I was pleased as punch when Teresa reviewed this collection of Stephen King’s short stories last month. I like King’s short stories and novellas a lot, as a rule. They’re often scarier than his novels, because they’re focused on situations, not characters; they range all over the map in terms of horror, fantasy, psychological thrills, and sometimes just the straight gross-out or gut-punch. This collection is no different in that way, and it has the added benefit of including several stories I knew existed, but hadn’t read because they hadn’t previously been traditionally published: that is, they’d been published before, but only as audiobooks, or only as Kindle Singles, or only read at the top of Everest by loons, or something. I was really glad to get a chance to read them here.
I won’t go into detail on most of the stories in the collection, I’ll just offer the thought that King seems to be offering more of a balance here between psychological and supernatural chills. (Though he’s always done that; even in his earliest collection, he has stories like “The Woman in the Room,” about a man’s slow back-and-forth with himself before he decides to give his dying elderly mother too many sleeping pills.) Personally, I like both kinds of stories. I enjoyed “Mile 81” (about a car that isn’t a car, trying to trap good Samaritans at an abandoned rest stop on the interstate), although I wanted to nitpick it to death, which is partly me and partly that it wasn’t a good enough story. I liked “Morality,” about an elderly pastor who pays a young couple to commit an unpleasant sin on his behalf, so he can have the thrill of committing a sin for once in his life –and the double sin of corruption. Guess what? Things don’t turn out well. (Spoiler!) I liked “That Bus Is Another World,” which is another good Samaritan story, but from a different person’s perspective. Some of the stories are weaker, certainly — sometimes I wonder why people in King stories can’t ever have an unpleasant father instead of an unpleasant mother, and a couple of them were just plain silly. But overall, the collection was very good.
Perhaps my very favorite story was “Ur,” which was originally published as a Kindle Single. Teresa is quite right in her review that all the parts toward the beginning, when the main character receives his Kindle and is all amazed at how intuitive it is and how sleek it is and how golly, reading a book on a Kindle is purt-near as good as reading a “real” book after all, are very silly. They are not subtle, they are shilling, and it’s annoying. But the story! The story is about how this main character has accidentally received a Kindle from another dimension (maybe?) and there are millions and millions of books on it, including books that authors we are familiar with didn’t write in this dimension. New (well, new to us) Hemingway, Poe, Shakespeare… King gives us tantalizing titles and snatches of text. It’s a book-lover’s dream. And the rest of the story is almost as compelling as that piece of it.
I love recommending Stephen King to people; I’m one of his Constant Readers, I guess. I don’t know that I’d start here if you’ve never read anything by him before. But these are solid, fun, enjoyable short stories. Give them a try, if they appeal to you.