6. Misery (Novel)
Original publication date: 1987
The common perception of King’s ferocious character study Misery is that it’s about the dangers of obsessive fans, and that’s definitely an apt description. Paul Sheldon, a chart-topping romance novelist, gets in a car accident in the middle of nowhere, and he’s rescued by a seemingly normal and helpful woman, Annie Wilkes. Bringing Paul back to her isolated cabin, Annie tends to his injuries and provides warm hospitality—that is, until she reveals herself to be Sheldon’s biggest and craziest reader, and she physically abuses Sheldon into resurrecting a character he’d previously killed off.
But imagine being a professional writer and reading Misery—it’s devastatingly hardcore enough to make a paid scribe swear off autograph signings forever. Director Rob Reiner’s 1997 film adaptation is an excellent translation, but it’s nevertheless inferior to King’s original source material.
As a novel, Misery spends all of its time developing a pair of polar opposite characters, and, in the end, we readers are torn about Annie Wilkes; she’s a raving lunatic who deserves to die, sure, but she’s also a spokesperson for anyone who holds his or her idols up on a pedestal (i.e., each and every one of us).