You can’t really say that this book has been particularly “Long Awaited” because it’s only been seven years since Stephen King’s last story collection, and only five since his last novella collection. Nonetheless, this new collection is welcome all the same. I thoroughly enjoyed it (with two exceptions). We can safely assume that this is not Kings last story collection either, no one knows how many more years he has left, but even if he moves on soon, there will still probably be a posthumous collection released. And there may be another story collection coming from the master by 2020, and barring any unforeseen events I’ll be reading and enjoying that one to. This collection consists of 18 stories and 2 poems. Here are my thoughts.
Mile 81 –King explains in the opening notes, he had written this story early in his writing career, but had lost it, then rewrote it recently. It was a little too much of a typical horror story. A lot of setting up good characters that (spoiler alert) die quickly. Not my favorite story in the collection, but it’s okay.
Premium Harmony – I have mixed feelings on this story. It’s a very good story, but its also very sad, and I’m not a huge fan of sad stories, I won’t hold it against them, but I won’t love them either. King mentions in the notes that he wrote it in the voice of Raymond Carver, and yes he captures that voice well, judging by the handful of Carver Pieces I’ve read. This is not a scary story at all, not even remotely, it is pure literary fiction, a talent that King is rarely given proper credit for. On the plus side, this particular story is read by Will Paton who is a great reader and the usual reader of Denis Johnson’s audio books.
Batman and Robin Have an Altercation – this story is about a man going out to lunch with his father who has Alzheimers, something I am a little too familiar with. The title refers to a memory that is randomly brought up by the father. It has an interesting semi-twist ending that I enjoyed. Again this is much more in line with a literary story then any sort of genre.
The Dune – this is a good story about an old man meeting with his lawyer to write his will. The primary part of the will involves protecting a sand dune out in the Flordia Keys, which holds a peculiar otherworldly property.
Bad Little Kid – This is probably my favorite story in the collection, though it is a tough choice with another, it is also the first of the Seven Worthy stories. Overall the stories in this collection aren’t particularly great, however seven of these stories are great and make reading the rest of the collection worth the experience, and these are the Seven Worthy. It would have been nice if there were nine, but what can you do. This story is about a man on death row telling his story as to how he got there. It seems he has been haunted his entire life by a red headed daemon kid wearing a copter beanie. I don’t like kids in general and I think that’s why this story speaks so loudly too me.
A Death – of the entire collection, this is the only one I had read ahead of time. It was published in the New Yorker back in march, and although I usually try to read the fiction published there in, when I saw who wrote this one, I made sure to read it right away. Not a horror story this is more a historical fiction/mystery/noir. Not one of the best in the collection, but not one of the worst either.
The Bone Church – one of the two poems in the collection, and evidently a very old one, written in King’s college days and preformed then by a very good reader (in the writers opinion). It is a narrative poem to say the least, it reads more (when listening) as a drunk man’s telling of an ill-fated jungle adventure. It’s very hard to follow and hard to listen to because of how thoroughly acted out it is. Not one of my favorites, but probably my favorite title within the collection.
Morality – this is a weird story about a pasture who pays his nurse to commit a sin, because he has never done so in his life. It’s hard to really believe the actions and reactions of the characters, and also hard to understand the concept that is trying to be convayed in this story.
Afterlife – another of the Seven Worthy. The story reminded me a lot of the Andy Weir story “The Egg” and although King didn’t mention it in his notes, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that story inspired this one. As you can imagine this story is about a man, just after his death, and what the afterlife provides. I would explain further what this is, but I don’t want to spoil the story too much. If you have read it though, it will leave you with an interesting question regarding your own life, and what choice you would make in the afterlife.
