As most of you probably know by now if you’re followers of this blog, Teresa and I are Stephen King fans. We have read a lot by him, and if you’re readers like us, that leads to theories, and that leads to buttonholing people at parties and telling them all about the theories and connections and interesting points, and that leads to awkward gaps in the conversation and people looking frantically for escape, and that’s never good. So you, lucky readers, you get it instead!
One of my pet theories is that King’s novels and his short stories are quite different. In his novels, which are often epically long, he focuses on character development. His protagonists have the chance to stretch themselves in terms of back-story and growth in whatever horrifying apocalyptic scenario they find themselves in: the vampires or the haunted house or the superflu-ridden landscape serve chiefly as the grim setting for the characters, as the Old West would in a Louis L’Amour novel.
In his short stories, however, there’s no time for such Dickensian developments. Here, the setting (I refrain from saying the gimmick) is most often the point: a set of chattery teeth with a mind of its own; an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-like scheme for revenge; a possessed laundry mangle; a literal boogeyman in the closet. Here, the characters are simply reacting. In King’s short stories, the evil frequently wins — or the end is at least ambiguous — unlike his novels, which have almost universal happy endings (with one or two very notable and very scary exceptions.)
Everything’s Eventual, however, a collection that came out in 2002 after King had been badly injured in a car accident, is a little different. While there are a couple of stories in the collection that go right for the one-two punch (“1408,” the story of a hotel room inhabited by a Cthulhu-like presence, is definitely the scariest, and “The Road Virus Heads North” is classic, nasty King gimmickry), many of them have a different tone.
Don’t get me wrong. King isn’t straying far here from his usual beat, and each story has its heart-hammering twist. But, for instance, “Lunch at the Gotham Cafe,” a story of an acrimoniously divorcing couple who find themselves having lunch in the presence of a maitre-d’ who has completely lost his everloving mind, is much more about the slow drip of acid in the mind of the husband than about the violence that ensues. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” is a blend of wistfulness and dark humor, a bleak look at depression and hope. “L.T.’s Theory of Pets” is about marriage and desperation, not about the murder that’s tacked on at the end. And after I read “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French,” I argued in my head with King for at least two days (I won’t tell you what about.)
In other words, my pet theory doesn’t apply to this collection, or anyway doesn’t apply very well. And that’s another sign that King’s a good writer, one who goes on practicing his practice. (And that’s another one of my theories. Wait! Come back –)