Thursday, October 15, 2009

For Love

This asylum just got a new nurse. She comes highly recommended from several prestigious locations. Yes, she’s moved around a lot. What? No, I wouldn’t make her mad.

Paul Sheldon was wrong about Annie Wilkes. On page 192: “In Annie’s view all the people in the world were divided into three groups: brats, poor poor things … and Annie.” But there is a fourth category, a category reserved exclusively for Paul Sheldon, writer of the Misery novels. That category is love.

Annie Wilkes truly loves Paul Sheldon. It is a childish imperfect love to be sure, but it is love, Annie style. Paul gets to see how much murder and mayhem Annie has given to the world when he discovers MEMORY LANE, Annie’s perverse scrap book from hell. From page 184 to 201 Paul gets to travel down a Memory Lane filled with newspaper clippings cataloguing what Annie has done throughout her life and career.

She starts at age 11 by torching an apartment building to silence the neighbor kids on page 186: “She was eleven. Old enough and bright enough, maybe, to spill some kerosene around a cheap liquor bottle, then light a candle, and put the candle in the middle of the kerosene.”

From there to “accidentally” tripping her father and a roommate down stairs, these people all fit into the major category of Annie’s life. On page 189: “The specifics don’t matter, do they? I killed her because she was a cockadoodie brat, and that was reason enough.”

Most of her killings are of sickly elderly people and newborn infants. To Annie she is ending suffering, maybe even doing them a favor. None of the newspaper clippings pasted in Memory Lane indicate a prolonged agonizing death. She doesn’t keep any of them alive for any length of time. She snuffs them out like candles.

As Paul reads through Memory Lane and discovers Annie was married briefly he expects to see a black widow like entry for Annie’s husband. But he escapes. From page 192: “The next page announced a wedding instead of a funeral. The photo showed Annie, not in her uniform but in a white dress frothing with lace. Beside her, holding her hands in his, was a man named Ralph Dugan.” To add to the previous section of this class, from page 192-193: “Dugan was quite unremarkable save for one thing: he looked like Annie’s father. Paul thought if you shaved off Dugan’s singles-bar mustache – which she had probably gotten him to do as soon as the honeymoon was over – the resemblance would be just short of uncanny.” Freud lives.

Ralph files for divorce from Annie after a year and a half. Annie slashes up the divorce announcement, and pastes it in upside down, so she had some level of emotional attachment to Mr. Dugan. I believe that had Dugan not seen the real and scary Annie his demise would have been slow and agonizing like Paul’s.

The rest of Annie’s memories play similarly, continued deaths in hospitals. She’s discovered and nearly convicted, but escapes. Paul is chilled to see the last entry is a story of him being reported missing. On page 201: “Reported missing, that’s all. Just reported missing. I’m not dead, it’s not like being dead.”

The only other death that occurs before Paul’s extended stay at the Annie Wilkes mountain retreat is of an unlucky hiker, and Annie dispatches him quickly as well. Paul doesn’t come out of his drug haze to find a double amputee roommate. Why? Because the hiker meant nothing to Annie, he was just another cockadoodie brat.

Paul is all that is good and right in the world to Annie Wilkes. He is noble and creative, and he breathed life into the character Annie idolizes and holds above all others: Misery. Even when Paul turns out to be a foul mouthed disappointment she can’t kill him. Even after he kills Misery at the end of Misery’s Child she wants to kill him, but she doesn’t.

What stays her hand? It would be nothing to shoot Paul, or hack him into little writer bits with her axe, or worse, the unseen and dreaded chainsaw she’s found holding in a literal death grip. Why doesn’t she kill Paul Sheldon when he is the one who killed her beloved Misery?

Love. A sick, twisted, overly possessive, childlike love that would have eventually killed Paul regardless of Annie’s intentions because Annie sees the world in a very unique and infantile way. If something is suffering, she should end the suffering. End of statement, end of thought. She has it in her power to take away pain, so she does. The wishes of the “something” or worse, the “someone” don’t matter. Annie has decided.

Worse, if you’re a cockadoodie brat, someone who doesn’t share Annie’s love of Misery, or sweets, or cuts her off in traffic, or tries to put a lien on her house, then if it’s in her power to make you stop then she will. Because Annie Wilkes will not be a “poor poor thing” herself. Oh no, nobody will victimize her. Not the townspeople, not her husband, not the hiker, and not Paul Sheldon.

But Paul she spares. The counter argument for this is she has to keep him alive to write Misery’s Return, and that argument has merit. However, after reading Fast Cars and Misery’s Child Annie could very easily have dragged Paul out to her Cherokee, driven him up into the hills, dumped him in a grave and hacked or shot him to death then driven home for some WKRP reruns and a big hot fudge sundae. She’s so angry after reading Misery’s Child she has to leave for a while.

She didn’t leave when the hiker turned out to be another disappointment. She just killed him. Same with the State Trooper. She keeps Paul alive because of love. Of course he has to be punished when he complains (personally the idea of having a thumb cut off was the most horrifying part of this book) about the typewriter and when he tries to escape.

Her image of Paul as perfect writer-god is shaken by actually meeting him, but Paul never completely falls off the pedestal she’s put him on. She loves him, so she gives him a chance to redeem himself by writing Misery’s Return. One wonders if she would have killed him after its completion? If no cops would have come sniffing around, if Paul had finished the manuscript and there had been no outside inquiry, would he have lived on to go completely mad under her lunatic care? Or would she have finished him off? I think she wouldn’t have killed him unless she was then willing to commit suicide herself. Her “gotta” was that strong, her love for Paul was that strong.

Annie Wilkes may be Stephen King’s most perfect antagonist. She’s a nurse, a person expected to provide aid and comfort, instead she deals out death. She’s female, and a reader doesn’t expect the level of physical violence she doles out to Paul Sheldon, especially in the grisly and personal ways she does it. Finally, she isn’t random in this book. Her other victims, most of them anyway, just happened across her path and she applied her warped code to them and found them in need of killing. But she is intimately involved with Paul Sheldon in a very real way. Her knowledge of him as his “number one fan” gives her even more power and more personal motivation. It makes her a very scary character.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. I agree that she'd have kept him alive after finishing Misery's Return if the cops and media hadn't taken an interest in her. Then again, she was really losing it even before the first patrolman showed up. She was, according to Paul anyway, sinking lower into the funk and experiencing more loss of concentration. Perhaps if she could have survived herself, she'd have insisted that Paul keep writing more Misery novels.

    You're also dead on that her capacity for love (even if it's Annie-style) makes her a scarier character. It makes her a little less predictable because she's had so little opportunity to show love in her life (if Memory Lane is complete in that regard), and it seems like she's making up a lot of those personal rules as she goes along. The only predictability seems to be her tough love approach, but who knows when or how she'll dole out those bits of affection.