First edition cover
|Publication date||June 8, 1987|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Misery (1987) is a psychological horror novel by Stephen King. The novel was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1988, and was later made into a Hollywood film and an off-Broadway play of the same name. When King was writing Misery in 1985 he planned the book to be released under the pseudonym Richard Bachman but the identity of the pseudonym was discovered before the release of the book.
The novel focuses on Paul Sheldon, a writer famous for Victorian-era romance novels involving the character of Misery Chastain. One day he is rescued from a car crash by crazed fan Annie Wilkes, who transports him to her home and, once finding out what he has done to Misery in his latest book, forces him to write a new book modifying the story - no matter what it takes.
Paul Sheldon, the author of a best-selling series of Victorian-era romance novels surrounding the heroine character Misery Chastain, has just finished the manuscript of his new crime novel, Fast Cars, while staying at the Hotel Boulderado; since 1974, he has completed the first draft of every one of his novels in the same hotel room. With his latest project finished, he has an alcohol-induced impulse to drive to Los Angeles rather than fly back home to New York City. However, a snowstorm hits while he is driving through the mountains. Sheldon drives off a cliff and crashes upside down into a snowbank.
Paul is rescued from the car wreck by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who lives in nearby Sidewinder. She takes him to her own home rather than a hospital, putting him in the guest bedroom. Using her nursing skills and stockpiled food and medical supplies, including an illicit stash of codeine-based painkillers, Annie slowly nurses Paul back to health. She proclaims herself as Paul's "number one fan," being an avid reader of the Misery Chastain series. However, when she reads the manuscript for Fast Cars, Annie argues with Paul on its violent content and profanity, causing her to spill his soup. Saying that the accident was "his" fault, she punishes him by withholding his medication, then forcing him to wash it down with soap water. Paul, who has done extensive research into mental disorders, suspects that Annie is dangerously disturbed.
When Sheldon's latest novel, Misery's Child, hits the shelves, Annie buys her reserved copy. She doesn't know, however, that Paul has killed Misery Chastain off at the end, intending to end the Misery series and re-establish himself as a mainstream writer. Upon learning of the main character's demise, Annie rages at Paul before leaving him alone in her house for over two days lest she do something "unwise". During this time, Paul suffers from extreme pain and withdrawal from the painkillers; by the time Annie returns, he is close to death. Annie forces him to burn the Fast Cars manuscript—the book he hoped would launch his post-Misery career—and presents him with an antique Royal typewriter, for the purpose of writing a new Misery Chastain novel that will bring the character back from the dead.
Paul bides his time and writes the book as Annie wants, believing her fully capable of killing him. He manages to escape his room while Annie is on an errand, touring the house in search of more painkillers. He is almost caught by Annie, but manages to return to his room before she enters the house. On another occasion when Annie is absent, Paul escapes his room again and steals a knife from her kitchen, intending to kill her. On the way back to his room, he finds a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from Annie's life, suggesting that she is a serial killer who murdered her own father, her college roommate, and numerous patients in several states—thirty-nine people in all. She was arrested and charged with killing several babies at a Boulder hospital, but was acquitted. He also finds a magazine clipping about his status as a missing person.
Annie eventually reveals that she knows about Paul's excursions from his room, and punishes him by cutting off his foot with an axe, cauterizing the wound with a blowtorch. Later, when Paul complains about a missing letter on the typewriter, she punishes him by slicing off his thumb with an electric knife. A Colorado state trooper eventually arrives at Annie’s house in search of Paul. Realizing a chance for escape, Paul alerts the officer by throwing an ashtray through the window. However, Annie surprises the trooper, stabs him repeatedly with a sharpened wooden cross, then finally rides over him with her lawnmower. She temporarily hides Paul in the basement while she departs, meaning to dispose of the trooper's body and his police cruiser.
Paul finally finishes the book, Misery's Return. As a celebration, he asks Annie for a cigarette and a match, as per his normal practice after finishing a novel, but uses them to seemingly light his manuscript on fire in front of her. While Annie frantically tries to put out the flames, Paul throws the typewriter at her. The two engage in a violent struggle, with Paul stuffing Annie's mouth full of the burning pages. Annie breaks free and runs to find a weapon, but trips on the typewriter, causing her to crack her skull on the mantelpiece. Paul then crawls out of the room, closes the door, and locks the bolt that Annie had installed. After slumping down in front of the door, Paul feels Annie's fingers tugging his shirt from under it. Horrified at the question of how she is still alive, he pounds at her fingers then makes his way to the bathroom for more Novril. He finds and swallows some and sleeps against the door.
Awakening, Paul musters up the courage to leave the bathroom in an attempt to escape, uncertain if Annie is either alive or dead. After slowly crawling a short distance, he sees headlights pour through a window. It's the police again. He finds an ornament of Annie's and throws it through the window to get their attention. When they find him, Paul warns them about Annie still being alive and her being locked in the guest bedroom. They leave him to investigate. When they return, they tell Paul that they had not found anything but a shattered bottle of champagne and the room burned. Paul screams until he faints. Later it is revealed that Annie had escaped through the window and gone out to the barn in order to get a chainsaw. However, she had died in the barn due to her skull fracture, one hand grasping the handle of the chainsaw.
Returning home to New York, Paul submits Misery's Return to his publisher; it is revealed that he burned a decoy of the manuscript instead of the book itself. Paul's publisher tells him that the book will become his greatest bestseller. However, the ordeal is far from over for Paul: he suffers nightmares about Annie and continues to have withdrawals from painkillers. He has also become an alcoholic with writer's block. Eventually, after a random encounter with a child in the street, he has the same spark that inspired him to write Fast Cars. He begins typing about this boy and the skunk he had with him in a shopping cart, weeping even as he types, both in misery for his shattered life and in joy that he is finally able to write again.
One of Stephen King's inspirations for Misery was the reaction his fans had to The Eyes of the Dragon. The fans rejected The Eyes of the Dragon because of its lack of horror. Paul Sheldon feeling chained to the Misery books by his fans was a metaphor for his feeling chained to horror fiction. Another source was King's addiction to drugs and alcohol, and his struggle to give them up. "Take the psychotic nurse in Misery, which I wrote when I was having such a tough time with dope. I knew what I was writing about. There was never any question. Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number-one fan. God, she never wanted to leave." 
Connections to King's other works
- Annie speaks of the ruins of the Overlook Hotel and the fate of Jack Torrance, both from The Shining.
- King's novella "The Library Policeman", published in Four Past Midnight, references a character borrowing Paul Sheldon's novels from the local library.
- Paul Sheldon references the fact that his mother visited Sonya Kaspbrak, the mother of Eddie Kaspbrak in It.
The novel was adapted into a film in 1990. James Caan and Kathy Bates star as Paul and Annie, with Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen as the only major supporting actors. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
The novel was also adapted into an Off Broadway play. The play was revived in 2005 at the Kings Head Theatre in London, starring Michael Praed and Susan Penhaligon. The play also opened in Athens in 2007, starring Nikos Psarras in an after-midnight theatre production. In 2012 the play was produced in a new production in Dubai UAE, starring Darren Day and Yvonne O'Grady.
- "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
- Delmendo, Sharon (1992). Slusser, George Edgar; Rabkin, Eric S., eds. Styles of Creation: Aesthetic Thechnique and the Creation of Fictional Worlds. University of Georgia Press. p. 177. ISBN 9780820314914.
- Beahm, George (1992). The Stephen King Story (2nd ed.). Andrews and McMeel. pp. 137–138. ISBN 1-8362-8004-0 Check
- "Stephen King, The Art of Fiction No. 189", The Paris Review, Fall 2006