by Stephen King
Length: 146 Pages
Release date: October 30, 2018
The latest from legendary master storyteller Stephen King, a riveting, extraordinarily eerie, and moving story about a man whose mysterious affliction brings a small town together—a timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences.
Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.
In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face–including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.
The GoodReads Choice Awards have betrayed me. How this book managed to win the “best horror” category is beyond me, in part because it’s a really lackluster short story, but principally because… it’s not really horror. I’m not even sure it’s trying to be horror. It’s mildly unsettling for a few passing moments, but mainly, it’s just weird. And occasionally offensive, albeit I think unintentionally so.
Stephen King: I love you. You have written some genuinely good novels over the years. This is not one of them, and I truly think that if anyone without this kind of clout behind their name had submitted this to a publisher, it never would have seen the light of day.
Let’s start with my biggest issue with this novella. The crux of the plot is not, as you would assume from the blurb, Scott’s mysterious weight loss. No, it’s that the bland white male protagonist must rescue the local lesbian couple from persecution in small-town USA!!! Yikes. Said lesbian couple absolutely does not want to be rescued by Scott, but nobody really asked them, and what’s really important is Scott’s emotional development and proving that he is Absolutely Not Homophobic. It was also a really cringey experience to read about these women through the protagonist’s eyes, as he felt the need to ogle them at every opportunity. Please, mention her well-toned legs one more time. I don’t think I heard you the first four times.
Basically, what it comes down to is that politics and story are not well blended in this novella. I adore stories with social commentary, and I agree with King on a lot of issues, but the commentary in this case was so thinly veiled and clunky that at times that it has the effect of pulling the reader out of the story. (Side note: this was the same issue I had recently with Jodi Picoult’s A Spark of Light. If that book didn’t work well for you, you may want to pass on this one.)
I was not able to connect with a single character in this book. They were all very one-dimensional stereotypes, and I appreciate that it can be very difficult to create well rounded characters in under 200 pages, but I’ve read other novellas that did this so much better. (The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss, and Edgedancer, by Brandon Sanderson are all good examples.)
The final nail in the coffin for me was that there was no resolution to the mystery of protagonist’s weight loss. I’ve read and loved a lot of books with ambiguous ending which intentionally leave the reader with questions, so this is not an issue on its own. However, when combined with the thin storytelling, paper cutout characters, and clunky writing, this of all books cannot survive an ending with no satisfying resolution. Stephen King is a talented writer who needs someone who knows how to tell him no. Not every idea deserves to be published.
Thank you for reading. Have you read Elevation? Please share your thoughts in the comments!