I’ve never read any Stephen King short story. But when I stumbled upon the audiobook version of his latest collection in the library, titled Just After Sunset I thought it would be good to listen to while I work out or walk with the baby in the stroller. I was wrong. I kept losing count when I was working out, because I got immersed in the stories too much. And when I was with my daughter it increased my anxiety and concern for her. I don’t think I want to read any scary or horror story any more when I am with my child. I love her too much and kept envisioning her in the awful situations King managed to come up with. So I ended up listening to the stories, just on my own.
As expected with a collection there were some that were more interesting and some that were not. One measurement of “interesting” is which stories’ theme are still on my mid now, a week after I finished the book. Before answering that question let me summarize what they were about. The following recaps are semi-spoilers. I don’t tell you the ending of the stories, (often containing one more further twist) but I do cover their major theme. That in itself is a spoiler as the process of discovering them slowly as you read the stories are part the reward of reading scary stories. Figuring out where the horror comes from. So proceed at your own risk. I also jotted down a single word for each story that characterizes my memories of them:
- Willa – eerie – A man leaves a train station after a train got wreck and finds his girlfriend in a hopping bar, where a band called the Derailers play music.
- The Gingerbread Girl – slow – A woman runs out of her marriage and moves to her father’s beach house, where she runs a lot, until she meets a playboy.
- Harvey’s Dream – imitative – A husband shares a bad dream about one of their daughters with his wife.
- Rest Stop – dirty – A man overhears an arguing couple in a public restroom off the highway.
- Stationary Bike – unbalanced – A man with high cholesterol buys a stationary bike and while rides it regularly in the basement of the house he lives in he imagines a road he is riding on.
- The Things They Left Behind – personal – Objects belonging to his dead colleagues start to appear in the apartment of a man, who didn’t go to work on 9/11 to his workplace in the twin towers.
- Graduation Afternoon – deceptive – A y middle-class girl goes to her rich boyfriend’s house for his high-school graduation party.
- N. – thin – A psychiatrist’s notes of one of his patients, who had OCD and thought his actions keep monsters from an alternative universe out of this one.
- The Cat from Hell – desperate – A hitman is hired by an old man to kill a cat, who killed his housemates.
- The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates – grievous – A man calls his wife on the phone, two days after he died in a plane-crash.
- Mute – fatal – A traveling salesman pours his heart out to his deaf/mute hitchhiker.
- Ayana – symmetrical – A terminally ill man gets saved by the kiss of a mysterious blind girl.
- A Very Tight Place – disgusting – A man manages to escape from a porta-potty, into which his old enemy locked him.
The production of the audio recording was excellent. Each piece ha a short introductory music and ended with some too. The voice artists who read the, including King himself, suited well the pieces and were mesmerizing when they had to be. On the other hand the selection felt unbalanced, because three stories (The Gingerbread Girl, N., A Very Tight Place) were so much longer than the others. When you are listening to “short stories” it makes a difference whether they are over two hours long or stay within the 30-60 minutes range. To be fair there was a 15 minute long piece too (Graduation Afternoon).
I enjoyed each story, but The Gingerbread Girl, The Things They Left Behind and N., and will stay with me longer than the others. The first because of the detailed description of the willpower necessary to escape, the second because it is a great tribute to the feeling a lot of Americans felt after 9/11 and N., because it describes how OCD develops and the importance of a balanced mine.
There were a few recurring themes in these stories. One of them is a focus on the afterlife. Willa, The Cat from Hell and The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates showed different options for this. Another is the power of imagination: The Gingerbread Girl, Harvey’s Dream and N are prime examples. Finally Death or at least fear of death is the focus for all of theme one way or another. But what did you expect from a horror collection.