10 Apr 2009

Book Review (part 2 of 2): Just After Sunset, Stephen King


A strange standing-stones formation brings on OCD in an observer, who visits his psychiatrist for help. Only, his OCD is catching… There is a lot going on in this story (there should be, it’s over 50 pages long), making it easily one of the best in the collection. Story and character blend here in near-perfect harmony, and the writing, particularly toward the end of the tale, convincingly captures the protagonist’s condition. Indeed, the focus here is the mind, fear manifesting itself through OCD, how quickly and easily it spreads and destroys. The more I think about this tale, the more frightening it becomes... 4/5

The Cat from Hell

For Halston this is a new kind of hit: a cat. But this cat has the blood of three people on its paws, and it won’t go out without a fight… This is vintage King, literally. Written and first published some 30 years ago, the style and content are very different from the rest of the stories collected here. The short, sharp prose of pulp crime fiction meets King’s nasty streak of old in this deliciously dark tale. Good enough to make me want to dig out some of the old collections but out of place alongside the more literary, character-driven stories. Nonetheless, an excellent read. 4.5/5

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates

Many of the stories in Just After Sunset touch upon the subject of death. Here, Annie Driscoll receives one final phone call from her late husband, who died three days earlier in a plane crash. Though the call is short, Annie will never forget it, and never quite let go of the man who made the call, regardless of the path her life takes. An understated and believable tale where story and character are well-balanced. Memorable. 3.5/5


In a church confessional, a travelling salesman recalls an encounter with a deaf-mute hitchhiker to whom he ranted about his cheating wife... Mute draws the reader in but the so-called twist can be seen coming for miles, making this one end on a slightly disappointing note. Indeed, the moral questions King asks here (which I won’t mention to avoid spoiling the story for those who haven’t read it), aren’t particularly new or interesting either, and certainly don’t justify the story’s 24-page length. An enjoyable but forgettable read. And Playboy published this... 3/5


Here we have miracles and questions…why do some people live and some people die? King himself says in the afterword that this tale is about the questions rather than the answers. He says that often, and here he gets away with it. There’s no bells and whistles here, no horror per se but an understated and tender story. 3.5/5

A Very Tight Place

Curtis Johnson finds himself trapped in a Port-O-San (portable toilet) in this almost novella-length tale of revenge and rebirth. It’s probably the best example from Just After Sunset of vintage King meets new King, a delicious marriage of nastiness and richly detailed prose in the darkest, grossest tale of the bunch. The perfect choice for the final story, too. 4/5

In Just After Sunset, Stephen King often writes about questions without providing any answers. The less successful stories of this ilk feel disappointingly unfinished, but some do linger beyond a first reading. It isn’t the author’s strongest collection to date, but it is a thoughtful journey that is never less than interesting; a journey in which time and time again he forces the reader to confront the subjects of death and dying. At times unflinching and horrific, at others subtle and poignant, this uneven collection is nevertheless worth your attention, as even its lesser tales offer the discerning reader something beyond character and plot. And King’s prose has never been so rich, so layered, so compelling.


Brian G Ross said...

Maybe you should give up the fiction and chisel out a career in reviews. This is a nicely layered and well-argued dissection.

I'm glad the second-half is an improvement on the first: you had me worried about readin' this collection with your previous installment.


Barry Napier said...

I thought N and The New York Times...were the best stories in the book by far. The thing I like about "Nu-King" is that he seems to cater to emotional distress more so than fear (New York Times). But when he DOES go back to his roots (N), he's still damned good at it.

Steven J. Dines said...

Brian - it's worth reading if you're a fan.

Barry - Judging by my scores, it seems the gross-out stories won me over more than the subtle ones. I think that's due to the lack of plot in some of the latter. I hear you about "N." - it's one of the stronger pieces, and a tale I think I will visit again in the future.