Book Review: "Elevation" by Stephen King
Big things come in small packages. This is what I said (hoped) to myself as I plunked down my hard earned money for the Master of the Macabre’s newest outing- an undersized (5” x 1” x 7”) novella, clocking in at 146 pages. I didn’t expect it to be so diminutive. Once I opened it up and began reading, however, the word diminutive was the furthest thing from my mind.
“Elevation” is the story of Scott Carey, a middle-aged and recently divorced website designer who is experiencing one hell of a strange phenomenon. He’s losing weight at the rate of a pound or two a day (at least at first), but he doesn’t look any different. Every day the scale shows a smaller number, but Scott looks exactly the same, right down to the beer belly! He’s growing lighter. Gravity is exerting less of a hold on Scott. As this happens, Scott (who has confided in his friend, the retired doctor Bob Ellis) is having a bit of a row with his unpopular neighbors, two married lesbians who have opened up a gourmet Mexican restaurant in Castle Rock. This confrontation, along with his new perspective on life and questions about what happens when the scale hits zero, will change the world for not only Scott but all those around him.
Naturally, my brain first went to “Thinner” with the rapid weight loss and all, but that’s where the similarities stop. In fact, this is unlike anything else that King has written before. It’s not horror or mystery or even a thriller. It’s pure allegory wrapped up in real-life, small-town prejudices and preconceived notions (both common themes for his work).
Again, similarities to his other works stop there. Allegory is a simple classification of “Elevation”, but that’s the beauty: the moral of the story is about breaking with the way you’ve always believed (let’s say how you feel about gay marriage) and accepting what you’re not comfortable with… even if what you’re not comfortable with is something as unbelievable as eventually floating up into space. King once again uses the borderline absurd/supernatural to set up a relevant and timeless message.
“Elevation” is softer, more heartfelt, and infinitely more human than anything King has written since the criminally undervalued “Lisey’s Story”. It’s also a reminder of how powerful his voice is in getting to your core and making you feel the story, especially when combined with his always top-shelf ability to created characters that aren’t just three-dimensional but four-dimensional.
There’s a passage on page 94 that takes place during Castle Rock’s Annual Turkey Trot 12K race that just works so succinctly. Scott is nearing the end of the race (and his efforts to best heavy favorite, Deirdre). He catches his second wind after a brutal uphill climb and this follows:
“It was what Milly had called the following wind, and what pros like McComb no doubt called the runner’s high…This was the same. Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go farther still.”
(Why do I hear that passage in my head coming from the voice of Hunter S. Thompson?)
King wants you to know that we can be better than we are. He also wants you to know that there’s beauty and elevation to be found in breaking down those old barriers. Is it a heavy-handed message of political significance? Of course it is. Stephen King is not known for his subtlety in that arena, you need look no further than his Twitter account to see that on a daily basis.
The point is that there used to be common ground that we could all find. The point is that once upon a time having differences didn’t make us enemies. You can be friends with the folks on the other side of aisle or be perfectly cool with the married lesbians even if that doesn’t coincide with your personal beliefs.
Some folks will hate this precisely because it challenges their old, set ways and does it with a heavy hand wrapped in an insidiously well-spun yarn. That’s fine. I’m not personally anywhere near as Left as this review may make me sound; I’m quite conservative in many respects. However, if “Elevation” does piss you off a bit then maybe you’re the real target audience…..
Holy shit. Do you think that’s what he was driving at?
Well played, Sai King. You’re a devious bastard.