"Elevation" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Written by Stephen King
2018, 160 pages, Fiction
Released on October 30th, 2018
We return to one of Stephen King’s favourite fictional locations, Castle Rock, in his latest novella Elevation. This is the horror powerhouse’s second big release of 2018 following The Outsider and sees the author maintain his recent output of two books per year. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Elevation, it could easily been released, with much less fanfare, as part of a future novella or short story anthology. King is so prolific he is bound to have one or the other in the pipeline! It’s presented in much the same style as Gwendy’s Button Box with a large font and illustrations, even the slowest of readers will read it from start to finish in under two hours.
At first glance the plot appears similar to Thinner, it lacks, however, the dark edge of that much older novel originally written under the Richard Bachman pseudonym. Even though Elevation features some serious issues, such as homophobia, it is one of King’s gentler works with the odd political dig thrown in for good measure. I found it to be rather heart-warming and the lack of true scares, in the King sense of the word, provides the reader with a tale which was very much about people and how they interact.
Scott Carey is a 42-year-old divorcee who starts losing weight; to begin with around 1lb a day. However, his external appearance does not change, he still looks like an overweight guy in his forties. Quite simply, he is getting lighter. The novella opens with Scott visiting his retired doctor friend, Dr Bob, for his opinion. When Scott steps on the Bob’s scales, he looks normal, but the scales confirm he is indeed forty lbs lighter, and the huge bags of coins he has added to his pockets only perplexes the doctor even more. Scott swears his old friend to secrecy, and even though his weight continues to drop, physically he feels great.
King effortlessly merges the second major plot strand with Scott’s weight loss. Eight months earlier, two women, Deidre McComb and Missy Donaldson – who Scott has a couple of run-ins with – moved into a neighbouring house and he believes their dogs are fouling in his yard whilst they are out jogging. The two women also run a new restaurant in town, which is rumoured to be struggling for business. The ladies are also married, and although Scott has never given their sexuality a second thought, it becomes apparent that many locals are avoiding their Mexican style eatery because they have been too open about being gay and their marriage.
King expertly weaves these two very different stories together as only he can do. There are many observations about small town life and as a reader who is not American, and has never lived in America, I did wonder how accurate this type of homophobia or prejudice truly is in 2018 America? The author obviously feels it is. It’s a key theme of the novella and King also observes that the area voted three to one in favour of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. There have already been moans from fans commenting that King should stay out of politics, however, as his Twitter feed has considerably more tweets about politics than literature, I doubt that will happen. If Elevation is seen as his response to the current political situation in America, then perhaps this is why this slight volume has been given its own release and not hidden away in an anthology.
I do enjoy the cross references to other Castle Rock works. Along the way it is mentioned that the late Sheriff George Bannerman, who appears in many novels, now has a road named in his honour. Also, the Suicide Stairs, which feature in Gwendy’s Button Box, get a passing reference and I’m sure there are others.
I particularly enjoyed the final third of Elevation, which, if you’ll excuse the pun, is especially uplifting. It concerns an annual fundraising 12km race, which would be a common event in any small town. It is so well written, funny, exciting and contributes greatly to a terrific conclusion as the rain starts to pour down. It is one of those tender Stephen King moments which is a million miles away from the horror we are more accustomed to reading from him and is one to savour.
Readers have the right to question their value for money with Elevation, which for less than two hours of reading is steep. There is even an excerpt of Gwendy’s Button Box at the end, which seems like unnecessarily padding. I would dispute it is truly 160 pages, removing all the blank pages, illustrations; factor in the large font and the excerpt, that number is significantly lower. Price aside, I doubt it will be ranked alongside Stephen King’s finest novellas, but it is still a very enjoyable and oddly moving slice of small-town American life. Whether small-town Americans agree with a foreigner’s opinion, who knows.