The #1 national bestseller about a famous novelist held hostage by his “number one fan” and suffering a frightening case of writer’s block—that could prove fatal. One of “Stephen King’s best…genuinely scary” (USA TODAY).
Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.
Annie wants Paul to write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an axe. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.
“Terrifying” (San Francisco Chronicle), “dazzlingly well-written” (The Indianapolis Star), and “truly gripping” (Publishers Weekly), Misery is “classic Stephen King...full of twists and turns and mounting suspense” (TheBoston Globe).
This reading group guide for Misery includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A famous novelist is held hostage by his “number one fan” while suffering a frightening case of writer’s block—how could things get worse? Stephen King finds a way as bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon matches wits with the deranged Annie Wilkes. As Annie nurses Paul after an automobile accident, she discovers that her beloved author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie then becomes Paul’s captor, insisting that Paul write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for Annie, or else. Annie has a lot of ways to inspire Paul. One is a needle. Another is an axe. Misery is “classic Stephen King . . . full of twists and turns and mounting suspense” (TheBoston Globe).
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Part I begins with the Friedrich Nietzsche quote “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” How does this quote set the stage for the “Annie” section of the novel and for Annie Wilkes herself?
2. Think of other characters like Annie in literature, such as Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What do these women have in common? Why are they so intimidating and frightening?
3. Though Paul has “spent most of his adult life thinking the word writer was the most important definition of himself” (page 31), he despises Misery, his own creation and his most popular work. What does this tell the reader about Paul?
4. Paul often recalls episodes from his childhood that parallel his current circumstances. The African bird from a visit to the zoo with his mother, for instance. Why does Paul associate himself with the African bird (page 62)?
5. Why is Annie so insistent on Misery’s Return being fair (page 116)? Why does Paul ultimately agree with her criticism?
6. King includes several passages from Misery’s Return throughout Misery itself, even with the missing letters from the typewriter and then in cursive when Paul begins writing longhand. Are these passages necessary? How do they affect the novel as a whole?
7. In the Uncle Remus stories, when Brer Rabbit leads his would-be captors to his “laughin’ place,” it turns out to be a cavern of bees. How is Annie’s “Laughing Place” (page 179) like Brer Rabbit’s?
8. There are references to other King novels in Misery, such as when Annie describes The Overlook Hotel from The Shining on page 219. Some authors create fictional worlds for themselves in this manner, like William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha County. What does an author achieve with these references and fictional worlds that span many stories?
9. Discuss the many different kinds of “gotta” (pages 249 and 284) found in Misery. How is each character driven by his or her gottas?
10. Why is Paul also Scheherazade to himself (page 246)? Why does it take him such a long time to realize this?
11. Think of Humbert Humbert in Lolita and Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, obsessives who lose touch with reality, much like Annie. Why is obsession such fertile ground for unsettling and terrifying characters?
12. The four parts of Misery are titled “Annie,” “Misery,” “Paul,” and “Goddess.” Why is the novel structured this way? How do these section names reflect Paul’s experiences?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch the 1990 film adaptation of Misery starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Discuss the similarities and differences between the book and the movie. Misery has also been adapted for the stage. What do you think makes the story work visually?
2. Play a game of Can You? (page 124) like Paul did as a child. After the game, discuss whether it was easier or harder than you thought and what
Stephen King is the author of more than sixty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The Institute, Elevation,The Outsider, Sleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), and the Bill Hodges trilogy, End of Watch, Finders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and an AT&T Audience Network original television series). His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures, with It now the highest grossing horror film of all time. He is the recipient of the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award, the 2014 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
“Undiluted horror…wonderful…A primal storyteller writing about a primal scream.”
– Houston Chronicle
"Suspenseful, entertaining, genuinely scary.”
– USA Today
– Kirkus Reviews
“Solid character delineation and terrifying insight. In addition to being able to scare the reader breathless, King says a tremendous amount about writing itself. We delight in his virtuosity.”
– The Washington Post
– The Indianapolis Star
“Terrifying…King is a terrific storyteller.”
– San Francisco Chronicle
"Classic King...full of twists and turns and mounting suspense."
– Boston Globe
“Page-turningly effective, stringing out every scene to the screaming point.”
– Chicago Sun-Times
“Stephen King at his best…frighteningly good.”
– Philadelphia Inquirer
“Vintage King…a masterpiece of horror…creates a level of tension that makes it difficult to keep your eyes from jumping to the next page to escape sooner.”
– Cincinnati Post
“Deft psychological horror…easily one of King’s best novels.”
– The Boston Herald
– Publishers Weekly
“As is his genius, King never relaxes the oh-my-god tension until the final paragraph.”
– San Diego Tribune
– Library Journal
“Misery had me on edge for days after I’d finished it… the novel is something else — an airless, claustrophobic portrait of an egotistic writer pushed to the edge of madness by pain, pills,incarceration, the expectations of his reading public and a deadline like he’s never known before. In the book, our hero is as threatened by the demons within as he is by the madwoman beside his bed. Like him, you the reader can’t wait to escape; yet you can no more walk away from Mr. King’s tightly spun yarn than Paul can walk away from his captor.”