(2020) Stephen King, Hodder,£7.99, pbk, 132pp, ISBN 978-1-473-69153-7
King’s allegorical short novella is quite a departure from his horror work, proving to be quite a moving, even tear inducing fantasy. It centres on Scott Carey, a man who is losing weight at an alarming weight.
This may sound similar territory to the idea at the heart of King’s 1984 novel Thinner (written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym), but where that centred on a fat man subjected to supernaturally induced anorexia through a gypsy curse, Carey’s weight loss has no explanation or apparent origin. No one in the book even tries to speculate where the condition started.
Another contrast between Carey and Thinner’s Billy Halleck is that Carey is getting lighter but not losing a single ounce of body density. Also, if Carey lifts an object or person while being weighed, they become weightless until he lets go of them when they return to their usual weight condition.
Carey seems remarkably unfrightened by his unique life threatening condition. He confides his story only to a retired doctor friend who he swears to secrecy on what is happening to him.
In a parallel plot, Carey has a problem with his neighbours. A dog belonging to two women who live nearby has messed up his lawn. His efforts to politely complain to them about what he sees as a minor incident is mistaken by the ladies for yet another of the escalating homophobic attacks on their open lesbιan marriage. Carey’s well-meaning efforts to assure them that he is cool with their relationship only serve to cause further conflict and embarrassment for him.
When the town’s annual half-marathon comes round Carey sees a chance to finally make his peace with the women, one of who is a former Olympic athlete, and favourite to win the race. Carey, though looking physically out of shape, knows that his extremely light weight could give him a chance to beat her. He challenges her that if he does so, she should meet with him to hear out his concerns properly. Much of the plot now builds up to the big race but there is another concern, as the doctor realizes; if Carey loses much more weight, he could well start to defy the laws of gravity.
The finale seems a foregone conclusion from early on, and it could have been played for horror, but King creates a truly poetic and moving close to the unusual tale that only a heart of stone would not find deeply moving.
King pays homage to Richard Matheson by dedicating the book to his memory and naming Scott Carey after the hero of Matheson's The Shrinking Man (1956) but the story is in many ways closer in tone and spirit to F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', with its similar plot of a man with an unexplained unique life-governing condition, and his ability to touch positively on the lives of the people around him as situation intensifies.
King cannot resist referencing his existing canon of work and we are told that the town Carey inhabits is due to be entertained by visiting musicians Pennywise and the Clowns, an obvious reference to the monstrous clown of King’s epic 1986 novel It. Elevation is a very different work though: unexpectedly beautiful, warm-hearted and tender.
See also Ian's take on Elevation.
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