There’s something about reading Stephen King that really fuels my creativity. And this was a good collection. The real star of these four novellas is the titular If It Bleeds, a direct sequel to The Outsider, but I think I might have actually liked it better than that book. We get some classic themes from Uncle Stevie here but he adds a modern spin to most of them that was interesting, even if some worked better than others for me.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone — 3.5 stars: This one threw me a little, but I liked it. We’ve gotten many stories from King in the past where a man in his adulthood is reflecting back on his childhood. It’s a regular occurrence, and I like to see the way he uses that conceit in different ways. Until now, though, when he’s done it, that childhood has taken place in the past, the 50s or 60s (It, The Body), etc. Here, the narrator’s childhood takes place in the mid-2000s at the dawn of the iPhone, which plays a central role in the story. Reading about King and modern tech felt strange, but it also felt a little off, like he didn’t *quite* get the Millennial aesthetic (he read to me like a Boomer transplanted into a Millennial’s body). I could never forget while reading that, hey, an old dude is writing this. On the other hand, he got the voice and character of Mr. Harrigan spot on. This was also just the right side of creepy and hopeful, and I did enjoy it, it was just kind of in a trippy way.
The Life of Chuck — 3.5 stars: This story might be the weirdest thing King has ever written. I really did not like it at first, because at first you think it’s a dystopian nightmare kind of story, but then you realize something else is going on entirely, and it becomes more sad and slow paced, before finally bringing you to an elegiac close. I liked it, but it took me a long time to wrap my head around.
If It Bleeds — 4.5 stars: I’m one of those people who are die-hard Holly Gibney fans. I just love that character so much, and don’t care to analyze why. I hope King brings her back at least one more time.
As mentioned previously, this is a direct sequel to The Outsider (and indirect sequel to the Bill Hodges trilogy). I mentioned up top that I think I liked this better than The Outsider, and I really think that’s true. That book worked for me up to a point, but as soon as the monster was revealed, it lost most of its appeal for me. That book lives in the ambiguous, the scary unknown, the monstrous identity theft at the center of it.
What makes this one more appealing for me is that we know from the start what the monster is, and the focus, the point of the story, is somewhere else.
Rat — 4 stars: This was very reminiscent of past King stories featuring writers, in particular Secret Window, Secret Garden, with a little bit of Misery thrown in (writer’s block, all the talk of the writing process) but here the supernatural twist is more ambiguous, and I think, more sinister. Locked away in a cabin in the remote woods in the middle of storm, feverish and sick, a writer makes a deal with a talking rat that may or may not be in his imagination, that he be able to finally finish a book. The satisfaction of this story for me wasn’t in surprise, but in seeing the character walk down all the wrong paths just like you don’t want him to, and feeling the weight of the consequences, not quite like he was expecting.
Reading this was satisfying, but it has also reminded me that until now I’ve only read one of his other novella collections. Since King is one of the few authors whose short stories and novellas nearly always work for me, this seems like a bad decision on my part. 2021 goals: read Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and Four Past Midnight.