Annie Wilkes “Misery”

Misery is the story of Paul Sheldon (the writer of popular historical romances featuring the heroine Misery Chastain) who becomes involved in a serious auto crash during a snow storm in an isolated region of Colorado. He is discovered and revived by a psychopathic ex-nurse named Annie Wilkes. The dangerous fan, Annie Wilkes, is an interloper who inserts herself into Paul’s life, who usurps his independence and even dictates what project he should next write.

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Annie was born in Bakersfield, California and she graduated from the University of California at the Los Angeles nursing school in 1966. While serving as head maternity nurse at a Boulder, Colorado hospital, several infants in her care died under mysterious circumstances. She was tried for their deaths, but she acquitted for lack of evidence.

She takes Paul to her out-of-the-way farm where she keeps him doped-up on narcotics. Paul’s legs are twisted and broken beyond all hope, and he’s in a great deal of pain. Paul became involved in the accident because he was so excited about his new fictional effort, a realistic novel that totally breaks tradition with his Misery Chastain series (which he has come to despise).

The creeping terror of Annie Wilkes is that she totally and completely usurps Paul’s sense of control over his own life. Unable to walk, he becomes confined to bed. Unable to stand the pain of his injuries, he is dependent on Annie for his pills, his medicine. Paul is further humiliated when he must urinate in a bedpan in her presence, and then she manhandles the full bottle in front of him clumsily. Before, he had control of the littlest things, now the things he took for granted are beyond his capacity to manage.

In one notable sequence, Paul even loses control of his thoughts, his professional purview as a writer: he is forced to burn the only copy of the book he just completed and then told by Annie what he must write next … another Misery novel. A writer is the kind of person who thrives on a sense of control and so Annie Wilkes is the writer’s worst nightmare. As long as Paul can keep Annie interested in the story he weaves, the Misery novel she forces him to write, she will—she must—let him live.

For one thing, Annie is cloying and suffocating, but worse, she’s a moralist and anti-intellectual who considers herself right about a number of ideas even though she’s ignorant and uneducated. She hates profanity, even if it is authentic. She is dismissive of college, knowledge, reality, drama and everything that doesn’t fit into her very narrow world view. Annie has a huge chip on her shoulder and doesn’t like to feel stupid, which makes her dangerous.

She is also delusional: she actually believes that after burning Paul’s book and trapping him in her house, he would sit down to a celebratory dinner with her and “enjoy it.” His toast at that dinner is, naturally, to Mis-ery. Not to the romance book character, but to Paul’s misery in the care of a depressive, baby-murdering, mood-swinging maniac. His number one fan.

I thought you were good, Paul. But you’re not good. You’re just an old dirty birdy.

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