Saturday, February 28, 2015

Night Shift by Stephen King

Photo: First edition hardcover, from the book's Wikipedia site.

Very successful collection of short stories that spawned some (really bad) movies.  I'd read this book as a much younger guy, but had forgotten most of the stories, so I went back to it and appreciated it all over again.  I've lost somewhere my original copy--the one shown here--and so I've had to make do with the "Children of the Corn," movie tie-in version I have here now.  Somebody, probably me, had switched copies over the years, and I can't tell you why.  Odd.  And I want the original one back.

The ones I remembered from (literally) my youth were: "The Last Rung on the Ladder" (still my favorite here), "Jerusalem's Lot," "Graveyard Shift," "Strawberry Spring," "The Bogeyman," "Gray Matter," and, because of the incredibly bad movies, "Children of the Corn" and "Lawnmower Man."

"The Last Rung on the Ladder" and "The Woman in the Room" work especially well because there's nothing supernatural in them.  Both stories--especially the former--read well because they are of the "Nothing's More Scary than Real Life" genre--which should be a genre if it isn't.

All of the stories are either good or very good, but I was pleased to discover a couple more.  "One for the Road" works really well, and is one of the scarier ones here.  If "Jerusalem's Lot" was originally a chapter in Salem's Lot--I think I got this right from King, who said it opened his book and was taken out just like Stoker's "Dracula's Guest" opened up Dracula and was taken out--then "One for the Road" takes place after Salem's Lot ends.  It's mentioned in the story that Ben Mears had burned the town down.  I would've put this story last in the collection, rather than second-to-last.  "Jerusalem's Lot" opens it up, so it would've been nice book-ending to have "One for the Road" end it.  Or perhaps that's too-slick serendipity, like the similar paths taken by Stoker's and King's vampire stories.

"One for the Road," "Strawberry Spring" and "The Last Rung on the Ladder" are the best-written stories here.  Almost all of these stories, by the way, were originally published in Cavalier magazine, a now-defunct magazine of a certain sort, if you know what I mean.  I wonder what men of the 70s made out of these well-written, and sometimes philosophically-bent, ruminations next to those explicitly explicit pictures of...well, you know.  It'd be a little jolting, I'd imagine.  He also got paid a few hundred bucks, per story, by that magazine, which is really good money for short stories, especially in the 70s.  My guess is that the magazine was trying to become the next glossy picture and literary high-end magazine of one of its bunny-themed competitors, and failing miserably.  (That bunny magazine, by the way, still pays a few thousand dollars for a short story, and always has.  So the lie could also be "I was reading the stories!" instead of "I buy it for the articles!")

Anyway, what I've learned here is that King has an idea and he writes it.  The simplicity of that is sort of shocking to me.  So here we have a story about a possessed laundry-pressing machine; a story about monstrous and blind rats; a story about trucks taking over the world; a story of a company that hurts those you love to help you quit smoking; a story about a hitman done in by the toys sent by the mother of his latest victim...and they all work, in varying degrees.

Think it, write it; think it, write it; think it, write it.  And why not?

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