Oh, Stephen King

Whenever your name comes up, there’s the invariable ‘omg he sux now’ comment, and I have always defended you. I have attempted to point out that although your earlier work might have been more satisfying to true blue horror buffs, your post-accident work has been much deeper and ultimately more satisfying on a more general level. There is still horror, but it is of a subtler sort.

And hey, there’s still monsters. Just look at Lisey’s Story.

Oh, and I always make sure to say how much I love your short stories. I do. I love them. Everything’s Eventual was a bit on the sketchy side, but there was still enough to love.

Then you go and give us Just After Sunset.

Willa is the kind of story I like. The meandering tone was pleasant, and really added to the nice contrast between the everyday bickering and the wonders of the afterlife. Still, it reminded me a fair bit of number of stories, most notably that really forgettable one about the couple in the car that keep dying. So yeah, this wasn’t the most cracking of openers, but apparently it was put in because it was the first one he wrote in his period of new creativity. Fair enough, and still a damn sight better than most authors would manage.

The Gingerbread Girl was an unsatisfying pile of clichés. Well, I was impressed that a guy was willing to tackle a woman recovering from the death of a baby as the main character, especially one suffering from PTSD. After reading the rest of the stories, the whole PTSD thing was lessened because just about every story features some kind of crazy. Anyway, disturbed mother takes up running. Leaves husband. Promising set-up is then completely ruined by crazy rapist-slash-murderer who can’t swim even though he lives on the damn coast. What a waste of paper, and a few valuable smidgens of my time.

Harvey’s Dream would have been good, if he hadn’t done a story extremely similar to it. Seriously, the whole phone and impending death thing can only be done so many times by a single author. (So many being one.)

Rest Stop was brilliant. Nice bit of meta crime. 

Stationary Bike was the kind of King story I really love. It’s weird, it’s recognisable, it’s disturbing, and it’s satisfying. 

The Things They Left Behind made up for the previous disappointing stories. It’s an effective ghost story. Yes, it’s about 9/11, but it doesn’t lay it on thick. Survivors’ guilt and the ghosts of memory, without any excess soppiness.

Graduation Afternoon would have been good if it had been about half the length. It ended much too abruptly. Uncle Stevie, I know you like to take your time building up stories. But seriously, when the point of the story is that there’s a bomb, I want the set-up that draws me in to be at least interesting, or at the very least, not annoying.

N. is more craziness, but portrayed up close and personal. It is one of King’s best, if you ask me. 

The Cat From Hell is a bit silly, but entertaining and fantastically gory. You can tell that it’s Old King. It didn’t do much for me, but it did elicit a chuckle and an ‘ew’ at the end.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates is another story about dead people and phones. The title is the best thing about it.

Mute is like a very short novel. This is a good thing. King’s new slow, literary style is suited perfectly to this kind of story. It’s like a grand master writing an urban legend.

Ayana is the return of the Magical Black Person, but I sort of let King off the hook because he has a character poke fun at the fact that there’s a Magical Black Person. Still, the mere presence of the stereotype completely sabotaged the story for me, and I couldn’t get involved enough to enjoy it. He was nowhere near as self-aware of his use of that stereotype when it was employed in The Stand and The Shining. I wish more thought had been given to the character, and more depth, rather than just making her and Halloran and Mother Abigail benign supernatural entities.

A Very Tight Place reminded me of Dolan’s Cadillac, only infinitely better. Again, plenty of crazy here, but it’s the most interesting instance of crazy. The evil dude is crazy, but in a kind of ‘oh shit I have cancer and I’m going to die, may as well do this insane shit’ kind of way. It’s the main character who’s got OCD and heaven knows what else. It’s there, but it isn’t a real plot point. It comes into play at the end, leaving the reader with a satisfied feeling (you’ll get it when you read it). However, King’s self-confessed literary elephantisis has set in, and this story could have easily been a damn sight shorter.

So, in a nutshell, I was disappointed. Most of the stories didn’t do anywhere near as much for me as I’ve come to expect from King. Don’t get me wrong, from any other writer, this would have been cracking, it really would. But the thing is, I hold Uncle Stevie to very high standards, and although N. and What They Left Behind blew me away, there was enough ‘meh’ in the rest of the offerings that I wish I’d waited till this came out in paperback.

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