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Eight Excellent Tales (Out Of A Butcher's Dozen),
This review is from: Just After Sunset (Paperback)
As I've written elsewhere, the short story (or novella) is the perfect form for King, just enough room for readers to settle down and warm their hands on a good campfire tale.
After Sunset opens rather disappointingly with Willa. From the beginning, this story unfolds in an etherial and rather romantic manner which reminded me of the weaker offerings from The Twilight Zone. The atmosphere is too dreamlike and predictable to accumulate any real vitality, never mind tension or spookiness. I presume the effect was deliberate, and some people like this kind of thing, but it still didn't work for me. However, the collection contains eight other stories which are excellent, a few of which I would place amongst his very best. Graduation Afternoon is one of these, a startlingly convincing horror story, but without so much as a whisper of the supernatural or a single spatter of blood (plenty of sound and fury though). Others stories I liked were:
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A Very Tight Space
I believe that each of the above is resonant for different reasons. Interestingly, two of the most powerful, Harvey's Dream and the one I mentioned, Graduation Afternoon, are also the most simple. There are images in these stories that will definitely stay with me. The revenge tale, A Very Tight Space is great black comedy, one of the best non-supernatural stories he's written, and with a pleasantly wicked ending. I also liked The Gingerbread Girl and The Things They Left Behind. Gingerbread was riveting, right up to the part when the killer returned. Then, for me, it lost steam, and the showdown seemed far too artful and protracted (and the unlucky guy who came to the rescue of the heroin is weirdly superfluous, like an actor who steps onto the wrong stage and is forgotten as soon as he makes his exit).
There are good things in the other stories too, but some of the ideas are far too familiar, and had had better outings in previous novels or stories. I had assumed there was a Lovecraftian dimension in N. though apparently it is based on an Arthur Machen story, The Great God Pan. I enjoyed it (and the novel way it made use of OCD) but it just rattled on a bit too long for my liking. Also it is VERY hard to make ghoulies from another, evil dimension really convincing, though Machen and his contemporary, Lovecraft, did sometimes manage this.
I enjoyed Stationary Bike till I realised where it was going. King has used that 'possessed artist' thing at least once before (the awful Duma Key). I thought the story better than that padded, overblown novel, but it still didn't quite get there. I would have liked less of the labored allegory (complete with metaphorical not-so-bad guys) and more strangeness; and the best kind of strangeness is both unexplained and very ordinary, obdurate really: not the fairytale wolves in Willa, but the beercan that appeared (in Stationary Bike) on a road that wasn't there, a road that was really just a mural in a guy's house. King is a great man for the telling detail, the loose thread that, if pulled, can unravel the partition dividing the everyday world from a waking nightmare. But sometimes it's far better not to yank that thread too hard; just a glimpse may be all we need.