bin, insisting that the tale had potential.  King persevered, and nine months
later completed the manuscript.

Upon the book’s release,
Library Journal told its reader that the novel was
"overdone" and "cannot be honestly recommended." But the
New York Times,
which carries a bit more clout, proclaimed
Carrie "amazing" and declared that
this impressive debut "was guaranteed to give you a chill." Signet Books, a
seller of mass-market paperbacks, clearly agreed with that assessment, and
offered a stunning $400,000 for softcover rights. Their bet paid off when
Carrie went on to sell more than a million copies in paperback. An even bigger
boost came when director Brian De Palma read
Carrie and decided to turn it
into a film. "
Carrie the movie put King on the map," notes George Beahm,
author of
The Stephen King Companion. "It got people who don’t normally go
into bookstores through the doors." Judging by King’s subsequent rack
record, they made many repeat visits.

Why was
Carrie so successful? You probably expect me to focus on the plot—
after all, isn't that the main driver of all genre fiction? But King is not your
typical genre writer. In his works, the structural issues—often handled so
deftly that the casual reader hardly notices them—are as important as the

In the case of
Carrie, King could hardly have adopted a more challenging
blueprint for his narrative. Following in the steps of John Dos Passos—who
pioneered this pointillistic technique in
Manhattan Transfer and his USA
Trilogy—King decides to tell his story in fragments. These include everything
from newspaper articles and graffiti to transcripts of testimony at government
hearings and passages from imaginary books. King intersperses traditional
third-person storytelling from an omniscient narrator who can read the
various characters’ minds, but only one at a time. So the reader's perspective
on the plot constantly shifts from character to character. At some junctures we
are viewing the action as Carrie’s perceives it, but then we might take on the
outlook of her mother, or a teacher at her school, or a classmate, or some
other member of the community.

As if this weren't hard enough to pull off, King jumbles up the chronology of
the narrative.  Most of the novel is devoted to explaining the events that led up
to the macabre prom night that serves as the centerpiece to
Carrie. But
throughout the novel, King inserts passages that describe key incidents from
the perspective of those analyzing the horror after the fact.  The reader is
repeatedly tantalized with these macabre foreshadowings of the gruesome
conclusion of the story of Carrie White, but enough is withheld to keep us
guessing—and cringing—in anticipation. The virtuosity with which King
handles these structural complexities would earn our praise even if he had
been an experienced writer at the time; but in a newcomer to genre fiction who
was publishing his first book, this confident control of materials is all the more

Oh, did I mention the stream-of-consciousness passages that show up
periodically in
Carrie? Throughout the book these appear as tiny interruptions
in the narrative, psychological haikus juxtaposed against the storytelling. In a
few instances, the Joycean inspiration rises to the forefront, and King pushes
at the limits of genre fiction. Yet, he never loses the reader, and the radical
shifts in prose style, narrative stance and chronology work together in
Carrie above the crudities that fill the 'horror' shelves at your
neighborhood bookstore. Yes, this is a genre book, but at every juncture, King
wants to show you how he can resist the stale formulas and hack writing of his
pulp-oriented peers.

But I have delayed long enough…I now must tell you about the plot. It’s a
good yarn, as they said in old days. Thinks of it as a kind of
Revenge of the
, but with lots of blood and explosions. Carrie White is the outcast at
Ewen High School in the small community of Chamberlain, Maine. She is
ridiculed and bullied, and often serves as the target of cruel pranks. Her life at
home is no better: her mother is a deranged fundamentalist who has
renounced organized religion in favor of a home-based faith built on hours
praying in the closet and devotion at a home altar. Carrie craves a normal
teenage life, but it is denied her at every turn. When finally pushed too far, she
opts for payback.

But here’s the catch: Carrie isn’t a normal teenager. She has latent telekinetic
powers. During her early childhood they appeared during a brief moment of
psychological crisis—Carrie was able to make furniture move around the
house and stones fall from the sky. But this was an isolated event, and even
Carrie only dimly remembers the circumstances that spurred this
manifestation of strange powers. With the onset of puberty, however, Carrie’s
psychic powers emerge in all their awesome horror.

You wouldn’t want to cross this young lady. She can propel objects, or even
break them in two, with a mere burst of energy from her mind. Readers can
see the disaster looming over the community of Chamberlain—after all,
Stephen King constantly hints at it with his dramatic shifts in chronology. We
can see Carrie looking forward to prom night. She has been invited by one of
the most popular students at the high school, who has been roped into serving
as escort more as a gesture of pity than in the spirit of romance. Meanwhile a
less sympathetic classmate plans a cruel and elaborate prank to humiliate
Carrie in front of all the prom attendees.  As if this isn’t enough to precipitate a
teen meltdown, Carrie’s mother decides that only the whore of Babylon would
go to a high school dance, and hatches her own plot to set matters right.

Yes, readers know that this story will end badly.  
But still they can’t anticipate the way events will
unfold…or the scope of the destruction. In a novel
that constantly anticipates future events, King still
keeps a few secrets to himself until the very end.
The pace accelerates dramatically during the final
fifty pages, and the fireworks—both the psychological
ones and the literal ones flaming in the sky—will not
disappoint. I am hardly surprised that director Brian
De Palma immediately saw the potential for translating
this book on to the silver screen.

But also give King credit for his bold approach to
character development. Carrie is scary, no doubt
about it, but she also draws on our compassion, and perhaps nags at our
conscience. If she is a monster—and who can doubt it, by the end of this
volume?—she is a monster that the rest of us created. The fact that we
understand Carrie so well both amplifies the horror of King’s story, and its
value as a novel that rises beyond the narrow confines of most escapist genre

For that very reason, I was saddened to learn that
Carrie ranks among the
most frequently banned books in US schools. It has been a focal of
controversy in at least six different states. One high school in Vermont even
alleged that the novel could harm students, especially young girls.

I take the opposite view. This book might have a positive impact on
youngsters, perhaps forcing them to think twice before bullying and ridiculing
their peers.  In case you haven’t noticed, the number of school outcasts
seeking revenge has increased dramatically, and lethally, since King published
his novel. There are plenty of Carries in our schools, and we are fortunate that
they don’t possess her powers. That said, you don’t need telekinetic ability to
wreak havoc in the classrooms. Many school outcasts require intervention or
just our compassion. This horror novel just might convey that lesson to those
who would ignore a more didactic or pedagogical message.

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His most recent book,
Love Songs: The Hidden History, is published by Oxford University Press.

Publication date: January 25, 2016
by Stephen King
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This is my year of horrible reading. I am
reading the classics of horror fiction during the
course of 2016, and each week will write about
a significant work in the genre. You are invited
to join me in my
annus horribilis. During the
course of the year
if we survivewe will
have tackled zombies, serial killers, ghosts,
demons, vampires, and monsters of all
denominations. Check back each week for a
new title...but remember to bring along garlic,
silver bullets and a protective amulet.  
Essay by Ted Gioia
First Edition of Carrie
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
By Stephen King
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stoker, Bram

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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Movie poster for Carrie