On the web: www.andrewpyper.com
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Turning forty, that at once arbitrary but inarguable line between youth and mid-life, invites all manner of introspection, almost all of it unwelcome. I know, I had my turn at it a couple years ago. And no matter how strenuously and logically you tell yourself (and others, your fellow timebound mortals, the company that misery loves) that it’s a meaningless designation, that there’s nothing you can do about the ever-accelerating carousel of birthdays so you might as well ignore them, you nevertheless find yourself at some vulnerable moment, staring into the abyss (or the mirror) wondering How the hell did that happen?
How the hell did Carrie become middle-aged? The same way I did. And it only makes sense, seeing as I grew up with her.
The protagonist of Stephen King’s first novel wasn’t in my same year (thankfully so, as I wouldn’t have survived the prom) but she was only a few years ahead of me, cool and forbidden and dangerous. I read the novel that told her story too young, which made the impression it left on me all the deeper. And then, approaching manhood, came Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand. I was growing up. And Stephen King was becoming the most influential fiction writer of his generation as well as mine, the dazzled punks swimming after the brilliant light of his comet tail.
I recently had a conversation with a fellow novelist of a similar age to mine. We surprised ourselves by asking a question you’d think novelists would have had securely answered at the outset, but most have left unanswered – or carefully avoided – the whole way along. What do we wish our books to do? Be written about in serious ways in serious places? Change lives? Sell a ton?
After giving it another round of drinks worth of thought, I landed on something that felt accurate and true to me: I hope my novels create their own world, their own mythology. Redefine the shape of the Western imagination in some necessarily small but undeniable way, so that we can never think of, say, the fear we have of being pulled under the water as we swim alone in a lake, or the suspicion that demons are real and walk among us, in the same way we did before. To create stories that create us.
To do, in other words, what Stephen King has done.
Carrie is forty and the fact that we know this, celebrate it, universally deem it an occasion of note, isn’t just because it’s a famous book, but because it’s part of us whether we’ve read it or not. The rage of adolescent isolation expressed as repressed mental violence that, finally, explodes into fire: this pre-existed Carrie, but now it is Carrie.
As we get older, it’s generally harder to absorb new tweaks and revisions to our formative mythologies. The early novels of Stephen King won’t have the same meaning for a young reader today as they did for me – the world is different, and the imaginative tools we use to see it are different too. But the very idea of “world” is a construction, and fiction has always had a hand in assembling its parts. And now, down there in the dark basement, a brick in the foundation, is Carrie.
We age. But she is forever young.
Andrew Pyper is the author of six novels, most recently The Demonologist, which is a #1 bestseller in his native Canada and a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel. His previous novels include Lost Girls and The Guardians. The Demonologist is currently in development for feature film with director/producer Robert Zemeckis and Universal Pictures.