It took me an inexplicably long time to finish this collection of short stories, but looking back I realise that most of them left an impression.
Like The Gingerbread Girl, a short, effective thriller about grief and a serial killer. Or Harvey’s Dream, both mundane and shiver-inducing. Graduation afternoon is a short, brilliant gem about how everything can change in an instant. The Things They Left Behind is a strange but pretty moving take on 9/11.
There are a couple of low-key guesses on what the afterlife might have in store (muted but optimistic compared to Revival) and a confessional tale about telling the wrong story to a hitchhiker. N., related to but not as devastating as the aforementioned Revival, combines Lovecraft and Machen with a fantastic (and possibly dangerously contagious) evocation of OCD. Atmospheric to say the least.
The Cat from Hell is apparently a golden oldie, finally collected. A trifle, but captivating while it lasts.
Ayana recounts a tale long untold, because it is ’unbelievable’, and its opening description alone of seeing a once vital father diminished by illness makes it memorable. It’s about miracles or, as doctors call them, ‘misdiagnosis’. It’s a short story in length as well as in how it foregoes explanation in favour of mystifying ‘anecdote’.
The last story is set in Florida, like the contemporary Duma Key, and also sports a well-off but troubled protagonist. It turns out to be a sibling of sorts to The Gingerbread Girl, but more disgusting. But engaging. But very disgusting …
Through all if it, King’s ear for dialogue and eye for detail brings the characters and settings to life. Bitter people, happy people, highways and highrises. Even if King didn’t have any stories to tell here, the writing would make it worthwhile. But he does. With the possible exception of Stationary bike.
In true King fashion, the collection ends with some enlightening, personal notes on the origin and meaning of the stories. His generosity in inviting the readers into the creative process has always part of his appeal.