This is one of those Stephen King books that came out when I was a kid and fully cognizant of him as a writer. I would have to really dig deep into what books of his I might have read by 1990 (possibly none) and this was definitely one of the books my older brother got out of the library and read. I didn’t read it back then, though I have seen the godawful tv movie of “The Langoliers” with Bronson Pinchot and Dean Stockwell among others. But what this book does have for me is the distinction of being one of the very first audiobooks I distinctly remember listening to on my own. It wasn’t an audiobook of the whole book, but of the fourth story “The Sun Dog” and I have very clear memories of something I still do, finding excuses to do something with myself while I listened to the story (namely clean my room). So at least some of this book has that funny, nostalgic quality to me.
These audio recordings are old. The final two are more or less in good shape and sound good, but the first two sound muffled and old, and because of the four, they are the two read by famous people, it’s a funny contrast.
The Langoliers (read by Willem Defoe):
In this story, we meet a group of fliers who awaken on their flight to find that everyone else aboard has mysteriously vanished. It becomes clear after a time that anyone who had been asleep did not vanish and everyone who was awake did vanish. Like a lot of Stephen King stories and one of the main things I know his writing for (or rather the writing of his that does this trick) this is a book about the random collection of recognizable American human beings who must confront their now terrifying, utterly baffling, and immediate new reality. And like all of his groups, at least one of them really wants to use this new reality to do some murdering. The story (and these books are 150 or so pages each) goes on for some time as they try to uncover what it means that seemingly everyone on Earth except themselves has vanished. Luckily for one, one of the sleepy survivors is a pilot who happened to be hitching a ride with the flight, so this isn’t a “how will we land the plane” kind of story and really spends some time trying to figure out the world we’re inhabiting. The story is….not great, and the explanation is pretty ridiculous, to the point that there’s a very very vey silly 1980s “The Twilight Zone” episode that captures it just as well, in less time, and without the ham-fistedness.
Secret Window, Secret Garden (read by James Woods):
Yeah, you’re just gonna have to deal with the fact that James Woods was pretty famous in the 80s and 90s. He was a thing, so much so, that his turn not just as child-pursuing creep is coupled with batshit Rightwing Twitterer.
Anyway, the story itself was the basis of the film with Johnny Depp and Jon Turturro. A writer after a bad divorce is confronted by another writer, a goofy as hell Southerner, name John Shooter about having stolen one of Shooter’s stories. This happens on the front porch and involves the leaving of the manuscript in question. Thinking that this is probably either a scam or simply a “two writers coming up with a shallowly similar story” kind of thing he flips through the story and realizes that his story and Shooter’s are pretty much the same story with small differences. Not only all of this, but the story in question was one in which our protagonist Mort Rainey went far afield of his normal work into gritty and brutal crime drama. So. The conflict becomes extortion, becomes threats, becomes et cetera et cetera.
This story is already kind of hackneyed on its very surface and so much like other stories it’s well, like Mort Rainey’s story old hat. But the actual story itself falls so much into Stephen King plagiarizing himself (in the same year) it’s silly. And I know he certainly did this on purpose, but he’s stealing from his already bad novel with this one anyway.
The Library Policemen:
I read this one a few years ago and didn’t review it, so I have reread it and well, here you go. Well, actually I will get to it before long. I don’t feel like it right now.
The Sun Dog:
So like I said I read this one as a kid and only remembered the basic premise. There’s a lot I forgot, and even more that is connected to more recent readings. So, the plot here: a kid gets a instamatic camera for his birthday and spends some money buying film for it. However, whenever he takes pictures, the same image (it seems) comes up every single time, no matter what he is actually shooting. After taking a full roll of film, he decides to take it to the town tinkerer and hokum knower, Pop Merrill, to see if he might provide some insight. After some further examination, it becomes clear that it’s not the same picture over and over, but a slightly shifting moving scene, and as more pictures are taken, it becomes clear that the camera seems to be taking a shot of the final moments of a photographer as a dog attacks him. (The Sun is the camera, and the Dog is the dog; hence, Sun Dog). So, our kid decides he’s going to smash the camera and end it there. So he does. He doesn’t realize that Pop has switched out the cameras for a new one and has kept the old camera, as he goes off to try to sell the camera to paranormal collectors, the kid talks with his dad, has nightmares of the dog, and comes to realize Pop might have cheated him. It goes from there.
Like The Langoliers, this feels like a much shorter story expanded and filled out to make a novella, but might not have needed to be a novella to begin with. It’s fluffed out to be sure. What else is interesting is that given his hefty role in Castle Rock, and Castle Rock, and by implication The Body and Needful Things, I THINK this is the only story that features Pop Merrill, who is definitely an interesting character. The rest of the story isn’t great, but Pop off a’popping is fun to watch.