Book Review: Just After Sunset

Stephen King
Scribner, 2008
367 pages


First things first, a disclaimer. Or, really, full disclosure (as they say in the legal profession, don't they?). My love for Stephen King's work began when I was very young--too young to read his books. I was about eight years old, and my father always had battered SK paperbacks in the house. And no, I didn't sneak them--not then, anyway--but on Saturday nights I was allowed to stay up late, and my dad and I would sit on the porch, sometimes with the telescope out, and we'd just talk. And Dad would tell me the stories he read in his books. It was how I first heard The Lord of the Rings--courtesy of Dad's Condensed Tales--and how I heard pretty much every early Stephen King novel. Even though I'd pick up Dean Koontz's Lightning in fifth grade, I didn't touch "the hard stuff" until later, when I would eventually sneak Dad's copy of IT into my school locker. Of course, Dad kept his books in alpha order, and so even though I'd plugged the hole in the bookshelf, he noticed. "Just don't tell your mother," was all he said.

Ever since, I've devoured almost all that King has written. Some I've read more than once, and some I've just never bothered with. But I try to keep up.

Just After Sunset is a collection of short stories. King notes in his Introduction that he'd gotten away from short story writing for a while, but that after editing a Best of annual anthology, it all sort of came back to him. And indeed it did; every story in the book is very, er, Kingsian. Is that the adjective? Which is to say, for the most part they are entertaining, but in some places they are predictable because they are exactly what we've come to expect from "Uncle Stevie." Not necessarily a bad thing--after all, it's like going to your favorite restaurant and ordering your usual meal and getting, well, exactly what you expect. Maybe you've been craving that, and so it hits the spot. Similarly, when you get a hankering for some Stephen King, Just After Sunset fits the bill in bite-sized pieces.

As with any collection of stories, some are better than others. I particularly enjoyed "Stationary Bike" (though I might've used a different title, maybe "The Road to Herkimer" although that's rather pedantic in its own way, I suppose). I like that it didn't really turn out to be a horror story, though--again--the ending was kind of pat. And hey, what happened to the paintings? I also liked "The Things They Left Behind," which is sort of a hopeful story.

Meanwhile, "Willa" isn't a bad idea, but it does go on a little longer than necessary. Not to give too much away, but there's a whole part in the middle which turns out to be almost pointless, except maybe to give King a way to coach the protagonist into seeing/remembering certain things so that the reader can see and know them, too. "The Gingerbread Girl" is also really long, but here King uses a certain amount of drawn-out horror and suspense to push the tale along. Starts slow, gets better, like a roller coaster that clicks up the hill only to let loose for the rest of the ride.

"N." is King's contribution (in this collection, anyway, as there are others elsewhere in his oeuvre) to the Chthonic genre, very Lovecraftian, or rather, King points to Machen's "The Great God Pan" as the source for this particular tale. My only discontent with this one is the final "transcription" of an e-mail that I feel was overkill. I'd rather have had the sundae without that particular cherry on top.

Some of the tales are almost throw aways: "Harvey's Dream," "Graduation Afternoon," "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates."

There's something very old school about these stories, again possibly because they are Kingsian, and he writes in a particular style, an old school writing class kind of style. Still, they are a marked departure from his more recent novels, which aren't always as "traditional" in form. Or maybe it's just the condensed nature of a short story that brings out that old school flavor. But if you don't have time for Duma Key (and I heartily suggest you make time for it, but if not), then Just After Sunset could reliably tide you over.

1 comment:

Kalligenia said...

I'm not big on short stories, but I've been trying to make myself read more. Studying what makes a good short story. I'll have to see if I find this book at the used book store next time I'm there. I feel bad that I still haven't read Duma Key! Oy. It's sitting right over there in my book pile, too.