Only Stephen King can turn a stationary bike into a vehicle of unimaginable terror, and a port-o-potty into a pathway to salvation. Few writers have the nerve, let alone the stomach, to even consider such things; but therein lies the beauty of Stephen King.
He’s a man who views the average world just a bit differently then the rest of us do, and this keen eye has helped him to become one of America’s most successful and enduring writers.
King’s constant readers know the pleasure of diving into the worlds that he creates. He is a master story teller, and each of his novels contain a world that leaps off the page, blurring the line between fantasy and reality no matter how bizarre it may be.
His short stories are equally as effective as his novels, and many of his most famous characters have been born out of these condensed worlds.
“Just After Sunset” is King’s latest collection of short stories, and his first since 2002’s “Everything’s Eventual.” King credits his work as guest editor on the 2006 edition of “Best American Short Stories” as his inspiration for returning to the format after his 6-year absence.
The result is a mixed bag of chills, thrills and a remarkable amount of heart. Not all of the stories are hits, but the ones that are will stay with you long after the book has made its way from your bedside table to your bookcase.
“The Things They Left Behind” is far and away the best story in the collection. It cleverly walks the path between horror and beauty in a way that few other then King could manage.
The story revolves around a man who survives the Sept.11th terrorist attacks after he calls out sick from work, only to have mementos from his deceased coworkers begin showing up in his apartment. The objects whisper in the voices of their owners, and they don’t intend on letting him rest until he listens to them.
“The Things They Left Behind” is a thoughtful examination of survivor’s guilt, as well as King’s own attempt to deal with the Sept. 11th tragedy.
It’s beautiful, heartbreaking and utterly terrifying all at the same time.
Without question it ranks among King’s best short stories, and readers will undoubtedly lose sleep pondering its many themes.
“N.” is one of the longer stories contained in “Just After Sunset” and tells of a man who believes that he has encountered something unbelievably powerful and incredibly dangerous hidden in the Maine woods.
He soon becomes obsessed with the idea that he must prevent this evil from escaping and wreaking untold havoc in our world.
“N.” is a truly unique story, told through a psychiatrist’s notes, a sister’s letter and a friend’s email. Its structure is comprised of these various mediums, though it never feels disjointed. King’s use of OCD in the story is inspired, and the tale will ring true to anyone who has every felt that they had the weight of the world on their shoulders.
“Stationary Bike” is a story that is easy to lose yourself in. Right from the get go it is hard not to identify with its “every man” lead character. When things start to go badly for him, it’s even harder to not feel like they’re going badly for you as well.
With “Stationary Bike” King has created a bold testament to moderation, to enjoying life, without succumbing to either negative or positive excesses. He notes that even things that are good for you, like exercise, can be bad if you get carried away.
“The Gingerbread Girl” is a fast paced, white-knuckle thriller, while “Mute” is a slow build towards a conclusion that will shock in its eerily plausible simplicity.
“A Very Tight Place” calls to mind the conclusion of one of King’s earlier works where the road to freedom sometimes leads through some very unpleasant places.
This story is not for the squeamish.
King’s constant readers will find a few other familiar elements in “Just After Sunset.” Both “The Gingerbread Girl” and “A Very Tight Place” are set on small islands off the coast of Florida, similar to the one found in King’s most recent novel “Duma Key.” Also, the main character in “Stationary Bike” finds himself caught up in the dangerous world of painting; just like the main character in “Duma Key.”
Not every story here is a winner, however, and like any collection, “Just After Sunset” has a few clunkers. “Harvey’s Dream” and “Graduation Afternoon” are both fairly forgettable, while “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” doesn’t offer up anything that hasn’t been done before. Fortunately these missteps are few and none of them exceed ten pages in length, so it won’t be long before you’re back to the good stuff.
Despite its faults, “Just After Sunset” contains an undeniable energy. King bounces from story to story with all of the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.
He seems like a man just discovering a passion for short stories, instead of someone who has been writing them since he was a child. It’s scary that after all these years he is still far from burned out on the format. The only thing scarier then that is the thought of what he has in store for us next.
Colin McGlinchey is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at CM646588@wcupa.edu.