Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625
Paul Sheldon’s first memory is of “stopping"--of not being able to “pull another breath,” and, as he tells it, of being raped back into life by the stinking breath of his unknown caretaker. He does not know where he is, except that he is in a strange house, immobilized by his strange, newly shattered legs, and trapped in a deafening “thunderhead” of pain. As he slowly emerges from near death, he begins to remember who he is and what he was doing before the accident that caused his injuries: he is a phenomenally successful writer of adventure/romance fiction, and he had recently killed off, in the last book of the series, the character who had come to haunt him--Misery Chastain, a melodramatic woman who had made him a millionaire.
After he destroyed Misery, he remembers, Paul wrote a new novel, one of which he was proud, and set off with the manuscript in his car to begin a new life. Drunk with liquor and with glee over his recent act of authorial murder, he hit a sudden snowstorm high in the mountains of Colorado, crashed--and here he is now, crippled, at the mercy of his strange rescuer. As Paul’s health returns, to a degree, he realizes with mounting horror that this woman is not merely strange--she is crazy.
Her name is Annie Wilkes, and Paul likens her to the moon goddess, for, as he describes it, with the precious “Novril” capsules she dispenses, she can bring in the tide to cover his pain. She is a large-breasted, solid woman, a former nurse, somewhat motherly, given to homey euphemisms. Annie, however, is one maternal figure handy not so much with a spatula as with an ax.
MISERY is a gruesome, extremely suspenseful story which convincingly depicts the child/mother, patient/nurse relationship that can develop between a victim and his torturer. Mixed in with the gore is much comedy; King is a master of the sick, humorous understatement. Readers should be kept glued to their seats as they follow the badly injured, almost mentally defeated Paul as he plans his escape from the moon goddess and the house of horrors.
As always with King, readers with weak stomachs would be well advised to run the other way.
Beahm, George. The Stephen King Story: A Literary Profile. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1991. A good factual biography, including quotations and material about the writing of Misery, musings by King and his wife about the connection between authors and readers, and the newspaper report of a lawsuit by fan Anne Hiltner claiming that King stole the manuscript of Misery from her home.
Bosky, Bernadette Lynn. “Playing the Heavy: Weight, Appetite, and Embodiment in Three Novels by Stephen King.” In The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King’s Horrorscape, edited by Tony Magistrale. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Explores themes of fat, appetite, and mothering in Misery, with context regarding those issues in The Stand and It.
Gottschalk, Katherine G. “Stephen King’s Dark and Terrible Mother, Annie Wilkes.” In The Anna Book, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. This archetypal/mythological approach may seem overinterpretive, but Paul Sheldon does think of Annie as a goddess, and Gottschalk does highlight interesting elements of the novel.
Magistrale, Tony. Stephen King: The Second Decade, “Danse Macabre” to “The Dark Half.” New York: Twayne, 1992. Chapter 6 contains excellent analysis of the thematics of art and madness in Misery and It, while other chapters provide context from King’s other works of the 1980’s.
Schopp, Andrew. “Writing (with) the Body: Stephen King’s Misery.” LIT 5 (1994): 29-43. Based in heavy contemporary critical theory but clear to the noninitiated, this piece explores themes of gender and power in the novel.