Lofty Status: A Review of Stephen King’s Elevation

“Really weird shit” is happening once again in Castle Rock, Maine, but Elevation isn’t the typical Stephen King return to that oft-horrified town.

In one sense, King is up to some (not so) old tricks: just as his previous revisiting of Castle Rock, 2017’s Gwendy’s Button Box, hearkens back to Richard Matheson’s “Button, Button,” Elevation (which cites Matheson on its dedication page) invokes The Shrinking Man. Like the homonymous protagonist of Matheson’s novel, Scott Carey is subjected to a strange case of reducing. King’s Carey is steadily losing weight but somehow his size and muscle mass remain unaltered. His scale gives the same readout whether he is naked or clothed, barehanded or holding a pair of dumbbells.

The narrative is deliberately vague as to the origin of Carey’s condition: is it medical, metaphysical, or even extra-terrestrial in nature? And while Carey presumes his situation is terminal (as he anticipates the approach of “Zero Day”) his story does not unfold as a desperate quest to discover the cause or effects-reducing cure for his weightlessness. This isn’t a redux of Thinner–Carey hasn’t been cursed by a vengeful gypsy, but instead considers himself singled out by “antic providence.” Yes, he is dropping pounds, yet gravity’s inexplicably lessening hold on him is also raising his spirits. His predicament becomes oddly exhilarating, something even better than what a long-distance runner experiences: “Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go farther still.”

King is less interested in the outre here: Carey’s curious condition is used as a means to getting at the true heart of the narrative, the developing (initially unfriendly) relationship between the divorced, isolated Carey and his neighbors, Deirdre McComb and Missy Donaldson. These partners in a same-sex marriage have recently moved into town, but haven’t been welcomed with open arms by most of the populace. Whereas the Castle Rock setting of Gwendy’s Button Box felt extraneous (less charitably: like a cheap marketing ploy), here it makes for an appropriate choice of story place. Conservatively Republican in its politics, King’s fictional small town is given to provincial thought and prejudicial verbiage, and Deirdre and Missy struggle to keep their new restaurant afloat financially amidst such cold-shouldering by the locals. It’s up to Carey, then, to help the couple carry on in this town, and to help Castle Rock rise above its discriminatory attitudes.

A quick word on Elevation‘s packaging: Scribner has published a fine 5×7 hardcover, complete with cosmic cover art (whose significance becomes clear by novel’s end) and interior illustrations. The physical book feels good to hold; still, the $19.95 price tag could be a hold-up for some. Buyers will have to decide if the Kindle edition is the more sensible option.

While its page count doesn’t weigh in anywhere near that of the hefty tomes King usually produces, Elevation proves anything but slight. This thematically-resonant narrative is heavy on human decency, exploring the various ways we extend a (literal and figurative) helping hand to each other. A pick-me-up is also what King offers his Constant Readers here, as Elevation represents the most uplifting, downright transcendent effort in the author’s illustrious career.

 

October Overview

Strictly speaking, autumn began a week and a half ago, but it’s the calendar’s turn to October that really inaugurates the High Holiday season. This is the most wonderful time of year of denizens of the Macabre Republic, as the month-long lead-up to Halloween delivers an incredible assortment of dark entertainment. Some of the film, TV, and streaming-service items that belong at the top of must-watch lists during this season of the witch:

 

*Halloween (in theaters October 19)

 

*Eli Roth’s History of Horror (premieres October 14 on AMC)

 

*The Haunting of Hill House (available October 12 on Netflix)

 

*The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell (available October 12 on Netflix)

 

*The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (available October 26 on Netflix)

 

*Lore (Season 2 available October 19 on Amazon Prime)

 

Some of the best Halloween-themed blogs to follow all October long: The Skeleton Key, the Horror Writers Association’s Halloween Haunts 2018, and Pumpkinrot: What’s Brewing. And, of course, there will be various articles on pop cultural horror published online this month; just today I came across a fun one titled “The Horror Oscars: The Best Scary Movies of Every Year Since 1978’s Halloween.”

Finally, as you can see from the header image to my website, the Macabre Republic leads straight into October Country. So be sure to keep an eye out for the special posts I have planned for this Halloween season…

Seasonal Dream

Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest became an instant classic of Halloween fiction upon its 2006 publication, and since then has remained perennially popular (Bloody Disgusting recently featured it in a listing of “13 Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit“). What many fans might have failed to realize, though, is that this wasn’t Partridge’s first October-based short novel. That distinction belongs to 1998’s Wildest Dreams (a reworking/expansion of the author’s 1992 short story “Tombstone Moon”).

In Wildest Dreams, tough-guy narrator Clay Saunders is a contract killer whose tongue is no less sharp than his K-bar knife. He is hired to decapitate Diabolos Whistler, the notorious head of a satanic church with international reach. The hit goes off without a hitch; nevertheless, when Saunders attempts to collect payment, he faces a deadly double-cross and an attempted frame job that spurs him to do some “detective work.” Such synopsis makes the book sound like standard Gold Medal fare, but the genre-hybridizing Partridge also turns the screw towards horror. For starters, Saunders (who was born with a caul) can see ghosts–including those of the people he’s dispatched. Also, Whistler’s prophesy that his own ruined corpse will form the cradle for Satan’s earthly rebirth suggests that the bloody mayhem won’t be limited to the initial murder of the cult figure.

The novel offers some terrific images, such as a “hanging tree” ripe with fantastic fruit (the ghosts of six lynched witches). There’s also a variation on a “haunted house,” whose concrete-embedded bottles supposedly store the souls of the devil-pledged. While descending a hidden stairway stretching from a trapdoor in the floor of the bottle house, Saunders is tempted to make “a crack about forgetting his trick or treat bag.”  This isn’t the lone invocation of October ritual in the novel. After shooting a pair of henchmen, Saunders (sporting a “monster mask” that would make Hannibal Lecter proud) observes: “Two splashes in the pool. Two dead men bobbing like Halloween apples.”

One can detect echoes of Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart (a skinless, posthumous antagonist numbers among the cast), and the climactic twist is worthy of another identifiable precursor, William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel. But the book is a product of Partridge’s unique vision, rendered with trademark style. For the lover of supernatural noir (where some seasonal orange mixes in with the black), Wildest Dreams is an absolute dream come true.