King (Duma Key, 2008, etc.) returns with his first volume of short stories in six years.
The author explains in his introduction that the opportunity to edit the annual Best American Short Stories anthology reignited his interest in the form, which had supported him when the fledgling novelist submitted stories to men’s magazines. His afterword provides contextual comment on each of the 13 selections, including the revelation that “The Cat from Hell”—about a killer feline and the hit man hired to bump it off—dates back 30 years to those pulp-fiction days. Yet most of the rest are recent, allowing King to exorcise demons (the fear of being trapped in a porta-potty in “A Very Tight Space,” the ambivalence about interfering in a violent domestic quarrel in “Rest Stop”) and dreams (the marital entropy of “Harvey’s Dream,” the mushroom cloud of “Graduation Afternoon”). Though much of this lacks the literary ambition of King’s recent novels, “Stationary Bike” provides a compelling portrait of creative psychosis—how a metaphor suggested by a doctor to describe an artist’s high cholesterol inspires a painting that becomes the artist’s reality—while the contagious obsessive compulsive disorder in “N.” ranks with King’s best work (it is also the newest story here). There’s also an obligatory 9/11 response (“The Things They Left Behind”) and a story that blurs the distinction between the living and the dead (the opening “Willa”). Like episodes from The Twilight Zone, many of the stories hinge upon “a small but noticeable hole in the column of reality.” As King writes, “[I]t’s how we see the world that keeps the darkness beyond the world at bay.” And he tells the reader, “I hope at least one of [the stories] keeps you awake for awhile after the lights are out.”
An uneven collection, but King has plainly had a ball writing these stories.