Just After Sunset by Stephen King
Reviewed by Rad Hall
This collection of short stories by Stephen King does not start off with a bang: ‘Willa’ is a good story, neither too weak nor, however, terrifying.
‘The Gingerbread Girl’ was better, more thriller than out-and-out horror, but human and captivating.
‘Harvey’s Dream’ was where the collection started getting good. The tale is short. It is simply told, but sublime. We are introduced to everything from Harvey’s wife’s point of view, just everyday mundane things, including Harvey’s appearance at the breakfast table and how he’s beginning to get on her nerves. By the time Harvey starts talking, he felt so familiar it was as though I were there sitting and listening. Not with Harvey’s wife, but as her. And then ‘my’ Harvey keeps talking and I start to want, and then need, for him to stop. But he keeps on going. And when he finishes, I know the phone will ring. And when it does, there’s no startlement on my part, no exclamation, no voiced cry. Just a throat clogging sense of quiet horror realised. Splendid stuff.
‘Rest Stop’ was something of a fantasy. A chance for the protagonist to do take action where likely he (and most people) would rather have merely asked what could have/should have done in hindsight.
‘Stationary Bike’ left me unsatisfied. Though written with great imagery, I couldn’t help feeling that Richard got bullied. Perhaps I simply didn’t empathise with the workers as I should have. I think I might have missed the point of the story entirely 🙂
‘The Things They Left Behind’, ‘Graduation Afternoon’ and ‘The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates’ all had a 9/11 feel to them. The first and third both had a happy almost calming conclusion to them; although both have scenarios that would be just as welcome otherwise, they seem kindly addressed to the post 9/11 American.
The second story though is just your good ol’ apocalypse. Short, simple and smashing. The protagonist’s small description of the damage to her eyes as she watches the bomb blast mildly recalls Eddings’ Torak and his (if memory serves) ‘eye boiled in its socket’ line. Mind you, this tale has a compassionate leaning and I can’t help worrying about our lead post-event.
‘The Cat from Hell’ does not hold a candle to George Fielding Eliot’s similar and horrifying story ‘The Copper Bowl’.
‘Mute’, like ‘Rest Stop’, has an urban paranoia to it but I could not find it engaging.
‘A Very Tight Place’ … reeks. Splendidly written scatological horror at its most eww. Practically guranteed to leave the reader feeling shudderingly unclean.
Now to the jewel in the crown. I thought ‘N.’ was the absolute highlight of the collection. The story of compulsion being all that stopped the fabric of this world from being torn through to let in monsters from another, is such a stunning piece of work. The slow, steady buildup, the descriptions of beauty and those of horror, the burgeoning hysteria, madness and inevitable despair of characters at maintaining that fragile integrity. Amazing.
The entire collection is certainly well worth a read and the better stories make it highly recommended. (3 stars)
A big thanks to all the members who submitted reviews – keep reviewing your favourite books at http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au for your chance to win! For being this month’s winner, Rad Hall has won $50 to spend in Boomerang Bucks.