Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stephen King: Everything's Eventual (2002)

Stephen King's fourth collection of short fiction - subtitled "14 Dark Tales" - gathers up what feels like a lot of loose ends. Unlike his previous collections, Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and Nightmares & Dreamscapes, all of these stories had been released before.

Five stories were first published in a signed limited edition called Six Stories, two were previously released on the audio book Blood and Smoke, and "Riding The Bullet" was the first mass market e-book release. Most interestingly, four stories are from The New Yorker, a magazine most readers might regard as an odd venue for King's work.

The two best stories in this collection - "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" and "The Death Of Jack Hamilton" - are from The New Yorker, and have nothing to do with horror or the supernatural. King has done some of his best work when he has stepped outside his usual genres - Different Seasons is an obvious example - and these two tales showcase his talents as a storyteller.

"All That You Love Will Be Carried Away": Alfie Zimmer, a salesman of frozen gourmet foods, sits in a motel room near Lincoln, Nebraska, holding a revolver and thinking about suicide. Beside him is a notebook in which he has collected (over seven years) graffiti from the walls of public men's rooms. Alfie considers ways of disposing of the notebook, fearing being perceived as crazy when it is found. He eventually wanders outside, and contemplates the lights shining in a distant farmhouse.

"The Death Of Jack Hamilton": This brilliant narrative concerns the agonizing death of one member of John Dillinger's gang. Told in the first person by Homer Van Meter, who was in real life part of Dillinger's group, King nails the narrative voice perfectly. It never sounds as though there is a writer behind it. It's an inconsequential story, perhaps, but entertaining and well-executed.

"Autopsy Room Four": Howard Cottrell is bitten by a snake while looking in the weeds for his golf ball. Presumed to have suffered a fatal heart attack, Howard is in fact only paralyzed and unconscious. He awakens on the autopsy table in a morgue and realizes that he must somehow signal to the technicians that he is still alive before they begin cutting him up.

Also: "The Little Sisters Of Eluria" is a light, satisfying Dark Tower tale set after young Roland's adventures in Wizard & Glass and before we meet him on the trail of the Man in Black in The Gunslinger.

Despite the high points, King misses more often than he hits in this collection.

"The Road Virus Heads North" combines two ideas King has written about previously: a painting that both comes alive (Rose Madder) and changes its perspective ("The Sun Dog"). Amusing only for the details King throws in regarding the buyer of the painting. Richard Kinnell, the author of many "numbingly successful [horror] novels", lives in Derry in a mansion dubbed "The House That Gore Built". Mainstream critics compare Kinnell's excessive prose to "projectile vomiting on the page"; however, "most of those folks were ignoramuses, at least as far as his work went, and what was more, they treasured their ignorance".

"Riding The Bullet": Alan Parker, a student at the University of Maine, gets a message that his mother has suffered a stroke and is in the hospital, and he hitchhikes 120 miles to see her. One of the cars that picks him up is apparently driven by a recently deceased man. (That ride may be a dream, however.) The second half of the story concerns Alan's feelings about eventually losing his mother. King covered similar ground years ago (and with much deeper and personal emotions) in "The Woman In The Room" (Night Shift).

Other ideas - a haunted room in an old hotel ("1408") and a maniacal machete-wielding headwaiter in a cafe ("Lunch At The Gotham Cafe") - are too thin and cliched to truly work, despite King's admirable attempts to give them life.

Next: From A Buick 8.

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