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Elevation (2018)
Book Reviews

Elevation (2018)

Remixes elements of 1984’s Thinner into a sweeter, more palatable fable about finding hope in the unlikeliest of situations.

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With Elevation Stephen King welcomes us back to Castle Rock, his most ironic stomping ground and frequent setting for all things bizarre and unpredictable. At less than 150 pages it’s less a novel and more a novella, which may surprise those expecting a second magnum opus from the Master of Horror in the same year (following The Outsider). Fear not, because…well, there’s nothing to fear in this sweet, almost cheerful story of a man who may be losing his weight, yet gains new perspective in the process.

Elevation marks the second recent visit to Castle Rock in novella form, following last year’s Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written with editor Richard Chizmar. Remember when King promised “the last Castle Rock story” all those years ago with Needful Things? Someone better tell Hulu because I think they’d like to know this. It’s also hard to say how this iteration of the town fits into King’s always-expanding shared universe; a local band renamed themselves Pennywise and the Clowns for a Halloween dance. If the memory of the supernatural, child-killing clown/spider from IT no longer inspires terror, at least it’s inspiring garage bands.

Scott Carey is relatively healthy for a man of 6-feet-four, minus the flap of belly protruding over his belt. A work-at-home graphic designer, he’s managed to keep active and thought there was nothing to worry about until he notices a startling change: he’s losing weight, but not mass. On the outside, he appears the same as always — a 42-year-old man who should weigh the 240 pounds he looks, but his scale disagrees. Frantically, he reveals to his retired friend Bob Ellis, aka Doctor Bob, his secret: he’s getting lighter, but not thinner. Days go by and the numbers of the scale keep ticking downward, only Scott’s body – belly and all – remain the same.

Even stranger, anything he touches also appears to become weightless, almost as if gravity itself has relinquished control of anything within Scott’s personal orbit. As Scott begins to catalog his rapid weight loss on a calendar it dawns on him that, at some point, he’ll eventually reach a point where the numbers simply can’t go any lower, an inevitability he begins to call “Zero Day”. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

We also meet Scott’s new neighbors, Deirdre McComb and Missy Donaldson, a married lesbian couple fresh from Boston who own and operate Holy Frijole, a vegetarian Mexican restaurant struggling to not just convince Castle Rock’s reluctant clientele that meatless tacos can be pretty delicious, but with their misplaced homophobia and intolerance.

Scott and the couple’s relationship has gotten off to a rocky start after discovering their dog’s droppings on his lawn, and the confrontation doesn’t go well. It’s only after speaking with a few of Castle Rock’s finest around town that he realizes there may be more to his neighbor’s sourness than he thought, much of which centers around Deirdre and Missy’s lifestyle.

Realizing he could have handled the situation better Scott attempts to set things right with them, only to find his entreaties are met with a familiar prickly stubbornness. He sees a possible solution in the town’s famous Turkey Trot, a 12K charity race that regularly brings in thousands of outside competitors, where an experienced runner like Deirdre seems like a lock. Winning the Turkey Trot could be just the ticket to help the town’s outmoded thinking get a much-needed upgrade, and Scott would do anything to help set things right.

Once established, the actions that take place during these events will forever change those involved, and King wisely keeps the greatest mysteries to himself, at least the supernatural ones, a choice that lets him instead explore the story’s greater and more interesting inertia of consequence: how does one come to accept circumstances beyond our control, both physically and metaphorically? It’s not quite the fairytale you want, but may be the one you need.

I didn’t realize how much I wanted to read a new Stephen King novella until I did, and whatever surprise I felt at seeing that surprisingly low page count number (anything not approaching 1,000 pages for a new King book is always surprising) completely melted after the first paragraph.This is made clear with illustrations from Mark Edward Geyer, whose creative doodles fans will remember from King’s Rose Madder and The Green Mile. While limited to chapter headings only, like all good illustrations they add a welcoming sense of security and warmth for what’s to come.

Some might actually question the decision to release Elevation as a standalone novella, rather than wait and include it within some future anthology collection. Others – myself included – may be tickled pink to see King experimenting with how his work is, or could be, published again. Regardless of how successful or not they’ve been, King has embraced just about every new distribution method as they’ve come along in recent times: digital (Riding the Bullet), value-for-value (Plant), a return to serialized chapters (Green Mile), collaborations with his own pseudonym (Desperation/The Regulators) – only to “kill” off Richard Bachman, collaborations with son Owen (Sleeping Beauties), promoting e-readers (Ur) and more that I’m probably forgetting about.

After all, weren’t bundled stories really the Netflix Binge of their time for those too impatient to *gasp* wait for the next chapter, edition or full-sized novel? So a return to publishing half-novels for half-price? Yeah, that’s totally doable, and quite agreeable. King has always thrived within the short story/novella genres, and the idea of him peppering new treasures in micro-doses sounds positively delightful.

Also unavoidable is that I’m certain some fans will bristle at King’s less-than-subtle digs at the current political and social climate, which given the author’s penchant for tweeting and social-sharing isn’t really a surprise. But these superfans should also remember the roots of Castle Rock run deep, and this is still King’s sandbox; he gets to set the rules. That he’s able to channel his personal rage into something more (literally) uplifting and inspiring, with as much restraint as he does, is something to consider if you’re on the fence about this one.

And to call Elevation uplifting would be appropriate both philosophically and adjectivally; King presents an appropriately short, but heartfelt examination of tolerance and acceptance, both for those inherently different from ourselves and for a man resigned to become balloon-like and float away. King is working things out here, much like this year’s earlier The Outsider reimagined IT, Elevation remixes elements of 1984’s Thinner into a sweeter, more palatable fable about finding hope in the unlikeliest of situations. Elevation seems to have been timed for the spookiness of Halloween, yet feels more like Christmas, or how stories like this used to feel. It’s a compromise we could all use right about now.

Audio Bonus:

As if that wasn’t enough, those choosing the audiobook version of Elevation are in for a treat, or two treats. You won’t get Mark Edward Geyer’s delightful doodles, but King himself narrates both the main story and a second, shorter one as well. Released earlier this year as a completely free download to help promote The Outsider, “Laurie” isn’t included with either print or digital versions but you can download or read it directly from King’s site right HERE!

Laurie follows a recent widower and the puppy that – reluctantly – becomes part of his life. Those who’ve experienced simultaneous loss and renewal will appreciate the care in how King relates the tenderness between man and mutt taking the first steps on a grand adventure into the unknown. There’s also an alligator involved, but probably not like you’re thinking.