A History of Mystery: Elevation by Stephen King

If the upheaval of recent years has taught us anything, it’s that we, as a people, are divided, and that the division that exists between us and them, whoever they or we may be, is more marked than almost anyone had imagined. As evidenced by Elevation, Stephen King would love for us all just to get along, but instead of, say, scaring us back to our senses with some spiteful supernatural spectre, as you might expect from the author of IT, the seasoned storyteller opts to tread lightly, telling an unexpectedly touching tale about how we can be better together.

That’s not to say Elevation lacks a speculative element. It’s even somewhat spooky. You see, Scott Carey has started to lose weight. He’s lost a little every day in the weeks leading up to the outset of the text. So far, so standard, but the thing of it is, he hasn’t lost any of his mass. He’s still exactly the same size as he was, and to make matters stranger, “whatever he wore or carried that was supposed to weigh him down… didn’t.”

Scott has already been dismissed by a doctor to whom he told the truth—if not the whole truth and nothing but because, understandably enough, he doesn’t want to be poked and prodded as if he were some sort of medical curiosity, and in any event, he already has a sense that what’s happening to him is beyond the ken of medical science—but in case there is a way to reverse what he has “come to think of as ‘the weightless effect,’” he compromises by confessing his curious condition to Bob Ellis, a recently-retired GP Scott’s played a few sets of tennis with.

Bob isn’t any the wiser about causes or cures than the other doctor Scott saw, sadly, and although an affecting friendship develops between the pair over the course of the coming months, the latter’s weird weight loss continues unabated. “Not long ago he had avoided the bathroom scale because it showed too many pounds; now he stayed away for the opposite reason. The irony was not lost on him.”

The better not to dwell on this seemingly insurmountable issue, Scott sets his sights on solving one of Castle Rock’s more mundane, if no less appalling problems. Missy Donaldson and Deirdre McComb are among the town’s most recent residents. They live together and love one another very much. Alas, some of the long-term locals are aghast at the fact that they’re married, and in such an insular community, this prejudice has become a practical problem: the vegetarian Mexican restaurant they run together has essentially been empty since it opened, and if something doesn’t change soon in terms of the town’s abhorrent attitude to the ladies and their delicious lunches, both will be bust. The utter injustice of this leads Scott to attempt to befriend the owners of Holy Frijole, although he’ll find that their pride prevents them from simply accepting his help.

Over the course of Elevation, King threads these two tales together expertly. In one, the myth of the Midas Touch meets King’s own Thinner; in the other, a small town set in its discriminatory ways is tested when the archaic way of thinking Scott embodies champions the changing times Missy and Deirdre denote. By the time this brief book is concluded on the back of the annual Turkey Trot, a charity 12k both Scott and Deirdre compete in, the two tales have become one, to excellent effect.

Elevation’s excellence is also evident from earlier on in the novella. Though they spring fully-formed from the Stephen King playbook, its characters—a combination of plain-spoken, straightforward folks and the occasional unreasonable rabble-rouser—are relatable right out of the gate, and so deftly developed over the story’s course that their respective destinations appear inevitable in retrospect.

Scott, for his part, has little interest in worrying about what’s to come. “If there were rules to what was going on, he didn’t understand them, or care to,” he muses as we close in on the book’s conclusion. “His outlook remained optimistic, and he slept through the night. Those were the things he cared about,” and those are the things King is keen on here: a sense that somehow, even the worst wrongs can be put right.

The aforementioned author doesn’t waste much of Elevation’s limited width worldbuilding, but both his Constant Readers and any number of newcomers who pick up this short but sweet treat because of its ties to the recent TV series will find themselves very much at home here in Castle Rock. In its size and in its storied history, this small town acts as the perfect backdrop for the depiction of division and the various ways it can be warded off that is the message in this book’s bottle.

Scott thought of how he’d felt running down Hunter’s Hill, when he’d gotten his second wind and the whole world had stood revealed in the usually hidden glory of ordinary things—the leaden, lowering sky, the bunting flapping from the downtown building, every precious pebble and cigarette buy and beer can discarded by the side of the road. His own body for once working at top capacity, every cell loaded with oxygen.

He felt, in short, elevated—and I dare say you will too if you spend some time with this neat little novella. It’s an appealing and easily-palatable paean to people disillusioned with the state of the world today, and its rallying cry? Why, “the past is history, the future’s a mystery.” Something, in other words, that’s difficult or impossible to understand or explain. King doesn’t explain anything in Elevation, but tellingly, he does go out of his way to remind readers that tomorrow’s another day.

Elevation is available from Scribner.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.

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