Author: Stephen King
Published: Hodder Paperback (2007); originally published by New English Library (1978)
Genre: Horror; plus fantasy and contemporary
As good a novelist as Stephen King is, he might be even better at the short story. Truth be told, some of the books that solidified my appreciation for King as a storyteller were his collections of short fiction. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Four Past Midnight, and Everything's Eventual to name but three. My most recent delving into King's short stories came in the form of his first collection, Night Shift.
It's odd that I haven't read a great many of his earliest works--still have to get around to reading Carrie and The Dead Zone. So I figured I would check out the book many consider his best collection of short fiction. Maybe that opinion stems from the fact that quite a few of the stories in the collection were adapted to the big screen. I mean, who wouldn't love the story that inspired Maximum Overdrive, "Trucks."
Now, considering this isn't a novel, I figured I would concentrate on briefly discussing some of the more memorable stories contained within.
"Night Surf" - "After the guy was dead and the smell of his burning flesh was off the air, we all went back down to the beach." That, my friends, is a hook. In what felt like a missing chapter to The Stand, a group of beach bums kill time in a dystopian landscape after a virus has ravaged humanity. The dwindling days of summer roll along while they hang out at the beach with a near blithe ignorance to how devastated a world they are now in.
"Battleground" - A hitman returns home and receives a mysterious package. Upon opening it, after some very close scrutiny, he becomes the target of an impossible enemy bent on his termination. There was a touch of whimsy with this story that made the mayhem feel satirical without being too comical. The ending had a nice payoff too.
"The Ledge" - A tennis pro is propositioned by his lover's dangerous and competitive husband. All he has to do is make it all the way around the ledge of the penthouse floor and he'll avoid a less than desirable fate at the husband's hands. As I read this one, I could swear I something eerily similar to it on an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Maybe the story was adapted to a teleplay. Either way, it's fun suspense that's a little hardboiled.
"Quitters, Inc." - This might be my favorite of the whole collection. A businessman runs into an old colleague at the airport and receives a calling card for a new and unconventional program to quit smoking. What ensues is just a great tale that could put any chain smoker on tenterhooks. Vic Donnatti was a great antagonist--can't quite call him a villain.
"Children of the Corn" - I can't even remember the movie anymore, it's been so long since I saw it and I have never really felt the need to watch it a second time. The story, however, was very good and has convinced me that I should check that movie out again. I may regret it, but this creepy story about the small town of Gatlin and those damned kids will always scare me.
"The Last Rung on the Ladder" - This isn't exactly a horror story. It's more a nostalgic tragedy about a brother and sister. I think it resonated with me so much because I have a little sister too, and those moments where childhood antics can lead to some potentially calamitous consequences really hit a note with me.
There are twenty stories in all, plus a foreword by Stephen King and introduction by John D. MacDonald. I highly recommend this to anyone, especially those who don't usually read short fiction. There is a variety of stories here, not all what you would label as horror, so there is undoubtedly something for everyone. And it's likely available all over the place, whether you buy it new, borrow it from your local library, or find a copy at a used-bookstore (like I did). I can't be bothered to nitpick anything about this book; it's deserving of all the praise it's ever received.
You can read another review of this book at: Too Much Horror Fiction