In the 40-plus years since the paperback publication of “Carrie” allowed Stephen King to leave his high school English teaching post at Hampden Academy, the author has ushered more than 60 books to international best-selling status. Which means at this point King can pretty much do as he pleases and retain the blessing of both his publishing houses and fans.
Fortunately, for both those publishing houses and his fans, what it pleases King to do this month is offer the novella “Elevation,” a story the publisher tells us is an “antidote to our divisive culture.” The thing is, Scribner is right.
There is no blood, no gore, no creepy clowns or rabid dogs in this book. King does revisit a common theme — Scott Carey is unexplainably losing weight, with the emphasis on “weight” — but under this novelist’s pen there is always a twist. Here, the most surprising of those is not only the depth of story and character King can pack into this short work, but the theme that unfolds.
“Elevation” returns us to Castle Rock, the setting of King’s most popular and mysterious stories, including the recent “Gwendy’s Button Box” written with Richard Chizmar (https://tinyurl.com/yczw67fy).
In “Elevation,” Carey is steadily losing weight, yet he looks no different as his scale plummets — and he weighs the same whether he’s unclothed or ladened with pounds of quarters.
Think back to your middle school science, King is reminding us: There is a difference between weight and mass.
True to form for the author, the plight of our protagonist does not make the story — it propels it. The real substance of King’s return to Castle Rock involves Carey’s new neighbors, two women who own a restaurant in a town that wants nothing to do with a same-sex married couple. But in building an alliance through those most common of American denominators, holiday and sport — here, an annual foot race on Thanksgiving Day — Carey’s affliction will lead to an unlikely confederacy and the confrontation of his and his community’s prejudices.
There are those who will read these lines and misjudge King’s effort as a liberal attempt to right social and sexual injustices. Not so. Read “Elevation” as you would read Aesop, for King is gifting us with a fable for today, and one our divided nation sorely needs.
Read it for that reason, or read it only to enjoy the story — King’s signature slant toward the macabre is on display, and that the work is dedicated to Richard Matheson, is telling — but this is not an offering to be missed.
The master is at his impressive best here, and given a chance, it’s a societal story that could actually live up to its title.