Berkshire Eagle Book Club

Our reviews: 'Elevation' by Stephen King

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The Book: "Elevation" by Stephen King

The Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (Oct. 30, 2018)

The Synopsis: Although Scott Carey doesn't look any different, he's been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn't want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis. In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King's most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade — but escalating — battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott's lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face - including his own — he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott's affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.

THE REVIEWS

It took me a minute to suspend my disbelief and really get into Stephen King's "Elevation," but once I accepted the premise, this novella did move quickly. Distracting Scott Carey from his strange medical condition is his strained relationship with a lesbian couple new to town. Restaurateurs DeeDee and Missy are being shunned by the citizens of Carey's small, conservative Maine town, and he takes it upon himself to reconcile this rift before his assumed expiration date. Ultimately, I didn't need the story of a straight male main character riding unasked to the rescue of a pair of bitter lesbians, who just needed to be reminded to lighten up. I also didn't care for the heavy-handedness of the small town-small minds squaring themselves with "The Gays" dinner party scene at the end. What literary lack is this novella filling? "Elevation" escapes any real ire on my part by failing to include two far-too-common tropes typically applied to gay women in media: At the end, both women are still alive, and their relationship is still going strong. Is it pathetic that this is where the bar is set? Yes. More good news? "Elevation" is short enough, the time you'll waste reading it is minimal.

— Meggie Baker, calendar editor

For old-school science fiction fans, the name Scott Carey should ring a bell. The protagonist of Stephen King's latest novella, "Elevation," shares his name with the main character of Richard Matheson's "The Shrinking Man." That should come as no surprise to followers of King. Not only has he named the science-fiction master as one of his early influences, but he mentions the author in the opening pages of the book with the poignant and short, "Thinking of Richard Matheson." And it is quite obvious that this book is heavily influenced by Matheson, whose "The Shrinking Man," was about so much more than a man who began shrinking after being doused by a cloud of radiation. Published in 1956, that book examined what it meant to be a middle class white man living in 1950s suburbia, masculinity and relationships. While many who have read "Elevation" tend to draw comparison with King's other book involving weight loss, the appropriately titled "Thinner," (originally published under the name Richard Bachman), it is better compared to Matheson's "The Shrinking Man." (If you haven't read Matheson's book, don't worry, you don't need too.) Set in King's beloved Castle Rock, the fictional Maine town where extraordinary things happen on a grand scale to ordinary people, "Elevation," is far from his traditional horror story. Here, his Scott Carey is losing pounds on the scale, but not around his waist. Scott doesn't dwindle on the cause of his phenomenon, but instead takes stock of his life, allowing King to focus on the state of small-town America and some of the horrors that breed there: bigotry and hypocrisy. Yes, this is Castle Rock, home of "Cujo" and "Needful Things," and the Hulu hit of the same name, but there are no demons lurking in the shadows here — just ordinary people, who aren't always being the "best version" of themselves. It's in this atmosphere that Scott begins to contemplate his mortality, his legacy and his relationships. King paints this version of Castle Rock with a different brush. It's a very real town, slow to change and quick to form an angry mob. It's a town where outsiders, especially those who don't fit in with the status quo, are shunned. But it's also a town where love and acceptance exist, sometimes in the most unexpected places. In a time when presidential tweets are a constant source of shock and dismay, the master of horror gives us an uplifting story while asking us to take a hard look at ourselves.

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— Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor

Before "Elevation," I had never read a Stephen King novel. I had read the author's famous "On Writing" book, which was excellent. "Elevation," unfortunately, was not. I found the book to be poorly paced and ultimately unrewarding. The concept of a man dropping weight without physically showing signs of loss is intriguing enough, but the relationships surrounding this phenomenon don't have enough heft to prop up this novella's stakes. The allusions to the 2016 U.S. presidential election also feel forced, as does the notion that "common ground" is what this book is truly about. This is a light book that reads as such.

— Benjamin Cassidy, arts and entertainment reporter

Stephen King fans will recognize a theme borrowed from his earlier Richard Backman novel, "Thinner," in which a lawyer is cursed with infinite weight loss. In "Elevation," the predicament is similar but less macabre: Scott Carey is losing weight, but not mass. However, the story takes place in King's Castle Rock, a town endlessly cursed with evil things. This is no ordinary King book — there are no monsters, no scary stuff, no twisted personalities. Carey's weight loss is never explained, and he uses his remaining time on Earth to change biases held by his narrow-minded fellow residents while maintaining his own civility. It's a roughly 150-page book about an ordinary man in an extraordinary condition, rising above hatred and learning to live with tact, understanding and dignity. I read "Elevation" in one slightly under two-hour session. It was a quick, enjoyable read with a feel-good message — something we all need in this age of Trump, divisiveness and hate-mongering.

— Margaret Button, associate features editor

I'm not one for the horror genre, (no surprise there, for the folks who have been reading along since the beginning!) so I had never read anything by Stephen King when I picked up his slim novella "Elevation." But I was assured by multiple people this book wouldn't upset my delicate, over-active imagination — and they were right, there really wasn't anything frightening about this book. Except maybe King's lack of character development in what could have been a rich, interesting relationship between a man dealing with the unthinkable — his impending death via becoming utterly weightless — and two women facing down a town set against them because of who they simply are. While the story moved along quickly, it felt a bit like something I would have read in high school and then asked to expound on the deeper meaning behind the story. While King doesn't hit you over the head with any big-picture thinking, the theme does feel a tad shallow and underdeveloped given the weight of the book's larger meaning.

— Lindsey Hollenbaugh, managing editor of features


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