Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Lindsay Crouse
Audiobook Length: 12 hours, 11 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 8 June 1987
“Paul Sheldon. He’s a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader–she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.
Now Annie wants Paul to write his greatest work–just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an ax. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.”
Thoughts on the Novel: Through Paul and Annie, Mr. King illustrates the true definition of fear. Miriam-Webster defines fear as an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. This is exactly what Annie causes Paul and the reader. Even before she makes her first major move against Paul, the ancient, ingrained flight-or fight reflexes kick into gear because there is anticipation that something unpleasant is going to happen. Part of this is because it is a Stephen King novel, but the other part of it is Annie herself. At first glance, there is nothing that should indicate that all is not right in Annie’s world, but readers glean that understanding immediately through the minutest of clues, the kind that most readers will never register reading. It is a brilliant bit of writing that allows Mr. King to set the tone so thoroughly with a few innocuous words.
At the same time as Mr. King is establishing the sense of terror that permeates the entire novel, he brings readers a story within a story. In this case, it isn’t just any story. His secondary story is a bodice-ripper of the best kind. The difference in genres and storytelling are not something most authors can pull off, but Mr. King makes it worse. These scenes involving Misery are so trite and inane that they provide the perfect foil for the real-life horror story that has become Paul’s life. They also provide some much-needed levity as Paul’s situation grows more desperate.
In Misery, Stephen King gives audiences what is probably one of his best villains ever. Paul Sheldon sums it up best when he describes Annie Wilkes as a force of nature because that is exactly what she is. Actually, to call Annie insane is to do her character a disservice, for she is more than insane; Annie Wilkes is batshit crazy. Her love for Paul is increasingly odd and downright frightening, as is her rationale for her actions. She acts in no logical fashion, even as her actions themselves are horrifyingly exacting and precise. What truly drives the reader’s horror, however, is not her actions but the possibility of them. Annie is not much of a physical presence in Paul’s life but the suggestion of her appearance is enough to alter all of Paul’s decisions. While Annie performs some terrible deeds in her scenes, it is the idea of what she is yet capable of doing that strikes terror into reader’s hearts. For this reason, Misery will rank as one of Mr. King’s all-time best novels.
Thoughts on the Audio: Unfortunately, Lindsay Crouse’s performance was less than ideal. For one, the swings in Paul’s sobriety and memory flashes were increasingly difficult to differentiate from the rest of the story. There are so many mind games at play for readers, between the book within a book, Paul’s state of mind, and Paul’s vivid imagination, that one needs to be easily able to understand which section is which. Ms. Crouse tried to do so, but it was one of her weaker areas. Another area of irritation for listeners will be Ms. Crouse’s narration of Annie. It is a tough role to enact, partially because of the character herself and because she was so memorably brought to life by Kathy Bates in the movie. However, therein lies the main issue with the audiobook version. Whether consciously or coincidentally or not, Ms. Crouse sounds exactly like Kathy Bates as Annie. Even the timbre of her voice is eerily similar. Given how amazing Ms. Bates’ performance is, this should be a good thing; however, it is not. Instead, it feels uncomfortable and redundant. One expects a new interpretation of the character with a new narrator, and this provides none. As a result, this is one Stephen King novel best read in print.