I just finished If It Bleeds, the book of four novellas Stephen King published last year. It’s classic King: rich characters, real dialog and a little squeamishness. The novellas are titled
- Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
- The Life of Chuck
- If It Bleeds
If you’re not a big Stephen King fan you may be under the impression that all his works are filled with blood and gore and unspeakable things. Many of his books check all these boxes, it’s true, but not all of them. These four stories are more supernatural than horror. Okay, Rat really does have a rat as a character, and it’s a little gross, but none of these are full-on horrifying. So, if you’ve never given him a try, or did once and vowed never again, you might want to consider this collection.
Each story is unique and makes you wonder, where does he come up with this stuff?! He actually addresses that question in the afterword, and as we can imagine, story ideas come from everywhere: a random sign you see, a quote or lyric that sticks with you. With a mind like King’s it’s seemingly easy to go from a random thought to a full-blown story.
There are some familiar themes and characters here. In Mr. Harrigan’s Phone it’s a young boy who gets a job reading to his town’s eccentric reclusive millionaire. The boy is a good guy, thoughtful and responsible, and he ends up’s gifting Harrigan an iPhone – the first one to come out. It’s interesting to see the technology through the eyes of the old man. The story takes a dark and sinister turn, but it’s nothing squeamish. I really liked this one.
The Life of Chuck is unique, charming, heartfelt and just a treat. It’s about…nah, I can’t explain it, just check it out!
If It Bleeds brings back Holly Gibney, about as quirky and likeable character as King ever created. She first showed up in the three Mr. Mercedes / Bill Hodges novels (also in the Amazon series). Then she came back in The Outsider (also an HBO show). And now she’s the star of this short story. The title refers to the old journalism saying If it bleeds it leads – as in, if the story is bloody and tragic it takes the top spot of the newspaper or newscast. Holly’s on the hunt for a monster who feeds on fear and panic and the story unfolds perfectly.
Finally, we come to Rat. I have to admit I was a little wary of this one, as rats are not my favorite creatures. But it was pretty good and only slightly gross. The main character is a writer, one of many that King has written into existence. He’s a good guy, too, a short story writer of some acclaim, who wants to write a novel. He tried once and it went badly – he almost lost his mind. But now he has an idea that he knows is a winner. And so he leaves his wife and kids for a few weeks to go to their remote cabin to write. Oh, but there’s a storm on the way, and he’s caught the flu from the local store owner and he’s starting to lose his mojo again. And then the rat shows up with an offer he can’t refuse.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed King’s latest and I hope this review inspires you to read this or some other King novel. He’s a national treasure 😊
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p.s. these are my favorite Stephen King works:
Needful Things (deliciously creepy)
Christine (I know the movie was cheesy but the book is a million times better.)
The Stand (You might not want to read this now, during the pandemic, as it takes place in a post-pandemic world. Yikes.)
The Shining (Whew, super-scary)
It (Epic, scary and I didn’t mind the ending at all (it’s pretty controversial))
11.22.63 (not horror or scary, but time travel! This one is about Kennedy’s assassination and won major awards including a top 10 book of 2011 by the New York Times.)
Different Seasons is another collection of novellas including the stories that were made into the movies The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me and Apt Pupil. As great as these movies are, guess what, the novellas are just as great.