March 13th, 2009
I have found that I tend to prefer Stephen King’s short fiction to his novels. For my taste, the novels often lack the tense, taut, highly strained level of tension King is able to sustain in his shorter works, and if I am going to be reading a horror story, I want to be on the edge of my seat at least 80 to 90% of the time, if possible! So I was pretty happy when I saw that “Just After Sunset,” King’s first collection of short fiction since 2002, was coming out. In the introduction to the collection, King credits his editing of the 2007 edition of “The Best American Short Stories” with re-inspiring his desire to work with the shorter form…which was, he tells us, his bread-and-butter in the days before he made it big as a novelist. Most of the stories in this collection were written after his 2007 editorial stint, with only one dating to an earlier period of King’s career.
The collection is hit-and-miss, but when it hits, it hits hard! Some of the shorter works, such as “Rest Stop” and “Graduation Afternoon,” work best as slightly disturbing character studies. Others, such as “Willa” and “The Stationary Bike,” provide old-school Stephen King thrills, leavened with a bit of heart. The real stand-out in the collection, however, is the unutterably creepy “N.” Inspired by Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and borrowing equally from the style and themes of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos stories, “N.” morphs slowly from an absorbing profile of obsessive-compulsive behavior into a tale of the darkness that lurks behind the known world, waiting to break free.
All in all, not a bad return to the form by King! Here’s hoping he keeps it up rather than churning out more of the doorstop novels that only become interesting a few chapters from the end.
Find Just After Sunset in our catalog.