Night Shift is Stephen King's first collection of short stories, and features 20 tales. Not every story is perfect, but all in all Night Shift is a fantastic anthology stuffed with great ideas. Stephen King has subsequently published 3 more short story collections (Skeleton Crew, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and Everything's Eventual) but Night Shift remains the best of the bunch.
While no date is given, collection opener 'Jerusalem's Lot' certainly reads as though it is the earliest of King's stories presented here, as the authors' voice is all but buried beneath those of his influences. Readers of 'Salem's Lot may be expecting a vampire-filled sequel to that novel, but this is in fact an unrelated Lovecraftian tale of a mans disturbing family inheritance. There are some nicely macabre moments, but the elements of the story are so familiar - presenting the tale as diary extracts; an inherited spooky old home; mysterious sounds in the walls and basement; superstitious locals; Cthulhu Mythos references - that they are virtually horror fiction clichés, making this a very average start to the collection.
'Graveyard Shift' is better, and though a story about clearing rats out of a basement doesn't sound particularly enthralling, the power play between drifter Hall and his obnoxious boss Warwick pushes the stakes to a higher, if rather unbelievable, level.
Next up is 'Night Surf', a powerful vignette detailing a handful of amoral survivors of an apocalyptic disease. Short but full of startling imagery.
Another science fiction style horror story comes with 'I Am The Doorway', where an astronaut is taken over by an alien infection picked up while orbiting Venus. Very melodramatic, and with a Cronenberg body horror feel, King's way of making everyday object appear strange by looking at them through alien eyes is suitably disorientating.
Stephen King has tackled many cornball subject in his time - and amazingly has made them work more often than not - but the idea of a possessed laundry press roaming the streets in 'The Mangler' may very well be the most ridiculous concept he's ever touched, and despite a few nice macabre moments, the overriding silliness of this story proves impossible to escape.
By contrast 'The Boogeyman' is one of King's most effective shorts, drawing on the common childhood fear of 'something' hiding in the bedroom closet to produce a very chilling tale.
Another strong tale is 'Grey Matter', when a batch of bad beer has dire consequences for a boy's father.
In 'Battleground' a professional hitman finds himself under attack by toy soldiers after killing a toy manufacturer. A great OTT idea, with an amusing punchline.
There's more inanimate objects coming to life in 'Trucks', when vehicles start driving themselves and trap a group of drivers at a truck stop. It's a great concept, though this is more of a situation than a story with a beginning, middle and end.
In 'Sometimes They Come Back' a schoolteacher is haunted by the killers of his long-dead brother. A more traditional ghost story after the last few bizarre tales, but no less effective for all that.
'Strawberry Spring' deals with a serial killer on a college campus. Despite the lack of any supernatural content there is a distinctly otherworldly feel to this evocative fog-bound piece, and n terms of prose this is the most accomplished story in the collection thus far.
King enters straight thriller territory with 'The Ledge', where a man who's crossed a gangster takes up a life or death bet that he can walk round the outside of a high-rise apartment on a 5-inch wide ledge. A simple but brilliant idea, with a nice twist in the tail.
A man gets more than he bargained for when he hires someone to cut his lawn in 'The Lawnmower Man'. Bearing no relation to the film of the same name, this is a short and bizarre piece, filled with some fantastically insane imagery.
'Quitters, Inc' features another great concept, with a company offering a unique method of curing cigarette addiction. The concept and punishments for breaking the treatment are so rich in potential drama that it's almost a shame this story isn't twice as long, but this is still a fantastic punchy read with a nice twist ending.
'I Know What You Need' tells the story of a nerd with the magical power to give people whatever they need, and his attempts to win over a girl. A decent enough story, but rather overshadowed by the more outlandish concepts elsewhere in the book: this is well done but forgettable in comparison.
Perhaps the most famous of all the stories in the collection, 'Children Of The Corn' finds two travellers stranded in a town where homicidal children intend to sacrifice them to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. A fantastically dark tale of religious mania, this plays on the urbanites fear of isolated rural communities, and does for small-town America what The Wicker Man did to the Scottish Islands.
'The Last Rung on the Ladder' is the first tale that doesn't fit into the horror / weird fiction genre, being a melancholy and quite beautiful tale of a girl's brush with death as a child and her relationship with her older brother. A nice change of pace.
'The Man Who Loved Flowers' is one of the least impressive stories in the collection, being a very short piece dependant solely on it's twist ending for effect. Pleasantly written, but the story lacks any original ideas.
Next up is 'One For The Road', a tale of a mans attempt to save his wife and daughter after they are stranded in a snowstorm. Opening tale Jerusalem's Lot ironically had no connection to King's 'Salem's Lot, but this is a straight sequel set a couple of years down the line.
