May 6, 2013

The King of the Short Story: a review of Stephen King's "Just After Sunset"

Just After Sunset
by Stephen King
Pocket Books (2008)
539 pages
ISBN 9781416586654

Say what you will about Stephen King, but love him or hate him, the man is a talented yarn-spinner. And while I'll readily admit some of his novels are a little long-winded, his short stories move like muscle cars: ferociously.

In the introduction, he mentions how he wondered if he still had the chops to write a short story some ten years ago, so he sat down and gave it a shot. The end result was this collection that came out in 2008, with stories that sprouted from that challenge, and a few others from the past that had yet to be collected in a book. Stories like "Stationary Bike" and "The Cat from Hell" may already be familiar to fans, but there's plenty of original work, too.

"Willa" kicks things off with a couple stranded with others at a train station on the outskirts of a small town waiting for the train to arrive, but it feels like it's never going to get there. While King may say it's far from his best work, it was really trippy and had that cool, weird vibe I go for in stories, so I'd argue that it's far from his worst work, too. The next story, "The Gingerbread Girl," is about a woman grieving the death of her child and her newfound passion--or obsession--with running, and how it leads her into a deathtrap and may be the only thing that saves her. Just some good ol' fashioned heart-pounding suspense here, and I ate it up with a spoon.

A couple stories fell flat with me, those being "Graduation Afternoon" and "Harvey's Dream," but overall the book presses all the right buttons with me. Re-reading stories I'd previously enjoyed in other publications like "Rest Stop," about a harrowing encounter at one of those roadside toilet dens, as well as marveling at stories I'd never read before like "Mute," which appeared first in Playboy and concerned a man making a terrible confession, these were reminders that one of my all-time favorite author's place atop the bestseller lists is well-earned.

Depending on the story I read, I'd have that Twilight Zone vibe that I am attracted to, and other times there would be a visceral uneasiness where the subject matter goes from weird to all-too-real. I suppose the greatest stories would be the ones that balance both of those. Nostalgia may have me favoring his earlier short story collections, but I think this book and its deft way of capturing the mundane horrors of life are going to stand the test of time.

1 comment:

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