”The stories in this book are harsh,” King says in the afterward. And they are. Like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, this is a collection of four novellas – or rather three of them with a shorter story included as a bonus – all of which represent the darker side of King. That is, they don’t just tackle horrific subjects – which is, admittedly, pretty typical for King – but they do so mainly without the consolation of hope, friendship or bravery he just as often will add. They are also, with one exception, thrillers without any supernatural elements. 

(For some reason, I tend to read King’s collections over time, making sure to finish the novels while they are reasonably new. In this case, I managed to take ten years to read through all four.)

“I remember thinking: This night will never end. And that was right.”

1922 is a first-person account of a horrendous crime, told by a man who wants the reader’s sympathy but doesn’t hold back. It’s a rural noir full of deep insight and keen darkness. It’s not a fun read, but superbly written. It’s a story you finish out of a sense of duty rather than suspense and one of King’s very darkest. 

“Most were ladies of the sort who do not attend public occasions without first donning hats.”

Big Driver is certainly no children’s story, but starts off brighter, with a generous dose of humorous observations about life as a semi-famous writer, with a main character fond of talking to her TomTom navigator and her cat and regularly doing speaking engagements. Reading it a decade after publication, I’m struck by how quaint the parts about her GPS feel. The harmless introduction makes the horrors to come (realistic but extreme) doubly shocking. At first not unlike The Gingerbread Girl but ultimately very different, it takes a thinking man’s Death Wish turn. Vivid, thrilling and with a streak of dark humour that almost makes it a relief to read after 1922. 

“What could I wish for? I have everything I want.”

Fair Extension is a wicked, short tale of making the wrong choice and happily seeing someone else pay the price. It’s a story about good fortune vs bad one, and the evil little person that may live in all of us. I don’t like it much and I don’t think I’m supposed to. 

“Tonight the dark was populated by Bob’s harem.”

A Good Marriage, finally, tells of how Darcy Anderson’s orderly but somewhat dull life instantly falls apart at the discovery of a horrible secret. The explanation that follows is presented in a jocular and almost nostalgic fashion, a man gently trying to convince and seemingly earnest, making it no less horrifying. And then she has a choice to make. This is noir of a different brand than 1922, and in some ways even darker. In other ways not. 

The afterword is, as always, well worth reading. One of those fascinating reminders of how seriously King takes his craft.