Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Elevation: A quasi review

Well, a little late today, but better late than never, right? Let’s hope so, anyway.

I actually had some partially-written posts going, but when my alarm went off this morning I turned it off–then woke up forty minutes later and ended up short of time. I’ve had my alarm clock for probably twenty-five years (seriously!), maybe more, and I still never hit the snooze button. I always swear I’ll get up in a few minutes, and usually, I do. I must have been a little tired. Anyway, on to today’s post. Be  warned, there may be mild spoilers for Stephen King’s Elevation ahead. Not like I give away the ending or anything.

I don’t know what surprised me more: Finding out in early October that Stephen King had yet another book coming out in 2018, or finding out how very small it is. Seriously, when my librarian handed it over to me last week (first one to read it, too!), I almost asked, “Is that all there is?” King’s last two books, Sleeping Beauties, co-written with his son, Owen, and The Outsider clocked in at 702 and 576 pages, respectively. Elevation is, by contrast, a slip of a book, a novella, really, of just 146 pages, a book that can fit in one hand and is barely thicker than that hand (pretty cover, though).

It’s like a little notebook!

Elevation is the story of a middle-aged man who finds himself inexplicably losing weight–with a catch. When the story opens, he’s already dropped 28 pounds, but he looks exactly as he did when he was weighed 240. As his weight continues to drop, at about two pounds a day, there is no change to his outward appearance. The book hearkens back to King’s 1984 novel, Thinner (written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, in which an obese lawyer loses weight uncontrollably after being cursed) and Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, in which a man shrinks by 1/7″ a day. In fact, Elevation’s protagonist shares the same name, Scott Carey, with the hero of Matheson’s book, and the dedication for Elevation reads “Thinking of Richard Matheson.” King wears his influences on his sleeve. (NOTE: I now find myself wanting to re-read both Thinner and The Shrinking Man)

It took me about a day to read, and the surprises kept coming, though. For the first time in a long time, I found myself wishing that the book was longer. That’s not something I’ve said about a King book in a while. Now, for the record, I like long books–when they’re good. King has put out some really long books (1138 pages for It; 1074 pages for Under the Dome), and I mostly really enjoy them. But both Sleeping Beauties and The Outsider felt way too long for me, full of extraneous characters and too much…well, something. Elevation has none of the bloat, but I found myself wanting more backstory for our main characters, more of the sketches of small-town Maine and the quirky folks who live there. Not this time.*

But the thing that surprised me the most? Unlike Thinner, or even The Shrinking Man, Elevation is suprisingly optimistic. King is well-known for torturing his characters, for putting them through the wringer, for always asking himself, “How can I make things worse for them?” Here, however, the worst thing happens in the first ten pages. King’s version of Scott Carey quickly accepts what he thinks his fate will be, and unlike Thinner’s Billy Halleck and The Shrinking Man’s Scott Carey, King’s Carey actually seems to gain from losing: he gains perspective on his own life, and on that of his beloved town of Castle Rock.

Over at Stacy’s blog last week, Stacy asked me what genre I thought Elevation fit into. It’s clearly not horror. Nor does it fit quite into fantasy. The phrase that came to my mind was “magical realism,” even though there’s no magic in the traditional sense. Thinking about it some more, it almost has the feel of a fable to me, so that’s what I’ll go with.

I’m kind of lacking a concluding paragraph here, so I’ll turn it over to you: Have you read Elevation? What did you think of it? Have you ever been surprised by something an author did in a book the way I was surprised by Elevation? Please share, and thanks for reading!

*In hindsight, given the style of book, its length is probably a good thing. If King started coloring in the back pages in his typical King way, it might have shifted the narrative in a direction he didn’t want to go, maybe even turned this into more of a horror or science fiction novel. Keep true to your vision, Stephen!

8 Responses

  1. Fables tend to teach us a moral lesson. I didn't see that in Elevation. At least not for Carey's character. But maybe there are other meanings for that word. What was funny as I was reading the ending, it reminded me about From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. They both just kind of ended without knowing how it ended. Does that make sense?

  2. In many ways, the ending was not unlike the ending of The Shrinking Man, rather open-ended and full of possibility. Though I could argue that I have a pretty good idea of what would happen to King's Carey….
    Fable: yeah, I don't know, either. It just had a kind of fable feel to it in some ways, though it's certainly not a fable in the traditional sense. The benefit of being Stephen King is that you get to do what you want with genre and style, because you're Stephen effing King!

  3. I haven't read it but it sounds fascinating. I read a lot of King's horror when I was younger and I didn't sleep well for years and years. His writing really gets into my psyche and freaks me out. I think this one I could handle

  4. I haven't read it. I used to read King all the time but when I became a widow with two young children I couldn't afford to be too scared to go to my kids in the middle of the night. 😀

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