“Shot Through the Heart” is a weekly segment in which I rant about a story that means the world to me. Each week we’ll go over a film, book, short story, or game that touched me in ways that are hard to put into words without them just turning into word vomit. This week we discuss a sweet story by a modern legend of terror – Elevation by Stephen King
Stephen King apparently likes to float. He also sometimes knows how to make death a beautiful, wonderful, loving thing.
The burden of humanity, of aggression and prejudice, is something that can weigh down a whole culture. Small American towns (like Castle Rock, Maine, King’s fictional nightmarescape) are a culture unto themselves and can get lost in their own politics, prejudices, and comfort zones that are prone to lash out when someone they can label as “other” shows their face. New people aren’t so much of a concern as long as they can fit the mold or keep to themselves, quietly and with reserve until gradually folded into the town-proper or forgotten. There’s an ever-increasing divide between separate beliefs in America that cause sideways glances amongst new neighbors. Whether you’ve got an issue with someone’s lifestyle or you’re just assuming everyone has an issue with yours, it’s a problem that you have to face.
It’s been a little over a year since King published Gwendy’s Button Box with Richard Chizmar, but he’s sticking to Castle Rock for the time being. This place is dealing with a lot, from the destruction of the Suicide Stairs a few years earlier to the *gasp* arrival of a married lesbian couple that have opened a Mexican restaurant. The town isn’t doing so good with this, rejecting them for the sheer audacity to have the couple show up married, and their restaurant is suffering for it. Scott Carey, their neighbor from just a bit up the street, is just tired of them letting their dogs crap in his lawn. One of the women, the more aggressive and defensive of the two, viciously insists that he’s being bigoted and rude because of who they are but he just wants the shit to stop. That, however, becomes such a small issue in his life when something strange and private begins to happen to him.
Scott Carey is losing weight. Not in the normal way, but it an odd and peculiar way. Physically he doesn’t appear to be any thinner and all of his clothes still fit. The clothes are the odd part, as are the fistfuls of quarters he begins carrying in his jacket pockets when he steps onto the scale. Even with all of this weighing him down, Scott Carey weighs exactly the same. His steady weight loss isn’t necessarily a benefit, but a thing that proves rather fascinating to him.
The story is brief, uplifting, and very much out of King’s wheelhouse in that there isn’t any horror in it. Not the normal horror, anyway. There’s an instance of blatant homophobia and a few here and there of your run-of-the-mill toxic masculinity, but for the most part this story just brings your mood up. And it should.
It’s about elevation, right?
There are so many ways to be cruel or vicious, unhappy and cold, and we participate in these behaviors constantly. Few exist who can not bristle at what they aren’t used to, whether it’s a lifestyle or a kindness, and in turn they shel out what they feel coming at them whether it is there or not. When you obsess over something, when it brings your life down, it can blind you to the things in this world that will make you feel light as air.
I started a new job in 2016. I came from a work environment that was full of anger, rage, drug addiction, and just plain cruelty. Kindnesses came with a worry and a fear, the idea that just behind it was a demand or a request that you couldn’t help but worry about. I’d been screamed at and cursed out and belittled more times that I could count, and when I entered this new environment full of kind people that wanted to help me I flinched and nigh-on snarled every time anyone showed the slightest bit of sincerity. Smiles in the elevator made my eye twitch, casual conversation made me sweat, and my boss’s boss showing up sent me into tense anxiety as I leapt to look busier than I already was learning the new job. I held a bit of a fear of people in me, that everyone was out for themselves and all people wanted was to use me (nevermind that I’d actually taken the job due to the gentle prodding of the kindest HR women I’ve ever met). I threw up walls at everyone, nervous about what might lie in wait.
Scott Carey’s neighbors, the aforementioned lesbians, are suffering from this disease. They’re scared about being rejected or tormented, and their suffering business suggests that they’re not wrong to mistrust the people of Castle Rock. They’ve attempted to build a life and it has been suggested, even outright stated that who they are is a detrimental thing in their lives. There’s a screeching quality and a hidden strength in them that pushes them forward, but they’re living at this point in a state of terror. King deals in horror but his dealings involve supernatural frights and fears. These two are involved in the monotonous fears of the everyday; bills, customer satisfaction, issues with the neighbors, these are the things that chill their spines. I’ve previously discussed Joe Hills story “Pop Art” in this series, and these same stories of prejudice have always stood out in the canon of King/Hill as highlights for both good and ill.
But it’s in differences that we divide ourselves, it’s in human connection and personality that we begin to understand one another and become emotionally vulnerable. Walls come down and lives start to intertwine when we share experiences together – that elevation that comes when genuine human interaction is achieved and love spreads itself under the whole thing.
This story isn’t without its problems, that’s the damn truth. No matter what positive qualities this story has we are still confronted with a straight, white, male savior that steps in with his magical abilities to melt the icy hearts of his neighbors and indeed an entire town as he floats among them, building bridges. Each individual in the town is touched, personally or through osmosis, by Scott Carey and his slowly mounting weightlessness. While each of these individuals has a personality (and they’re fairly stock), it’s Scott that is able to be an agent of change in each of them and as much as I love the story I have to fault it for that. Stephen King writes great women but he’s struggled here to make them much more than archetypes. The icy cold woman, her timid wife, and the sweet older doctor with the wife who overcomes prejudice, these feel like characters we’ve seen before.
Maybe that’s the point, though. Individuals live and die on individualism but the boring reality is that we’re all stock to a degree. There’s no true originality under the sun, only different ways to remix what was original generations ago. These rearranged pieces form personality and it’s hard to separate them from those that came before but in that we’re able to see people we connect with. Scott isn’t a bad person by any means. Neither is the married couple, nor the doctor and his wife. Even a town bigot gets his kind redemption at one point, because this isn’t a story about the worst in humanity as so many King tales turn out to be. This is a story about people coming together, moving beyond traditional belief and being elevated to something more. None of these main characters are bad people, even those that must move beyond ingrained activity and into the realm of kindness. In that we’re given this hope, this feel-good holiday-esque tale, of those that work their way up and become more than who they were in that they begin to connect with other people. Even people they would not have spared a decent thought toward are accepted and while I think King clunkily lobs that in here it isn’t without grace. He’s a man who has had his own struggles; with alcohol, with drug addiction, and anyone who has read his fiction should know that he’s had some racial issues in the past. But here we see someone who is not only admitting his own shortcomings, he’s asking others to just move beyond their’s.
And in doing so we are all, every one of us, elevated.