These days, grumbles King (Hearts in Atlantis, 1999), “When you get done, you get done . . . I don’t want to finish up like Harold Robbins.” (Robbins wrote into his 80s despite aphasia from a stroke and kept publishing despite being dead.)
Here, King gathers previously uncollected tales from sources that show his desire to stay fresh by diving into new waters: three pieces have never seen paper—having been electronic, part of a game, or for audio—and four are more polished pieces that ran first in The New Yorker. The title story is from a game called F13 (don’t ask us) and tells of social outcast Dink Earnshaw, who uses symbols and personal words to lead others to suicide. A Mr. Sharpton from Transcorp gets Dink to join his company and write letters that deservedly kill evil people, although Dink must consequently live a constricted life bound by odd rules. (One day, he figures that he’s killed over 200 people, and, hey, not all of them evil.) “Riding the Bullet,” which made publishing history as an e-book and audio book, tells about Alan Parker hitchhiking from the University of Maine to see his hospitalized mother and getting a ride with George Staub, two years dead, whose grave Alan has seen (facing death—this is a “bullet” we all must ride). In “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” Alfie Zimmer, a Gourmet Foods salesman, decides against suicide (for now) and thus saves his large collection of graffiti notes gathered while on the road. In the Poe-esque “In the Deathroom,” an imprisoned New York Times reporter being tortured in some nameless South American version of hell faces death as certain as that faced under the Inquisitors of Toledo in the “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Except that. . . .
Less stylish than The Green Mile (or than Poe), though King remains strong in the short form.