Monday, July 17, 2017

The Mist by Stephen King

Image result for the mist stephen king
When a dangerous storm rolls into town, all the residents can think about is the insurance claims they'll have to make and clearing away the debris. What they don't realise is that that the storm will quickly become the least of their worries. It's not long before 80 people find themselves trapped in a grocery store, unable to leave because something primordial and dangerous is living in the mist.  As the claustrophobia threatens to consume them, they must decide whether or not to take their chances with the outside world or get carried away with the hysteria. 

The Mist is a typical Stephen King horror/suspense story.  Everyone has been in the kind of fog where you can only see a few feet away.  It's never a comforting feeling to have darkness descend, particularly in a world that has become accustomed to electricity and convenience. In this case, the mist hides deadly creatures who few humans as prey. 

I must admit to picking up The Mist because we are currently recapping and reviewing the television show. I believe it's always important to be familiar with the source material when possible. From the very beginning, even before we are introduced to the mist as hiding real danger, the story feels anachronistic for something published in 2007.  Cell phones may not have completely decimated people's use of payphones yet but making a call for ten cents most certainly wasn't possible. 

We meet several characters who are stuck together in the supermarket but the story is told entirely from the perspective of David.  David is an artist, father and husband.  David's one of the first to believe in the danger the mist poses because he's given hard evidence that the world they knew is gone.  Even as the evidence mounts that they are in mortal danger, not everyone in the store is willing to believe.  David's neighbour, who tagged along with him to the market to pick up a few things steadfastly believes that this is all one big prank on him and goes into denial. Norton simply cannot reconcile what he knows to be true. 

The people stranded in the supermarket fall into three categories: 
  • people like David who accept with difficulty the world as it's presented to them
  • people like Norton, who are determined to imagine that what they are seeing isn't real and that they aren't in any mortal danger
  • people like Mrs. Carmody, who has a complete mental break and goes down a dangerous path of superstition and fear.
It's easy to identify with the fears of all of the characters and put yourself in their place.  I don't know however if I would find Mrs.Carmody, who starts going on about human sacrifice all that appealing, no matter how scared I happened to be.

Even though Mrs. Carmody by the end of the book is advocating human sacrifice, the treatment of her by other characters is completely unacceptable. We hear about Mrs. Carmody quite a bit of time before we actually meet her, setting us up to view her the same way that David does. Mrs. Carmody owns an antique store in town and is regularly regarded as a little bit weird for the potions she creates and pronouncements she makes but is deemed harmless. It's not long before Mrs. Carmody moves from being called "crazy" to "crazy old cunt".  If that were not enough, Mrs. Carmody is slapped across the face when she won't be quiet.  It's hardly a surprised when Mrs. Carmody is shot dead because it is the natural end result of the violence both physical and verbal aimed at her. All of this is supposedly justified because she's become unhinged and is encouraging others to panic. Calling Mrs. Carmody an "old cunt" becomes the most common way to refer to her and no a single character speaks up about how sexist this is. I can understand the fear and anger that Mrs. Carmody's doom and gloom predictions are inflaming people but the casual and violent sexism aimed at her is truly problematic. 

Mrs. Carmody is only one representative of the shoddy treatment that women get in this short story.  Stephen King has always been about his male protagonists (yeah, I know about Carrie) but beyond giving us Mrs. Carmody as someone to hate, he doesn't really invest any time in any of the female characters. Steffy, David's wife seems to exist to be sexualised and then die for added manpain. Mrs. Turman is the babysitter that allows David to spend less time with his scared son Billy, to figure out what is going on.  Then we have Amanda. who while not exactly a love interest does end up sleeping with David. None of these women are developed and seem to exist to inform David's character.

The Mist is yet another book which is set in Maine without characters of colour. King hasn't really been great in terms of racial inclusion.  In terms of GLBT characters, The Mist is erased. To be honest, I didn't expect much in terms of inclusion from this short story to begin with but that doesn't mean it isn't disappointing.

The Mist really tapped into a primal fear and I don't think I'm going to want to take a walk on a foggy day anytime soon.  The ending kind of leaves everything up in the air which is a scenario I'm not a fan of. If The Mist were written by any other author I would believe that it's a hook to draw the readers in for the next book in the series. If you don't mind not having everything neatly wrapped up in a bow, this might not bother you that much; however, I want to know what happened to David and his son Billy, even if I never find out what caused the mist, or if the military is involved.