Picks and Pans Review: Misery

updated 08/24/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/24/1987 01:00AM

by Stephen King

This book is described on its jacket as "a love letter" from Stephen King to his fans. A bloodier billet-doux is hard to imagine. With obvious autobiographical overtones, Misery tells the story of a best-selling romance author named Paul Sheldon and the unpleasant encounter he has with his "number-one fan," a psychotic ex-nurse named Annie Wilkes. After having both legs shattered in a near-fatal car accident, Paul awakes to find he is "recuperating" in Annie's secluded farmhouse. Hooked on painkillers, the patient is forced into writing a romance called Misery's Return for his increasingly unstable Florence Nightingale. Though he is not one of King's more memorable protagonists, Sheldon provides the author with an opportunity to reflect on the nature of celebrity, the pain of writing and the pain of not writing. Since Misery contains just two characters and one basic setting, the book feels constricted. King fails to use his ability to create compelling personalities and his unerring eye for contemporary American culture. On the other hand, an unexpected highlight is the inclusion of several passages from Misery's Return, the delightfully outlandish romance Paul writes to keep his captor happy—and himself sane. ("In the kitchen, Ian hugged Misery to him, feeling his soul live and die and then live again in the sweet smell of her warm skin.") In welcome contrast to the sprawling and self-indulgent It, King's 19th novel is a tightly constructed tale that moves smartly to the inevitable confrontation between Annie and Paul. As always, the reader is swept along relentlessly by the urgency of King's prose. At one point, Sheldon compares the business of writing novels to the childhood game of "Can You...?" With this taut psychological thriller, King proves once again that he can and does. (Viking, $18.95)

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