Ur – this is my second favorite story in the collection and damn close to being my favorite. I’d hate to say it, but the story reminded me an awful lot of my own story “A Little Too Smart Phone.” I would like to say that King was inspired by my own story, but as it happens this story was published 4 years before mine, of course I did not read it until now. It’s also important to note that this story was originally published exclusively for the Kindle as a promotion early on in the kindles life span. I was almost tempted to get a kindle to read this story, and had I done so I would not have been disappointed. In the story the main character receives an unusual pink kindle which is able to produce texts from alternate realities, plus news and even future events, which leads to the main crux of the story. The alternate realities are called “Ur’s” hence the title, and one of them was destroyed in early sixties when the Cuban Missle Crisses did not go quite as it had in our own Ur. Also this story has a distinct connection to the Dark Tower, more so then any other story in the collection.
Herman Wouk Is Still Alive – this story was inspired by the 2009 Taconic State Parkway crash, in which a woman had killed about seven people (many being children) in a drunk driving accident. I remembered the incident well. I hated the two main characters in the story, I’m not sure if they were supposed to be hated or sympathized with. It is again very literary. It’s also a very good story, and one of the Seven Worthy, but it would have benefited by being placed differently in the collection.
Under the Weather – not one of my favorite stories, it’s a little longer then it needs to be, and has a twist ending that isn’t set up very well.
Blockade Billy – despite this storying being about sports this is also one of the Seven Worthy. This is the second story I’ve read by King on the subject of Baseball, the other “Head Down” being a non-fiction about his son’s Little League team. I’m not a fan of sports, likewaise this is probably the only piece of sports fiction I’ve read by choice, but still a very good read.
Mister Yummy – in the forward to this story, King suggests that he was a little hesitant to write a story about AIDS and being Gay when he himself was not a gay man, and that he has received criticism for doing something like this in the past (notable writing about the holocaust when he was not Jewish) he states, and I agree, that these stories belong to the world, and not just to the culture most effected. That being said, this story is hardly even about AIDS or homosexuals, it is about being old, remembering ones youth, and death. It’s very good too, another of the Seven Worthy.
Tommy – the second of the two poems in the collection. King gives a very brief and uninformative forward to this one (which is understandable considering it is the shortest work in the collection by far). This is clearly something profound that happened to King in his much younger days, and deeply personal, which is fine, except that it does not speak to me personally as a reader. That being said, if King felt this a good way to memorialize a fallen friend, then who am I to say he shouldn’t.
The Little Green God of Agony – this is a story about a very rich man suffering from the aftermath of a plane crash, who plans to give a sizable fortune to a Preacher who can perform an exorcism on his… agony. The main character is a nurse who is paid handsomely to essentially prolong the billionaire’s recovery provided by not pushing his therapy to the limits (w/r/t pain), and who is very skeptical of what the preacher is saying. It has an interesting twist ending that I didn’t see coming, though all in all not one of his best.
That Bus Is Another World – I did not much care for this story, and it’s almost entirely because of its reader. Who has this annoyingly lethargic way of reading. I don’t remember who it was, but if I hear it again, almost regardless of the work, I’ll be skipping it.
Obits – I heard that reader’s voice again, and as promised, I skipped this story after about a half hour. It’s a longer one, and at the point of skipping it was already setting up a plot device that could almost be inferred from the title.
Drunken Fireworks – this may be my third favorite story form the collection. It is by far the funniest story in the collection and probably King’s funniest story of all time. It’s about a fireworks arms race between two rival families both with vacation homes on the same lake. It is written in a deeply Maine vernacular and told through the questionable memory of a late middle aged alcoholic. I don’t know how funny this story would be on paper, but in audio form, it is a riot, the reader did a phenomenal job with this story.
Summer Thunder – Okay, I actually skipped this story to. Not because of the reader that I can’t stand, unfortunately this one was read by Will Patton (who also read “Premium Harmony”) and he is very good at his job. He did a very good job with this one to, but I couldn’t only handle the story for long. It’s about a post-nuclear war, with a handful of survivors left. That would be fine and I would have eaten it up, however the story heavily revolves around a dyeing dog. If the dog died quickly, I might get through it. As it was, the dog was still alive when I stopped reading. Beautifully written, and expertly read, but I can’t and won’t read about dyeing animals. I can and will read almost anything else in this collection, some of which I will be reading again, shortly, and I recommend that all who have not, also check out this collection, especially for the Seven Worthy stories.