This is a collection of short fiction without any real connection between pieces, so it’s probably best to review them individually:
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is kind of a rarity in that it’s a “period piece” set in the early 2000s around the time of the introduction of the iPhone. The narrator is an adult looking back on his middle school days, when a retired billionaire moved into town and hired him to read to him after school. The title object is a gift from the young man in appreciation after a large windfall, and it has enormous consequences. The reclusive Mr. Harrigan immediately sees the implications of the iPhone’s capabilities and the gift reawakens the competitive nature he had used to get ahead in business. This being a Stephen King story, the phone also creates a supernatural bond between the giver and the recipient that lasts to the grave and beyond.
The Life of Chuck is a sort of experimental story told in three distinct parts, presented in reverse order. It centers around a man who in the first story appears to be retiring from a bank during a worldwide catastrophe threatening all life. Only in the subsequent story is the true nature of what is going on revealed.
The title story is a novella featuring the return of Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers Detective Agency, featured in the Bill Hodges trilogy and The Outsider. King has been pretty open about how much he loves Holly Gibney and it’s not hard to see why. If It Bleeds goes a little farther in explaining Holly’s background and examining her unusual personality. Her relationship with her controlling, emotionally manipulative mother is difficult to read. While Gibney herself is fascinating the story King has placed her is not enough of a mystery to be intriguing. After a school blows up in Pennsylvania, Holly notices something while watching the news coverage that she’s sure everyone else has missed. It puts her on the trail of a being reminiscent of, but different from, the title character of The Outsider.
Rat uses a familiar device of King’s, the writer as protagonist. Drew Larson is a writer who’s published output amounts to a few short stories and an abandoned novel that lead to a nervous breakdown a few years back. When a fully formed idea for a new book pops into his head one day his wife is terribly worried, but Drew assures her it will be “just like taking dictation.” He flees to a remote cabin in the woods of Maine (hey, it’s better than a Colorado hotel) to write in solitude. Though the pages come quickly at first a bad cold and an impending storm threaten his progress. Eventually, the title creature appears and, well, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
All in all, these are four well-written pieces, though I had my issues with most of them. To my mind, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the standout, but I’m sure the title story will be coming to a tv screen relatively soon.