Stephen King’s previous novella collections, Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons, have yielded some particularly strong stories, like “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Sun Dog.” His latest book, If It Bleeds, also gives us four pieces of fiction that are longer than short stories but shorter than novels.
“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” reads like a classic ghost story. The main character, Craig, finds that he’s able to communicate with his employer and mentor after the latter’s death using the iPhone Craig gave him as a gift. I’ve always appreciated ghost stories that place their hauntings in modern settings, sometimes even using technology as a medium. It gives the stories an extra jolt of creepiness because they feel more like something that could really happen. King captures that really well, and also does a good job of developing the relationship between the two protagonists.
“The Life of Chuck” was the weakest story in the book, in my opinion. It starts out with an interesting concept: the characters start seeing advertisements thanking someone named Chuck for “a great 39 years.” They have no idea who Chuck is, what he did to make those 39 years so great, or who’s running the ads. But the story is told in three parts, and the connections between the parts are tenuous at best. Each one could have been a great story on its own if further developed, or the story as a whole could have been great if the parts were woven together more cleanly. As it is, it just felt disjointed.
“If It Bleeds” features Holly Gibney, who first appeared in the Bill Hodges Trilogy and returned in The Outsider. I know Constant Readers have differing opinions on her. While I haven’t read the Bill Hodges books, I enjoyed The Outsider quite a bit, and I liked this story too. It should be noted that it’s pretty much a direct sequel to The Outsider, so readers who haven’t read that book may not get as much enjoyment out of “If It Bleeds.”
“Rat” is another take on a classic horror-story theme, in this case, a deal with a malign entity. It isn’t a particularly deep story, but it was fun to read.
I’ve long been a fan of King’s shorter fiction, and I was pleased to see that he delivered once again.