Finally 'The Woman in the Room' is another non-genre piece, a very bleak tale of a woman suffering from terminal cancer, and her sons doubt over whether or not to administer a mercy killing.
on 6 April 2014
"night shift" is a collection of short stories with eerie little twists which are sometimes predictable but otherwise haunting.
the best one, in my opinion, is 'the boogeyman', where a man confesses to a local psychiatrist what happened when the boogeyman came knocking. although you're all familiar with the monster-in-the-closet scenario, something occurs in this story that you didn't think would be possible & as silly as it seems, it surprisingly works; it makes you realise just how ubiquitous the stretch of a monster can be. (see also 'oh, whistle & i'll come to you lad' by m. r. james for a similar feeling).
my other favourites were 'i am the doorway', 'battleground', 'sometimes they come back' & 'quitters inc.'
the first is the only short story with a sci-fi/horror element. an astronaut survives the crash-landing of his spaceship from an orbit of venus, only to discover that there are alien eyes peering up at him from his hands...
the second is strangely humorous: a professional hitman receives a mysterious parcel from the wife of a man he just killed & finds himself in combat with a sentient toy army with real-life weaponry...
the third is about a teacher recovering from a nervous breakdown. he is still haunted by the death of his brother by a gang of bullies & if he isn't mistaken, they're coming back for him too in the guise of transfer students at the school where he works...
the fourth takes quitting cigarettes to interesting extremes. a man determined to quit needs only the right incentive & the program will punish not just the man but also his wife & children...
what i wasn't so impressed with were 'strawberry spring' (the culprit & ending was too obvious), 'night surf' (really boring), 'the man who loved flowers' (made no impression on me apart from the charming descriptions of a man clearly in love), 'the woman in the room' (quite drab & had no suspense or passion whatsoever) & 'the lawnmower man' (became a little too ridiculous in the end for me).
all in all, "night shift" is quite enjoyable, teenage-friendly (in my opinion!) & offers a nice break from the soft, normal stories out there on the bookshelves. i would definitely recommend & will probably read another short story collection by stephen king.
on 23 January 2016
Though some of the short stories in Stephen King's first collection were familiar to me, I'm amazed I haven't read this book before. Some (like 'Strawberry Spring'), were first published in the late Sixties, but most appeared between 1971 and 1978. Only four, including 'Jerusalem's Lot' and 'Quitters Inc' were previously unpublished.
While I'd always say King is a highly talented novelist, his flair for the short story is almost unsurpassed. My favourite is 'Children of the Corn', where a bizarre road accident prompts an argumentative couple to seek help. When they begin to explore a strange town, a rather disturbing lack of adults leads them into a sinister ritual. King's own experience of working in an industrial laundry inspired the 'The Mangler', where a laundry press develops a taste for human flesh. 'The Lawnmower Man' is a simple story that revolves around an original, if somewhat bloody, slant on grass-cutting techniques. Not all the stories are quite so gory though - in 'The Man Who Loved Flowers', a handsome young man grabs the attention of passersby, whereas 'Jerusalem's Lot' and 'One for the Road', both follow on from King's 1975 novel 'Salem's Lot'.
All the stories are wonderfully creepy, with well-observed characters that shine through with an originality that gives credence to their various fates (though of course, they don't all die!) While this may not be the best of Stephen King, it clearly shows how, even though barely into his Twenties, he was developing a way of telling stories that most writers can only dream about.
on 29 September 2015
Mostly excellent short stories including several very creepy ones. In particular Jerusalem's Lot, which was one of the creepiest stories I've ever read. King has a great imagination and with short stories he can really let it loose. There's a creeping dread to some of these that seems even more potent than in his best novels. There's something almost experimental to the stories here that's quite rewarding as a King fan. I suppose the short length (most of them are twenty or so pages) and limited requirements on the reader's attention allow him to go anywhere he likes.
In my ongoing love-hate relationship with Stephen King, the short stories seem to universally come out on the side of love. They're frequently much more experimental than the novels, featuring ideas that in a full-length work would just be too outlandish, but in a short story, burn very bright indeed.
This collection begins with Jerusalem's Lot, a prequel to "'Salem's Lot" the novel. The short story is possibly even better than the book, a pure gothic classic, which explains the beginnings of the evil in the Lot. Less good was Night Surf a rather feeble and extremely bleak addendum to The Stand. King obsessives need to own this for these two stories alone.
The best stories here are the ones which mix humour into their horror. The Boogeyman is the tale of a man whose three children have all been taken by the monster in the closet. The thing that made this story for me was that the protagonist was so very unpleasant, I quite felt for the poor boogeyman having to deal with him, but the ending is genuinely chilling; I read it out loud to my little brother, and he came out in goosebumps.
In The Mangler, the ingredients for an ancient spell to summon demons are accidentally mixed inside a laundry machine, which then develops murderous tendencies. Sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it also has a deep sense of the dark.
Not all the stories here are supernatural. Both The Ledge and Last Ring on the Ladder concern very different forms of purely human nastiness, as does Quitters Inc., a return to the perennial King favourite topic of giving up smoking.
The collection also includes the famous stories Children of the Corn and The Lawnmower Man, both of which are great but seem to lack a little of the sparkle found elsewhere in the book. Recommended for King fans and newbies alike.
