Elevation by Stephen King: Lightweight, Political, and Meh

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We’re at the tail end of October, so it’s only fitting that the most prolific writer of scary stories this world has ever seen should have a new novel out. Stephen King has graced us with a second book this year, and just in time for us to read in between trips to the door to give candy to trick-or-treaters. The book is called Elevation, and there’s a good chance you’ll finish it before the final goblins show up on your porch for last call–it stands in at a whopping 146 pages, and even that amount is only made feasible due to the small physical dimensions. As others have said, this “novel” would probably have been better served in a collection of novellas a la Different Seasons, but beggars can’t be choosers, and we should just be happy King gave us something new to sink our teeth into–if you can call it that. You know, cause the book is short. 

Elevation starts off as all stories do, with a character and a problem. Scott Carey is six-foot-four and looks as if he weighs 250+, but every scale he steps on tells him he weighs less. He’s been losing weight for weeks, but he looks the same as he always has. Another weird thing: regardless of how he dresses or what he’s holding, his weight loss remains constant. He weighs the same holding twenty pound dumbells as he does when his hands are empty, and the same nude as he does fully clothed. Gravity seems to have no effect, and Scott has no idea how to proceed. All he knows is he’s wasting away, and fast.

At the same time, Scott’s new neighbors, a lesbian couple who recently moved into his overly-conservative town of Castle Rock, are allowing their dogs to poop on his lawn. They don’t listen to reason, and any time he tries to speak to them they cry prejudice and treat him coldly. He’s not prejudiced; he wants to be on good terms with his neighbors, but they’ve gotten so defensive out of necessity that they won’t give him a second glance. Scott is losing control of his life at the same rate he’s losing weight; he’s certain about nothing, and the only thing he knows is that the answer is out there somewhere. Elevation is the story of his solution, and it results in what may be one of the least satisfying King endings ever.

Readers familiar with works under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman will instantly detect shades of Thinner, but Elevation doesn’t overly concern itself with the weight loss. In fact, it’s probably the less-important of the two main plots, losing significant page-time to Scott’s encounters with his neighbors Deirdre and  Missy. It should come as no surprise that Scott slowly forms a friendship with the women, and anyone who’s ever watched a single RomCom can guess how they feel about him by the end. The three of them work to open the minds of the townspeople, who reek of everything our current Presidential administration stands for. Though Elevation may not be the most political thing ever written by Stephen King, it’s certainly the most overt in its conveyance of message. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–the world needs more anti-homophobia championing, but it’s a bad thing for the work as a whole because, stylistically, it comes off as an overdone cliche. The characters are far from stereotypes, but the plot can only really go one direction and, when the author of the novel is so famous for intricate plots and suspenseful twists, Elevation is almost set up to disappoint.

If you can toss aside the weightloss (weightless?) aspect of the story, then Elevation becomes a tale of breaking down barriers and functions as a rhetorical argument for better treatment of marginalized groups of people. This is why the inclusion of Scott’s bodily issues is so puzzling. Sure, King may have been trying to give the story more flair, but he ultimately produced an unsatisfying storyline that detracts from the rest of the work. Scott’s condition is never explained, never cured, and never given much deep thought. His weight becomes a common refrain throughout the story and serves much more as a marker of time than anything else, until the day he finally figures out a way to change his fortune. Unfortunately, his decision does very little to placate our desires for a traditional King climax. The problem is there, and then it isn’t, and the journey from point A to point B isn’t all that interesting. What starts off the novel with such promise remains criminally unexplored and sours the reading experience as a whole.

Though its plot is, for the most part, mundane and underdeveloped, King is able to keep the pages turning. If you didn’t catch it earlier, Elevation is a short novel, and you can read it in an hour or two. There’s just enough going on to keep it interesting, despite the lackluster ending. It’s suspenseful, but in a slow way. Scott’s life is one helluva unique thing to observe, even if it feels like it’s just the beginning. Habitual readers of King stories will enjoy the familiar Castle Rock setting, and it’s a decent introduction for those who have never read King before.

However, if you’re completely new to the Stephen King universe, I’d probably steer clear of Elevation for a while, at least. It’s isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it will certainly go down as one of King’s worst–its marketing as a standalone novel all but guarantees this. (I remain fully convinced that I wouldn’t dislike Elevation so much if it were a lesser star in a collection, but it’s hard not to feel cheated by a 150 page book in which the second most important thing in the story goes unresolved.) I hesitate to call it “bad” because of its positive message and my familiarity with this work in relation to King’s others. That said, I can’t call it “good.” It falls somewhere in the mythical realm between uninspired and unfulfilled, and that’s not something you expect from such a master storyteller. When I go to Stephen King, I expect the best. Elevation doesn’t deliver on that front, but we be perfect all the time, can we? Get em next time, Uncle Steve.

P.S. I know I said The Book of Essie was next up for review, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity I had here. I’m still in the midst of writing that one and hope to have it up by the end of the week. I do all of this while working full time and trying to get into PhD programs on top of that, so as much as I love doing this, I can sometimes fall behind.

 

 

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