I’ve been really trying to make good, lately, on my goal to expand my reading and get back into genres I used to enjoy. As you saw from my Bourbon Street Ripper review, I decided to start by trying my luck on a detective thriller series from an author I’d never heard of before, with mixed results. Having finished that, I was struggling to decide what direction to go in next when I remembered my general reading philosophy: when you don’t know where to start, start with the classics. Now, this usually means I go digging through my collection of literature from the Romantic or Victorian era, but a book doesn’t need to be centuries old to be a classic! Some authors become classics in their own time, like the father of contemporary horror and suspense, Stephen King.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I really haven’t read much Stephen King before. I decided the easiest way to start would be with a collection of his short stories. So while doing menial tasks at work last week, I downloaded and listened to the audiobook of The Graveyard Shift which seems to be a small made-for-audio selection from King’s larger short story collection Night Shift, read by John Glover. The audiobook contains five of King’s short stories that showcase the versatility of his writing and the range of emotions he can evoke in the reader. Here are my impressions of each story:
This first story, from which the audio collection takes its name, is a great story to start with. It’s a simple horror tale that plays to innate human fears of creatures that dwell in the dark. Just a warning, if rats make you squeamish, this may not be the story for you. “Graveyard Shift” reads like a terrible nightmare, starting off as a realistic tale about a group of working class men taking on an unpleasant job for the sake of getting by, but it slowly devolves into the horrifying and surreal as several characters press deeper and deeper into the layers of cellars beneath the mill where they work. One man decides to use this nightmare-worthy opportunity to take revenge on the condescending foreman who has been teasing him. After reading this story, though, you may feel that the foreman’s punishment was a bit harsh for his crime.
“The Man Who Loved Flowers”
This disturbing tale reminds us that appearances can be misleading. A young man going about his evening decides to stop and buy flowers from a street vendor. As he meanders through town, strangers pause to admire him and reminisce about the sweetness of young love, the appearance of this seemingly love-struck boy warming their hearts. But the young man is not the innocent lover that everyone imagines him to be, and his love comes with a dark side.
“The Last Rung on the Ladder”
This was the story that stuck with me the most. It had none of the cheap tricks of shock-and-disgust horror, nor did it rely on dread and suspense. Instead, the predominant feeling in this story is aching regret. “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is a heart-breaking story about a brother and sister and the importance of being there for the people you care about most. It was surprisingly emotional for such a short story and unsettlingly real; it almost had me crying at work. This story will have you calling your siblings and old friends that you may not have spoken to in a while, just to remind them that you love them and that you’re there if they ever need you. If you’ve moved recently, this story will also have you rushing to the post office to fill out a “change of address” form.
This was my least favorite of the short stories. It gives a snapshot of the lives of a group of young adults who have so far survived a virus-based apocalypse. The story opens with the kids burning an infected man alive just for the hell of it, but that’s about all that really happens apart from the narrator being an asshole to his girlfriend and worrying about his fate as the virus continues to spread. Overall, I felt it to be a relatively pointless story with unpleasant characters in a genre that has had much better treatment by a number of different hands.
This last story revisits the setting of King’s similarly named second novel, Salem’s Lot. The tone is very Lovecraftian, as letters written by the narrator unveil increasing horror at the discoveries he finds while investigating his recently acquired ancestral estate. Charles Boone, along with his manservant Calvin, has just moved in to the mansion left to him by an estranged relative. The terrified reactions of the townspeople to his home and his family name induce Boone to learn more about his relatives who lived there before. His research leads him to terrifying discoveries of devil worship, vampires, and an unearthly worm-like being that would feel at home among any of Lovecraft’s eldritch gods. The ending is chilling and leaves you with an ominous feeling.
Overall, this mini collection was the perfect introduction to Stephen King. I enjoy these little bite-sized audiobooks because they provide you with cherry-picked stories that you can finish in one sitting. And now that I’ve gotten a taste of Stephen King’s writing, I know I’ll definitely be back for more. Which of his stories are your favorites? What longer work of his should I read next? Let me know in the comments!