Review: Elevation

Stephen King had a brand new book published at the end of October, and as a long-time fan of his writing I had to pick it up. I got around to it about halfway through November. It was a one-sitting book, less than 150 pages, which made it impossible to pass up. King’s books usually run so long that a novel of this size from him is a true curiosity.

elevationAbout the book: Scott pays a visit to his old doctor– retired, but still a favorite for medical advice– when he notices a strange trend: though he doesn’t look any different, he’s steadily losing weight. His eating habits haven’t changed; if anything, he’s eating more than he used to, but the numbers on the scale keep going down. More alarmingly, they don’t go up when he steps on the scale with a pocketful of quarters or heavy dumbbells in his hands. As Scott continues to feel lighter and healthier, he’s also trying to befriend the lesbian couple next door that he’s accidentally gotten into a neighborly feud with. There’s no telling what will happen to Scott when the scale hits zero, so his time to make amends for a bad first impression is running out.

“This isn’t just outside my experience, I’d say it’s outside human experience. Hell, I want to say it’s impossible.”

Right away I noticed that Elevation felt a bit gimmicky. Like Stephen King enjoying his fame, publishing because he can, because anything he turns out is going to be a hit even if it’s not a hit. There’s not a lot of meat to this story, but more unusually, there’s not much of the excellent character portrayal and development that Stephen King is known for.

One particular problem I had with Elevation is best explained in conjunction with previous experience; I read Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties earlier this year and noticed that the social commentary was a lot more pointed than I was used to in King’s older novels. As the book was co-written and I had no experience with Owen King’s work, I thought maybe that wasn’t Stephen King’s doing, or at least not entirely. But I had the same issue with Elevation: the social and political commentary is so very on-the-nose. Essentially, the lesbian couple living next to Scott is facing prejudice from the entire town that is strong enough to potentially ruin their business within the year; as Scott tries to befriend them he sees the error of his earlier assumptions and encourages the other townspeople to accept them as well. The moralistic plot is predictable and obvious, Scott’s personal dilemma providing him with an excuse to see the situation from a new and comparable light:

“Why feel bad about what you couldn’t change? Why not embrace it?”

Furthermore, I’m not sure why this book is labeled as horror at all- the weight-loss concept is a bit weird and disturbing, but it’s not presented in a horrifying way. Scott seems to completely accept what is happening to him, and it fades into the background of the story as the situation with the neighbors takes precedence.

With the illustrations at the start of every chapter and the small size of the physical book (in addition to the abovementioned lack of subtlety and horror), Elevation seemed a bit like it wanted to be a children’s book. The entire story seemed a bit confused about its intended direction. If not for King’s name on the cover, I doubt this book would’ve seen much success.

“Not a wind, not even a high, exactly, but an elevation. A sense that you had gone beyond yourself and could go further still.”

And yet, it wasn’t a bad read either. Despite the fact that I kept expecting more from it, the story held my attention from cover to cover, surprising me in a few places and amusing me in others. It had so much potential for disaster, but as always, Stephen King pulls everything together in a uniquely interesting way.

Bonus points for the Pennywise reference.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. This was an easy and acceptable read, though not particularly impressive. It helped me out of the reading slump that I’d been in for half the month (which, ironically, stemmed from my dislike for another novel in The Bachman Books, also written by Stephen King).

Further recommendations:

  • If you enjoyed (or look forward to enjoying) Elevation‘s short simplicity and wacky premise, you’ll probably also like King’s short co-written novel, Gwendy’s Button BoxGwendy’s takes place in the same town as Elevation (and gets an obscure mention in Elevation as well, if you’re interested in reading chronologically and want to pick up Gwendy’s first, though it’s not at all necessary to  read in that order to understand these stories) and is also a book that looks at morality and interpersonal relationships with a bizarre supernatural premise running in the background: a box of buttons that give its holder immense power over the entire world.

Is there an author whose books you pick up immediately upon publication, no matter what they’re about? Does that ever backfire for you?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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13 thoughts on “Review: Elevation”

  1. I think King’s ability to lull me into happiness is what made me enjoy Elevation, and even better that the audio book I listened to was narrated by the author himself. I knew that the stuff with the lesbian neighbor’s was a bit goofy, but in my heart I also hope that neighbors will defend each other — though I can completely see DD’s point of view that he’s only made a spectacle of her and Melissa.

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    1. Ooh, I didn’t know King narrated the audio for that one, but that would definitely help! Content aside, he is an excellent storyteller. And I must admit that my opinion on that particular book was most definitely affected by the fact that I’ve read so many other novels from him and couldn’t help comparing. And I agree- even if a bit off-brand for him, the moral of the lesbian plot is a good one at heart. It was at least an entertaining read!

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      1. Did you read Misery? I’m sure you have. I remember reading it in high school (I hadn’t been a big King book; I think it was my first) and just SOBBING when she runs the nice young police officer over with the lawn mower!

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      2. Yes! It was also one of my first King reads, so it’s been a minute, but Misery is one of the favorites that I can definitely see myself rereading when I reach the end of SK’s publications. There are some really haunting images in that one, I’ve never forgotten the part where she feeds the writer part of his own thumb… It’s a definitely a book that leaves an impression!

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      3. AHHHHH!!! I do NOT remember the writer eating his own thumb!! BwaAAAaaaAAH!

        The second King book I read was Pet Semetary because I love the movie. I was younger when I read it, and I remember being totally tricked out when the wife went in the bathroom to visit her husband in the tub and started touching his penis. My little brain was like “married people do that??” Call me naive, but I mention this story because I think King has a way of bringing vivid detail in the most basic way, which makes his stories memorable.

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      4. Yes! The crazy lady (I’m so bad with names) chopped it off with a knife, which seemed bad enough, but then I’m pretty sure she brought it back to him in a dish of food and made him eat it! I was horrified.

        And that’s hilarious- Pet Sematary was my very first Stephen King and I remember being surprised by that same scene, for similar reasons. I completely agree that there’s something so simple and accessible about his language and style that even the strangest details seem almost natural. It brings the extraordinary into the everyday in a very believable way, which does create a very memorable and vivid experience despite how easy his books are to read. There are a lot of opinions out there about King, but I don’t think “boring” is one of them!

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      5. Same! I think Pet Sematary is a popular choice for young readers just venturing into his work (perhaps because of the focus on pets and inclusion of children?); I wonder if he had known that book would be popular among a younger audience if he would’ve still included that scene. It’s not the most graphic thing he’s ever included, but apparently does leave an impression!

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