Often considered his Cinderella story, Carrie is the book that launched Stephen King's career. It wasn't his first completed novel, but it was his first published work. And what a corker it is.
Written at a time when King was dirt poor and living in a small trailer with a wife and two toddlers, one can almost sense King's desperation to become published and get his story out there in Carrie. After the success of the Brian DePalma film two years after this book's 1974 release, Stephen King would never write in poverty again.
In many ways, this is very obviously the work of a young author. In some places King violates one of his own rules -- showing, not telling. I am particularly thinking of when the reader is told Carrie White is telekinetic before actually being shown that she's telekinetic. It's not a big deal, but it is strange coming from an author who is so successful at showing the reader everything he or she needs to know about a given character before actually saying it.
Some of SK's word usage is....interesting, as well. Carrie's repeated "ohuh?" whenever she is startled is amusing. How does one even make that sound?! Early on in the book the girls' sweat during the infamous locker room scene is described as "light and eager" (wut) and I can't tell you how many times multiple girls' breasts are described as "perky" or "upright". Am I a perv for noticing this? Well, maybe. Is there any point in me pointing the usage of these odd words and phrases out? Hmmm, nah. Guess not. They've just always seemed awkward to me, though!
Other than those minor blips, Carrie still largely works. All of the characters -- Carrie, Margaret White, Sue, Tommy, Chris, Billy -- are interesting and King gives them a notable amount of depth and color in a relatively small amount of pages. The story doesn't get bogged down or lose the reader -- it's a highly readable novel and I had a hard time putting it down despite this being my fourth or fifth reread (yeah.... I'm sort of a Stephen King fanboy). If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, give it a chance. King's usage of epistolary writing gives the book a slightly different feel from the film adaptation (and all of his later works, for that matter), making it rewarding in its own way.
Carrie is more than a simple horror story. It is a tragedy. Carrie White is torn between trying to become a "whole person" as she puts it.... or growing up just like Momma. If that ain't relatable, I dunno what is. King would go on to write many tragic characters in his decades-long career, but almost none are as sympathetic or pathetic as Carrie White, daughter of crazy religious nut and girl with telekinetic ability.
One reread down, many many many to go. Heh. Next time we're scratching at windows and throwin' holy water. It's 'Salem's Lot.