The writer Stephen King hasn’t kept his opinion of US president Donald Trump a secret. He tweets about politics often and is explicit about the fact that he considers Trump problematic. Most recently, on Dec. 24, King called for a bipartisan effort to remove the president.
This call for a united effort to save America’s soul is also present in Elevation, King’s most recent work of fiction, a novella released in late October. It’s a subtle and slender book with none of the traditional horror that has made King an international literary phenomenon. The monster that must be slain in this tale is bias, close-mindedness, the ingrained prejudices that divide otherwise well-meaning neighbors.
There is a supernatural element to the story, but it’s not at all gory or frightening—unless you, like King, think it’s scary to live in a world where we make enemies of potential allies, remain strangers to our neighbors, and choose hate over love.
In Elevation, King tells the story of Scott Carey, a man who lives in the Republican stronghold of Castle Rock, a small New England town that doesn’t exactly embrace newcomers. (It’s the same eerie town King has returned to again and again, and there’s even a Hulu show set there and named for it.)
Carey, a divorced man living alone, loses weight every day without even trying. The loss is not discernible to anyone else—his physical appearance remains unchanged—but he can feel himself getting lighter, in sprit and body, and his scale confirms this sensation. He’s reluctant to reveal his condition to anyone, because he doesn’t want to be turned into a freak.
During this transformation, Carey becomes aware of the obstacles his two new neighbors, Deirdre McComb and Missy Donaldson, face. They are a married lesbian couple who recently moved to Castle Rock and opened a restaurant. Despite rave reviews for the food, they are barely scraping by because the townspeople are put off by the business owners’ same-sex marriage.
It’s the marriage part the town conservatives don’t like, we’re told. “That’s a deal breaker for lots of folks. You know what Castle County’s like,” the local bookstore owner explains. “Solid republican. Conservative Republican. The county went for Trump three-to-one in ’16…If those women had kept it on the down-low they would have been fine, but they didn’t.”
The bias the newcomers have faced has made them in turn defensive. They assume the worst about the locals. Even as Carey tries to befriend them, or defends the couple to other townspeople, the women push him away and doubt his intentions. “I—we—don’t need you to play Sir Galahad,” McComb tells Carey. “For one thing, you’re a little too old for the part. For another, you’re a little too overweight.”
Despite this insulting rebuff, Carey is determined to do what he can to save the new restaurant and help the newcomers, so he devises an unusual plan related to his strange weightlessness. His own politics are not articulated, and his efforts on behalf of the couple don’t appear to be particularly ideological.
In King’s Castle Rock, everyone’s a little closed-minded at times, even those who consider themselves progressive or face prejudices themselves. Without explicitly attacking Trump, King shows the horror of an America that confuses greatness and hatred.
But ultimately, Elevation is a hopeful tale. Carey is the American that King wishes every citizen would be. He is a person of conviction whose belief in equality is so profound he doesn’t need to articulate it, or question himself. We could all stand to grow, King seems to be saying—whether conservative, liberal, or neither—so that America is great for everyone.