Saturday, September 24, 2016
Stephen King: Just After Sunset (2008)
Twelve of the 13 stories in this volume appeared in publications ranging from The New Yorker and The Paris Review to Cavalier and Playboy; one story ("N.") was previously unpublished. And except for "The Cat From Hell" (1977), the stories all date from 2003-2008.
In his introduction, King states that his desire and ability to write short stories had stagnated and it was his work as an editor on the 2006 edition of the Best American Short Stories that kick-started his creativity. The first story he wrote after that - "Willa", about a group of travelers abandoned in Wyoming after a train derailment - begins this collection.
Most of the stories in Just After Sunset did nothing for me, but a there were a few that grabbed my interest. The best, by far, was "The Gingerbread Girl". After the death of her young daughter, a young woman begins running. Eventually, she leaves her husband and moves to her father's beach house in Florida. One day while jogging past one of the nearby McMansions, she sees what she thinks is the body of a young girl hanging out of the trunk of a car. When she gets closer, she is knocked unconscious - and awakens in the house's kitchen, duct-taped to a chair, and sees a man washing off a knife in the sink. Emily attempts to escape from the house.
This is a stunning piece of work, right up there with King's finest work. The San Francisco Chronicle called it "A story of abuse, psychosis and loneliness, it is physically exhausting to read — an astounding thing to say for a short work of fiction." The Toronto Star described it as "a flat-out suspense novella that could have been penned by Richard Bachman, King's literary alter ego".
The spirit of Bachman also lingers over "Rest Stop", in which a traveller overhears a man beating his wife/girlfriend. In "Mute", a man picks up a hitchhiker who is apparently both deaf and mute. As they drive along, the driver starts complaining about his wife and the affair she has been having. In light of subsequent events, perhaps the hitchhiker was not so deaf after all. And if you have ever wondered what it would be like to be trapped in a tipped-over port-o-potty with no way to escape, then "A Very Tight Space" will answer all your questions.
Next: Under The Dome.