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November 26, 2008 |

By Miscellaneous | Books | November 26, 2008 |

Many have been disappointed by Stephen King’s most recent endeavors, but I still say the man can tell one hell of a story, flaws be damned. While some of his recent tales may not have had the power or the originality of his earlier efforts, those who seek a more vintage King might be pleased with Just After Sunset, King’s newest collection of short fiction. Out of these thirteen short stories, only one fell short of the mark, while the rest either thrilled, haunted, or disturbed - or, as in the best of the pieces, all three.

Not every story provides the classic thrills and chills one associates with Stephen King, but there are plenty of disturbing moments for those looking for a little thrill. In particular, “The Gingerbread Girl,” “The Cat from Hell” (appearing for the first time in a collection of King’s short fiction), and “A Very Tight Place” are typical King. These stories will have you gasping for breath and racing through the pages, preferring skimming instead of close reading just to reach the end more quickly.

“The Gingerbread Girl” follows a young wife, who, unable to overcome the death of her infant daughter, takes up running. As she literally runs from her problems, she soon smashes headfirst into the fight of her life. “The Cat from Hell” features not only a very disturbing cat (as you might have guessed) but also one of the most disturbing endings I’ve encountered in awhile. The best of these, however, has to be “A Very Tight Place,” a story that disturbed me to no end — especially because the scenario it depicts could very easily happen. This little gem concerns a man who finds himself trapped inside of one of the most horrific prisons ever devised: the portapotty. “A Very Tight Place” features neither ghost nor psycho killer, but it remains one of the most harrowing pieces I’ve read in a long time. Readers will laugh with glee even as they shudder with revulsion, since King frequently injects some humor in this tale, especially when our hero undergoes a literal and spiritual rebirth. Trust me — you just have to read this one.

Other stories are less overtly disturbing, but are instead more delicately haunting. Among these are “The Things They Left Behind,” “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates,” and “Ayana.” “The Things They Left Behind” is a story of a survivor of 9/11, whose decision to play hooky from work on that fateful day left him with more than a case of survivor’s guilt. In “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates,” King toys with the possibility of speaking one last time with a deceased loved one; “Ayana” ponders the nature of miracles. These stories demonstrate King’s ability to tell a subtle, powerful tale that depends less on supernatural flourishes than it does on earthly, human emotion.

Still other stories are surprising more for King’s ability to evoke a palpable sense of dread during even the most mundane of activities. In “Harvey’s Dream,” a husband relates a bad dream to his wife, a dream that seems all-too-real to them both. “Stationary Bike” illustrates what happens when imagination becomes reality after a man, told by his doctor to adopt a healthy lifestyle - or else - finds that every action, even a positive one, has its consequences. “Graduation Afternoon” is the most surprising of all these stories, as a graduation party takes a truly unexpected turn for the bourgeois girlfriend of an affluent teen.

Not every piece in Just After Sunset is a winner. Even King himself admits that “Willa,” the first story in the collection, is not his finest work, especially considering most readers will see where the story is headed from the opening page, well before the characters themselves do. Still, despite one or two misses, Just After Sunset remains a strong, admirable collection from a guy who can still tell the hell out of a story.

Jennifer McKeown reads way too much and blogs about her experiences over at Bibliolatry.

Just After Sunset by Stephen King / Jennifer McKeown

Books | November 26, 2008 |

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