In June 1987, the already prolific master of horror Stephen King took a break from the eerie supernatural worlds of It and Pet Sematary to build the equally sinister — but totally realistic — world of Annie Wilkes in Misery.
While many have come to know the deranged Annie thanks to Kathy Bates, who immortalized the role in her Oscar-winning turn in the 1990 film version, readers of the book remember being scared witless by the completely unhinged, axe-wielding “number one fan” of romance novelist Paul Sheldon (because in the book, Sheldon is subject to fates much, much worse than that of his cinematic counterpart, played by James Caan).
With the 30th anniversary of Misery’s publication upon us, we’re recommending popularly twisted books that depict writers and other creatives in serious trouble, at the hands of fans or otherwise, including a couple more from King himself.
1. Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun
Based on the writer’s real experiences, Give Me Everything You Have chronicles Lasdun’s dealings with an obsessive former student, who resorts to using everything from hate mail, online postings, and accusations of plagiarism/sexual misconduct to try to take him down. While not exactly as destructive as a mallet or axe, the accusations leveraged against the author online and in public have damning results, bringing to light the value of reputation in the Internet era.
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2. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
After harrowing events surrounding a hot-air balloon accident in which one person is killed, two of the men involved become inextricably and dangerously linked: University professor and writer Joe, engaged to Clarissa, and Jed, who (it just so happens) suffers from a psychotic disorder that causes him to believe Joe is in love with him. Psychoses soon devolve into obsession, stalking, and worse — Jed actually sounds like a not-so-distant cousin of Annie Wilkes. The book was adapted into a little-seen 2004 film starring Daniel Craig and Rhys Ifans.
3. You by Caroline Kepnes
Reading like a version of Misery for the millennial age, You recounts the meeting, relationship, and descent into madness that occurs between a feisty young writer and a seemingly perfect bookstore employee. The writer, who goes by Beck, is everything meek bookstore employee Joe could ask for in a mate, and he begins to infiltrate her life to make it happen. When people start dying, it’s up to Beck to figure out what’s really going on with her new boyfriend…
An allegory if there ever was one, this novella by Misery scribe Stephen King tells the story of successful Maine-based writer Mort Rainey (I wonder what inspired that) who is stalked by a mysterious man in a hat. The man claims Rainey plagiarized his manuscript and demands retribution, with threats that grow increasingly violent. Is the man telling the truth? Is he a raving loony? Could he perhaps be a character from within the novel in question? Since this is a Stephen King story, don’t expect the answers to those questions to be straightforward, but do expect them to be chilling and unforgettable.
5. The Dark Half by Stephen King
The tortured mental life of a writer is something King has tackled time and again throughout his illustrious career, perhaps because the best-selling author wrestles with his own demons while creating his dark works. In this 1989 novel, King unpacks the career of yet another author, who writes successful crime novels under a pseudonym. Soon, the novelist becomes overwhelmed and possessed by this darker, more nefarious counterpart, with unspeakable results. The Dark Half was in part inspired by King being ‘outed’ as Richard Bachman, a pen name he has used over the years.
6. Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky
A biting satire of 21st-century fame and celebrity, this American Idol-meets-Heathers pitch black comedy follows a gaggle of over-the-top fangirls who end up in the same hotel as their beloved boyband, The Ruperts. As the night progresses, the fangirls and boybanders cross paths, and a dire turn of events leaves no one the same. There are fine lines between admiration, obsession, and danger, and Kill the Boy Band skirts them all like a diehard fan who just won’t quit.
7. The Savage Detectives and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
The work of the late writer Roberto Bolaño frequently depicted the lives of writers on the loose, in search of fortune, meaning, and oftentimes other, more elusive writers as well. Two of his most famous books, The Savage Detectives and 2666, are particularly good examples of Bolaño’s sprawling narratives, which feature writers in all manner of trouble: being stalked by serial killers, pursued by corrupt cops, and tormented by each other.
Anyone familiar with Brooklyn-based Paul Auster’s work knows that for him, a writer can be stalked by something much more dangerous, and more insidious, than an outside entity. In Auster’s world, writers are subjected time and again to existential crises, philosophical dilemmas, and even riddle-like conundrums, like in Travels in the Scriptorium, where a man (Auster’s protagonists almost always seem like stand-ins for Auster himself) wakes up in a locked room with absolutely no recollection of who he is or how he got there. Auster’s seminal New York Trilogy, and in particular his City of Glass within that book, points to the suggestion that perhaps the most dangerous entity of all that can beset and trouble a writer is the self.