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There’s hardly a whiff of horror in “Elevation,” Stephen King’s compact, evocative, 146-page new book. Other than a fleeting reference to other, more terrifying King stories, the story — set in his old fictional stomping grounds of Castle Rock, Maine — is one of the author’s great non-horror novellas, like “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” or the various installments of “The Green Mile.”
“Elevation” tells the story of Scott Carey, a recently divorced, childless, middle-aged Castle Rocker muddling through a rather lonely, slightly boring life as a work-from-home web designer.
Lonely and boring flies out the window, however, when he develops a baffling medical condition. Scott begins to lose weight, despite no discernible cause, but he appears completely unchanged, externally. His doctor friend, Bob, is mystified by Scott’s condition but stays silent about it on his friend’s request.
Meanwhile, Scott’s new neighbors, the married couple Deirdre and Missy, get into a tiff with him over some dog waste left on his lawn. Deirdre and Missy recently moved to Castle Rock, opening the Holy Frijole, a Mexican restaurant that they are now struggling to keep afloat. There’s a deep-seeded homophobia among a segment of the population, which translates into a lack of business for the Holy Frijole.
The two storylines dovetail as Scott, who finds himself feeling increasingly optimistic and energetic, as the scale says he’s dropping pounds while the mirror says otherwise, decides to win over his neighbors. He bets marathon runner Deirdre he can beat her in the town’s Thanksgiving road race, wagering that if he wins, she and her wife have to come to his house for dinner. If he loses, he’ll leave her alone forever. Considering he now weighs half of what his once 240-pound frame previously held, it’s an attainable goal.
Once Scott embraces his newfound lightness of being, he literally runs with it, lifting others along with him. King may not have done his research when it comes to the specifics of a road race — what seasoned runner collapses in a heap in the last kilometer of a 12K? — but he does give the race scene a charged, propulsive energy.
What does Carey’s seemingly supernatural predicament symbolize? Is it the buoyancy of the soul, once it is freed from the bonds of fear and distrust of others? Castle Rock itself seems changed by Scott’s mystery condition — the knee-jerk sort of bigotry many of its citizens display toward Missy and Deirdre quickly evaporates after the race, and their business bounces back.
King’s knack for faithfully and poetically describing the people and landscape of Maine is on full, colorful display in “Elevation,” especially as he tracks the way fall gives way to winter. You can feel the bright October sun on your skin; the gray, wet, cold November air in your lungs; the crunch of snow and ice beneath your feet in December and January. If you’re from Maine, you know exactly how that feels.
With publications like this one and his other 2018 book, “The Outsider,” King seems preoccupied with the state of America in 2018, a place that is roiled by anger, cruelty and civil discord. Whatever seemingly magical thing that’s causing Scott Carey to lose mass is symbolic of how that sort of fear and divisiveness is nothing but an albatross around the neck of society. It’s ultimately a melancholy, moving fairytale of sorts, about how tolerance, understanding and forgiveness lift all spirits — figuratively and literally.
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