One thing that has always distinguished Stephen King among his peers is his commitment to the short story. You don't find many novelists writing short stories these days, but King has always excelled in the area of short fiction, and I daresay the discipline involved in telling a story in a relatively small number of pages has helped make him such a successful writer of long fiction. Night Shift, which was first published in 1976, is the first of King's short story collections, bringing together twenty stories originally published in such disparate magazines as Cavalier, Penthouse, and Cosmopolitan (yes, Cosmopolitan) in the early to mid 1970s. These stories have given birth to a surprising number of film adaptations, but I would urge you not to judge these stories in advance by the quality of films such as Children of the Corn, The Mangler, Sometimes They Come Back, and The Lawnmower Man (especially The Lawnmower Man, as the film has nothing whatsoever to do with King's story).
There is a lot of variety to be found in this collection, as King delivers much more than a sequence of horror stories. The horror is there in droves, of course, but so are stories of a general bent that show just how effective a writer King is when he wanders away from the dark forces usually driving his imagination. The Woman in the Room, for example, is a rather tender story of a son struggling with his mother's impending death, while I Know What You Need and The Man Who Loved Flowers display romantic sensibilities of a truly engaging nature.
The book opens with Jerusalem's Lot, a thoroughly Lovecraftian exploration of the early history of this infamous little hamlet; told in the form of letters and steeped in Mythos lore, it is the type of tale that could have been written by a member of the original Lovecraft Circle. One For the Road also centers on Jerusalem's Lot; it's unusual to set a vampire story against the backdrop of a severe New England blizzard, but this proves to be one of the most effective stories in this collection. Rats, traditional horror favorites, play a part in a couple of stories, particularly Graveyard Shift with its rat-infested subterranean levels containing monstrosities that can no longer be considered mere rats.
The Ledge is, to me, the most uncomfortably effective story in the collection, mainly because it ruthlessly exploits my own fear of heights. Quitters, Inc., though, stands head and shoulders above the other nineteen stories; brilliant in its conception and development, it details a brutally surefire way to quit smoking. Children of the Corn is also a masterful tale; the film adaptation elaborately expounds upon the idea, but the core of the story and the mysterious horror of He Who Walks Behind the Rows is given a glorious birth in these pages. Sometimes They Come Back gave birth to two less than exhilarating films, but the original story is vintage Stephen King, with three dead youths returning to high school to finish the deadly job they started years ago. Then there is The Boogeyman which builds upon the palpitating fear that has touched every child scared of the dark; I can picture King grinning wickedly as he was writing the twisted final lines of this tale.
Battleground holds special meaning for me as this was the first Stephen King story I ever read - believe it or not, we actually read this in my advanced English class in seventh grade. Some regard it as a weak contribution to Night Shift, but the story is a lot of fun despite its rather unbelievable nature. The Lawnmower Man is more than weird enough to be memorable. Some people also don't care for The Last Rung on the Ladder, but I think it is a wonderful little story; the human element takes precedence over any overt horror, and some people prefer their monsters to be external to themselves. The Man Who Loved Flowers is masterfully done, an idyllic look at a young man in love that takes a deliciously insidious turn at the end. I Know What You Need is similarly executed; this account of a young lady who finds true love (or so she thinks) in the most unlikely of potential mates calls to mind the psychological mastery of Shirley Jackson.
There are no bad stories in this collection, but a few don't live up to the standards of the rest. Strawberry Spring is a little disappointing, as this story of a serial killer who comes in with the fog of unusual New England weather is quite predictable. I Am the Doorway, with its touch of alien horror, isn't as good as I think it might have been, Gray Matter is the equivalent of Creepshow's The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, The Mangler offers nothing special, Night Surf is a pale shadow of its cousin The Stand, and Trucks runs out of gas rather quickly.
All in all, Night Shift delivers a shockingly good collection of short stories from the hand of a masterful story teller plumbing the depths of his horror-laden imagination while at the same time tapping into his immense knowledge of human nature and popular culture to produce tales of fiction that will appeal to a wide range of readers.
on 19 January 2012
This was the first S. King book I read, many years ago when it came out, and it impressed me in a big way. I have recently bought this back, having "lent-lost" it. Reading it today, 50-odd Steve books later, makes me feel so great. The stories are still incredibly catchy, punchy, and darkly original (like "battleground"). My favourite remains "sometimes they come back", but it's hard to choose. There are a few duds in here, but it is mostly great work. It definitely stands among Steve's simplest, but most effective, short story work. Highly recommended.
on 21 December 2008
This is a great collection of short stories. Some stories such as, the ledge, sometimes they come back, quitters inc.,and of course children of the corn, are sublime. Quitters inc., and the ledge were translated for film (cats eye). The last rung on the ladder however, is without doubt my favourite, the horror is entirely human.
on 2 July 2014
This will always be the best book of horror short stories I 've ever read. Truly frightening characters, the bogeyman, the astronaut. Each story gets more terrifying. I read this book in the early 80s when I was 13 and read it again and again. Just read this again this year and found it more terrifying and think the writing of a young Mr king makes him a genius. You are not a horror buff until you read this book. Enjoy and read it with the light on ......
on 9 November 2013
I am not a fan of King but saying that do read a lot of his books (generally on holiday). Most of King's books, to me, suffer with bloat however where I think King excels is with his short stories and this is a good example of them, especially his Lovecraftian short story which was the best for me. A good anthology of stories worth a read