If It Bleeds is ostensibly a new collection of short stories by the master storyteller, Stephen King. But it didn’t read like a collection of short stories to me, as King deftly compacted the richness of a novel into each short tale. He confidently weaves whole worlds together between each page.
The first story, Mr Harrigan’s Phone, tells a story of a small-town teenager who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a reclusive retired billionaire. Mr Harrigan introduces teenager Craig to the world of Hemingway, Dickens, and Vonnegut, while Craig introduces Mr Harrigan to the world of iPhones, voicemails, and stockmarket apps. Of course, this clash of culture and technology has an unexpected (and creepy) impact on the Millennial’s life and gives him a new insight into the hidden side of his Silent Generation friend. I loved this solidly told short story and in particular the relationship between Craig and his bemused and unfailingly supportive father.
Shit got decidedly fucky in The Life of Chuck, and I say that with fondness. This was a bizarre trio of tales, loosely linked by the ‘Chuck’ character, in which it felt like King was really exploring the edge of his creativity. It’s hard to explain this short story/stories, which starts with the cataclysmic end of civilisation and ends with a ghostly apparition. And those were the most ‘normal’ parts of the narrative! As strange as this was, it is nonetheless worth strapping yourself in and trusting King to take you along on Chuck’s ride.
If It Bleeds revisits Holly Gibney (of Mr Mercedes and The Outsider fame) and gives her a debut stand-alone tale. I felt like King was telling the prequel to the new generation of Buffy Scooby Gang monster-of-the-week investigations in this short story, which I am HERE. FOR. Holly was my favourite part of The Outsider and learning a little more about her backstory and mental machinations was a delight. The story itself was nothing earth-shattering or profound, but it met my need for more Holly and expanded the world of The Outsider in a satisfying way.
The final story, Rat, was a doozy. For anyone who has dreams of writing a novel, this story is going to make you squirm. It brought into stark realisation the stress, anxiety, and ‘magic’ around creativity and how tenuous your grip on reality can become when you flirt with your imagination and try to lock down the tumble of ideas that lurk within. I’m sure King knows better than most how easy it can be to think your success as a writer is dependent to your routine, your environment, or you lucky underpants. If you have a penchant for superstition, this story will cut quite close to the bone.
All in all – I found this novel to be a hugely satisfying return for the Constant Reader to the land of King.
5 scratch-off lottery tickets (or ‘scratchies’ as we call them in Aus) out of 5.