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COLUMN: Stephen King’s ‘Elevation’ stays on the ground



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Stephen King's newest novel, "Elevation," is 146 pages. The book was released Oct. 30. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Stephen King’s newest release, “Elevation,” clocks in at a novella length of 146 pages. It’s short and sweet enough to read on a cozy Saturday morning. 

However, it feels as though it may have been written in the same amount of time.

The story follows Scott Carey once he discovers he’s losing weight, but isn’t getting any thinner. He eats as much as he wants and runs in Castle Rock’s Turkey Trot 12K, never losing the appearance of a heavy-set old man, as his weight drops below 100 pounds and onward.

The story poses the question: What will happen when Scott becomes weightless?

King isn’t going for horror or fright in this novella. “Elevation” is an attempt at a tender tale of community members bonding in the face of difficult circumstances. Scott struggles to alleviate a relationship with neighbors Deidre and Missy who don’t stop their dogs from pooping on his lawn. Meanwhile, their vegetarian Tex-Mex restaurant is failing because the community doesn’t support their same-sex relationship. Scott continues to go against the advice of his retired doctor friend, Bob, who urges him to go to medical authorities for his strange circumstance.

The characters have enough nuance to distinguish them from another, but not enough to necessarily make them interesting. Bob’s only purpose appears to be the mouthpiece of medical authority for Scott to go against — he lacks an interesting direction of his own. Deidre and Missy are the most compelling characters in the story, but they lose their humanity as the story progresses — they become chess pieces against which Scott makes decisions.

For as short as the story is, its parts feel eclectic and discombobulated, never swimming too deep into any thematic reservoir. Every character makes decisions in response to Scott’s actions or his strange loss of weight, yet these decisions have virtually no consequences on story or plot. The narrative can be summed up in its one moment of change. Had the events of the story not occurred, a nearly similar finale would still have resulted.

Slice-of-life narratives are powerful because they use mundanity in a way that bears emotional weight and consequences. “Elevation” doesn’t. A lack of causality and depth in any direction makes the story spend time going nowhere.

The brevity, simple language, superficial themes, lackluster imagery — even the size of the book — seem to imply this novella is for younger audiences. That’s not to say it isn’t what King wanted — for a man who wrote a bible-length epic and countless other novels with immense success, he had a goal with “Elevation,” and he completed it.

Still, Scott’s arc — elevating above his unusual circumstances, elevating above the difficulties in his relationships — is underwhelming. He’s likable enough, admirable in beats, but he is completely indifferent to his alarmingly fatal demise. King's explanations for his apathetic demeanor aren't founded enough to feel human and oppose everything about passionate characters that makes reading enjoyable. 

There is only one moment where his actions achieve an important goal outside of himself, and even that moment is unfortunately contrived. 

"Elevation" could have been great. Some details are unintended red herrings that could have worked beautifully to develop thematic structure. Scott is divorced, and we learn at one point that his ex-wife was in Alcoholics Anonymous. If Scott’s goal was to settle his relationships before the strange weight loss had more adverse effects, why didn’t he reach out to his ex-wife? Was their relationship related to her AA meetings? King’s answers to these questions are unsatisfactory.

As a part-time King fan, “Elevation” left me feeling largely indifferent. I wanted more thematic development, character depth and vivid prose. The concept of a person with mysterious weight loss is interesting enough, and the final scenes are fascinating, emotionally and conceptually, but for a story that wants to explore reconciliation and relationships, the characters and the story need to feel real and alive.

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