I’ve owned this book for 20 years probably, and I think this was my third read through. It is a collection of short stories and some of King’ s earliest work, and the stories are of widely varying quality. Some made me roll my eyes, some left me indifferent, and some were gripping, but there is one I dislike immensely, and two that I kind of love.
The one I dislike is the well-known and apparently popular “The Mist”, which takes up about 150 pages of the book, and which I find to be unbearably trite and boring. It feels like every Stephen King trope packed into one story, and there is just nothing exciting about it. There are a few other unremarkable stories, ones that feel too conventional, uninspired, or only half-finished, but “The Mist” is the worst offender. It should at least have been cut down to half its size to make it more tolerable, and less would have also been more when it comes to finding out what is in the mist because it takes away a lot of suspense when you do. Also, the less said about the unnecessary sex that apparently had to be shoehorned in at all costs the better.
The first one I love is “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”, a tale about a woman looking for the shortest route between two locations in Maine. She manages to shorten the route further and further until it becomes shorter than the direct line between the two places. It is an exciting story with likeable characters, a pinch of romance, and a feel-good ending. The horror is subtle, and the underlying idea of overcoming time and space is exciting.
It is immediately followed by “The Jaunt”, which is basically the other side of the coin. In this story, a scientist has discovered a way to teleport people to Mars by using portals, with the only catch being that they have to be unconscious or they become insane and die shortly after arriving on the other side, which means that people have to be drugged before going through the portal. What happens to those who stay awake is the crux of the story, and although the only hint is that “there is eternity in there”, speculation, as always, is more horrifying than knowledge. This story, too, is about defying the laws of physics and paying the price for it, only this is the flipside of what happens in “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”.
King writes in the introduction that most of his stories stem from asking himself the question of whether it wouldn’t be funny if such and such happened. I am not sure if funny is the fitting word because that is not at all what I am looking for when reading one of his books. At his best, his stories are gripping, and his books become page-turners that cannot be put down. Although this collection is very much a mixed bag, it is still good entertainment, and some subpar stories can easily be skipped.