I hope it doesn’t sound like a contradiction when I say that I admire much of Stephen King’s work but have read little of it. For the most part I have seen the films, and that has been good enough for me. That includes “Firestarter,” “The Dead Zone,” “The Stand,” “The Green Mile,” and others. The length of his novels has intimidated me from tackling them, and the fact that once I saw the films I didn’t see the need to delve into the books. I made an exception for the novel “11/22/63” about a man who goes back in time to thwart the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The subject matter fascinated me so I bought the book and read it, even though, as I remember, it was over 1100 pages long. Another King book that is one of my favorites is “On Writing,” which is mostly a memoir. One thing I would pay good money for, in fact, is a full-length memoir by King.
This book, “Everything’s Eventual,” came into my hands via one of my sons, who brought it with him on a Christmas visit. I didn’t think I had read a volume of King’s short stories before, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I came to the conclusion that Stephen King’s short stories have the same strengths and weaknesses as his longer fiction. One of the weaknesses of King’s longer fiction is its length. He has a tendency to ramble. For instance, “11/22/63” is a great story, but it is twice as long as it needs to be. It would have been a much greater story at half the length. The same can be said for his shorter fiction. A number of the stories are just too long for the subject matter and take too long to get going. Trimmed to half the length, they would be twice as effective. Some of the best stories in the collection are the tight, compact literary ones that have focus of character and go straight from one point to another. Alas, not all the stories are like that. Some of the weakest are stories of gangsters or zombies or undercover spies that take forever to get anywhere significant.
Another problem I had with some of the stories was their gratuitous violence. I have no problem with violence in short stories if the violence is integral to the plot. But King too often introduces interesting characters with real-life problems and then injects violence into the stories as if out of left field. Which brings up a further problem with several of King’s stories, a tendency towards deus ex machina solutions or conclusions, in other words, closing the stories with neat endings that have no buildup in the main body of the story. For instance, he tells an interesting story of the impending divorce of a married couple, and then out of nowhere has a deranged waiter attack the woman’s lawyer and split his head open. Or he tells a fairly comedic story about how a couple’s pets are attracted to either the husband or the wife, and then throws in a bit at the end about a serial killer murdering someone’s wife.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of the stories are entertaining. But they are not as tight as short stories I am accustomed to reading by such masters as Zelazny, Delaney, Silverberg, James Tiptree, Jr., and others. As I said, King rambles in his short stories, and most of them would be much more effective at half the length or less. I couldn’t escape having the feeling, too, that if anyone else’s name had been attached to some of the tales, they never would have found publication in the first-class markets listed for these stories.
All in all, the book is an okay read, but you can do better picking up a collection by one of the masters of the craft that I listed above. King is a fine writer, but as he says in “On Writing,” he likes to unwind his tales slowly and gradually, and that focus is not optimum for shorter works. That’s what the stories in this collection lack: power right out of the gate. If you have the patience and stay the course, eventually the stories display some interesting facets, but stories that do not have famous names attached to them, if they are to succeed in retaining reader interest, have to punch you fast, punch you hard, and keep punching.
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When I wrote the above, I still had a few stories in the collection left to read, and I offer this afterword because a couple of them are strong stories and I want to give credit where credit is due. Their opening scenes are, perhaps, too long – but then again, perhaps not. Overall, they are finely executed soft horror stories.
I saw the movie “1408” long ago when I was living in Greece, and it’s a rather poor film. The story, however, works well. This is an example of a Stephen King story far exceeding the film adaptation in quality. Perhaps part of the problem with the film is that the story is rather slight. It works as a short, but to increase it to feature film length took a lot of stuffing.
The other strong story is “Riding the Bullet,” about a hitchhiker who gets picked up by a dead man after a visit to a graveyard and then has to make an awful choice. As King points out in the introduction, there’s nothing original about the story. Its strength lies in its characterization; King creates sufficient background for the protagonist so that you care about what happens to him and the choices he makes. This story originated as an e-book, sold a lot of copies, and became a phenomenon, more for the pioneering abundance of its e-book sales than for the content of the story itself. But it is a well-told tale.