One cannot accuse Stephen King of getting sentimental in his old age, because he has always had a soft heart, and it’s not always very deeply buried beneath the evil clowns, cars, and hotels. Elevation, essentially a novella, takes ideas that King has tackled before — Thinner springs readily to mind — but twists them, and makes them optimistic. Elevation is a short work that eschews complex explanation of its contents in favour of a quick burst of emotion and a punch of an ending.
Scott Carey’s weight is going down, but his body is not changing. Anything that he touches does not affect his weight at all. As Scott comes to terms with that which he cannot change, he attempts to mend fences with his lesbian neighbours, Deirdre and Missy, who have not been welcome in the largely conservative constituency of Castle Rock.
Elevation is the sort of book that you can read in one sitting, and it will reward you for doing so. In producing such a short work, King never feels the need to tell us why this is happening to Scott. He doesn’t need a reason, and maybe the man himself never knows. It lends an air of mystery reminiscent of King’s short stories, which often offer only second acts.
With the weight loss presented as a matter-of-fact occurrence with potentially no resolution, King instead allows us to focus on his secret greatest strength: that of the character study. Scott is far from his first protagonist to close in on later middle-age, and he is basically the prototypical “all around nice guy with room to grow” that you would expect to be thrown into a story like this. With the only thing tethering him to the Earth being his beloved cat and his tennis buddy Doctor Bob, Scott’s a nice enough guy but he needs something more to define him — and so he looks outside.
Like much of King’s best work, The Dark Tower cycle prime among them, Elevation is a story about a group of people coming together and becoming better people through their union. It’s his second ka-tet of 2018, and the more affecting. That Scott tries to gather people around him, only semi-consciously, and that, eventually, they start to respond, provides a thread of inspiration before we can get bogged down too hard in the demographic realities of Castle Rock.
Politically, one wonders why Missy and Deirdre moved to Castle Rock, a distinctly regressive niche in a now purple state. King makes Deirdre standoffish without stooping to “both sides”ism, and his prose is unambiguously supportive of married women to exist (a strange element of prejudice that may surprise non-American readers is the concept that the people of Castle Rock have no problem with lesbians — a dubious proposition — but with married lesbians). This is not about the softening of a hardened woman but of an understanding being attained and an accord being reached.
As Scott carries on, as he lightens his physical and metaphysical loads and considers what he owes to other people, King’s words shimmer across the page. That we never know why this is happening or what is going to happen does not concern us; rather than the crushing inevitability that pervades some of King’s darker work, there is a shocking optimism that belies the group’s fears for Scott’s future. Though we don’t spend a huge amount of time with any of these characters, they are alive on the page and the connections between them are among King’s most genuine work. As we race towards the ending, uncertain to the last, we feel for them and what they will become. Elevation is a giant work of art waiting to explode from the humblest of packages.
Between these slim covers, King offers a work that is at once uplifting and heartbreaking. It speaks to the human capacity to change even as it explores the impermanency of existence. Far from horror, not overtly supernatural, Elevation is one of King’s most humanistic works in a career littered with them. It may be hard for a man in his seventies to manage a full-length novel, a novella, and various Executive Producer roles in a year, but King makes it seem a weightless endeavour. Elevation may seem light, but its themes and its message reverberate loud after the final page is turned.