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Book DetailsISBN: 9780340992999
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Book Review: Just After Sunset by Stephen King - Reviewed by Rad Hall (14 Jun 2010)
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 it started getting good. The tale is short. The telling simple but I found it 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 her 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 ole 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. Neither it nor Ayana.
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. 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.
First, this 'I felt that if I walked in there - and part of me wanted to - I could punch out with one fist and tear right through the fabric of reality. And if I did, something would grab me. Something on the other side.' reminded me of Event Horizon, when Justin, in a most glaring act of curiosity/stupidity, sticks his hand in the core.
As I find that movie utterly terrifying, this recollection, whilst reading late at night in my bed, had me cowering. First I made sure that all my limbs were within the safe zone of strictly inside the bed, not so much as an enticing toe dangling out for ... anything (gulp) ... under the bed. Then, the further I got into the story, the more frequently I checked to ascertain that no wizened claw lay there in wait, poised for a moment's distraction on my part.
I was still doing well, relatively speaking, even upon the realisation that here was mirroring exactly the kind of OCD behaviour that in the story precipitates each character's demise, until a casual glance at the bunched up quilt brought to mind Graham Masterton's Underbed.
I think that the homunculus inside, faced with the mounting paranoia, growing more and more unhinged, shrieked once, short and sharp, clutched at its chest and dropped stone dead. I could get no more frightened.
I spent the rest of the night finishing this book, waiting for the light of dawn to sleep.
The entire collection is certainly well worth a read and the better stories make it highly recommended.
King is the author of forty bestsellers, including MISERY and CELL. Some of his books have been turned into celebrated films including The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He now divides his time between Maine and Florida.
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