44 pages 1 hour read

Stephen King

Elevation: A Novel

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Elevation is a 2018 novel by Stephen King, who has authored more than 50 bestselling books and is read worldwide. Considered much lighter than King’s usual work, Elevation blends the supernatural with aspects of his usual works with a poignant yet uplifting story about friendship, overcoming prejudice, rising above life’s burdens, and facing the inevitability of death.

The novel follows protagonist Scott Carey as he navigates a mysterious and seemingly terminal medical condition that inspires him to make the most of his remaining life and to help his community overcome their differences.

Despite containing few horror elements more typical of King’s other work, Elevation won the Goodreads Choice Award for Horror in 2018.

This guide refers to an e-book edition of the text published in 2018 by Scribner.

Content Warning: The source text depicts sexism, ageism, sizeism, and anti-lesbian biases and slurs.

Plot Summary

Scott Carey, a middle-aged web designer and recent divorcé living in Castle Rock, Maine, visits his friend Bob Ellis, a retired physician. Scott reveals he’s been steadily losing weight, but not body mass, so he looks exactly the same. When Bob’s scale shows that Scott weighs the same no matter what he’s wearing or holding, they realize Scott is experiencing something that defies the known laws of medicine and physics. Scott fears he’ll be stuck in a hospital, or even forced to become a lab experiment, if this gets out. Bob agrees to keep his secret.

Later that night Scott sees his neighbors, Deirdre McComb and Missy Donaldson, taking their dogs for a run, and obtains photographic evidence that the dogs are indeed pooping on his lawn. When he confronts Deirdre, she’s just as rude and dismissive as ever. She believes Scott has it in for her because he’s prejudiced against marriage between people of the same sex. Not long after, Missy comes by to apologize for Deirdre and explain her hostility: Most of the town’s residents refuse to dine at Deirdre and Missy’s restaurant, Holy Frijole, because they disapprove of their marriage and sexuality. Only eight months after it opened, the restaurant is on the verge of failing. Scott witnesses some of the prejudice toward them around town, and nearly gets in a fistfight when he confronts a group of sexist men about it.

Deirdre was once a professional athlete and plans to participate in the town’s 12K, the Turkey Trot, after Thanksgiving. Scott has no plans to join the race, but is surprised to find that because of his very low weight, he can run up and down the bandstand steps in the town common six times without feeling out of breath.

At Missy’s suggestion, Scott decides to have dinner at Holy Frijole. He brings Bob, who chooses a night his wife is away because she doesn’t approve of the restaurants’ owners. The food is terrific, but the experience is marred for Scott by Deirdre’s increased hostility toward him. She pulls him aside and rebukes him for causing more problems by trying to protect her and Missy—a reference to his confrontation with the group of sexist men. Deirdre insults Scott, suggests he dine elsewhere from now on, and tells him to stay away from her wife. That night Scott realizes he’s losing weight faster than before, and is down to 199 pounds.

By Halloween, Scott feels mentally and physically healthier than ever, and he’s received a huge paycheck for designing a website for a chain of department stores. On his calendar, March 31 is labeled “Zero Day”—the day when his current rate of weight loss will bring him to zero pounds. He plans to enjoy his life in the meantime. When some trick-or-treaters reveal their parents told them Deirdre and Missy are bad people, Scott realizes he needs to make more of an effort to support his neighbors. He signs up for the Turkey Trot, though his acquaintances expect him to have a heart attack, or at least to run in the back with the most out-of-shape participants. Scott finds Deirdre the morning of the race and makes a wager with her. If she wins, he’ll leave her alone, but if he wins, she and Missy have to let him cook them dinner.

Scott’s increased energy and stamina get him to the ninth kilometer, but at that point, he begins to struggle, questioning whether he can really finish. At the top of the final hill, however, his strength and lightness return, and he feels a sense of euphoric elevation. By the final kilometer, amidst an intense rainstorm, Scott reaches second place behind Deirdre. Her shock at seeing him there causes her to trip and fall. Instead of taking the lead, Scott stops to help her up and insists she finish in first place.

Deirdre calls Scott that night and apologizes for how she’s treated him. She tells him to check the news online. An article about the race shows a photograph of Scott helping her up, and another of Missy embracing Deirdre after she won. The article also quotes a very favorable review of their restaurant, spurring a dramatic increase in business for Holy Frijole. Deirdre and Missy agree to have dinner with Scott. He also invites Bob and Bob’s wife, Myra, who surprisingly agrees to come despite her misgivings about Deirdre and Missy. It turns out that Myra and Missy have a lot in common and get along splendidly. After dinner, Scott demonstrates his mysterious weight loss to the group. This gathering creates strong ties of friendship amongst the group, which subsequently has dinner together at least weekly.

Scott’s rate of weight loss increases. On New Year’s Day, Scott arranges for the owner of the local bookstore to adopt his cat. He lets his friends believe he’s losing weight at the same pace as before and is 106 pounds, when in reality he’s down to about 70. He now thinks “Zero Day” might come before January ends. Unable to judge momentum, he finds walking difficult. Scott has dinner with his friends for the last time in mid-January, when he tells them the truth about his condition and shares a tearful goodbye. An email from Missy reveals just how much his friendship has meant to her and Deirdre, and how it inspired the town to embrace them.

When Scott gets below two pounds and is floating around his house, he asks Deirdre to help him carry out his plan. She straps him into a wheelchair, takes him outside, then sets him loose. The rest of the group watches as Scott floats away. Just as they lose sight of him, Scott ignites a SkyLight firecracker and disappears in its bursts of fiery hues.