A wonderfully diverse volume of compelling stories showing the richness, depth and variety of Stephen King’s highly-acclaimed storytelling. The collection will include enthralling masterpieces such as LT’s THEORY OF PETS, IN THE DEATHROOM and 1408; classic tales of supernatural and psychological terror and tales of everyday life with unexpected and brilliant twists such as AUTOPSY ROOM FOUR. It will also contain the highly publicised RIDING THE BULLET, only previously available as an ebook.
In his introduction to Everything’s Eventual, horror author extraordinaire Stephen King describes how he used a deck of playing cards to select the order in which these 14 tales of the macabre would appear. Judging by the impact of these stories, from the first words of the darkly fascinating “Autopsy Room Four” to the haunting final pages of “Luckey Quarter,” one can almost believe King truly is guided by forces from beyond.
His first collection of short stories since the release of Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 1993, Everything’s Eventual represents King at his most undiluted. The short story format showcases King’s ability to spook readers using the most mundane settings (a yard sale) and comfortable memories (a boyhood fishing excursion). The dark tales collected here are some of King’s finest, including an O. Henry Prize winner and “Riding the Bullet,” published originally as an e-book and at one time expected by some to be the death knell of the physical publishing world. True to form, each of these stories draws the reader into King’s slightly off-center world from the first page, developing characters and atmosphere more fully in the span of 50 pages than many authors can in a full novel.
For most rabid King fans, chief among the tales in this volume will be “The Little Sisters of Eluria,” a novella that first appeared in the fantasy collection Legends, set in King’s ever-expanding Dark Tower universe. In this story, set prior to the first Dark Tower volume, the reader finds Gunslinger Roland of Gilead wounded and under the care of nurses with very dubious intentions. Also included in this collection are “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French,” the story of a woman’s personal hell; “1408,” in which a writer of haunted tour guides finally encounters the real thing; “Everything’s Eventual,” the title story, about a boy with a dream job that turns out to be more of a nightmare; and “L.T.’s Theory of Pets,” a story of divorce with a bloody surprise ending.
King also includes an introductory essay on the lost art of short fiction and brief explanatory notes that give the reader background on his intentions and inspirations for each story. As with any occasion when King directly addresses his dear Constant Readers, his tone is that of a camp counselor who’s almost apologetic for the scare his fireside tales are about to throw into his charges, yet unwilling to soften the blow. And any campers gathered around this author’s fire would be wise to heed his warnings, for when King goes bump in the night, it’s never just a branch on the window.
King’s first collection of short stories since 1993 (“Nightmares and Dreamscapes”) shows the horror master still at the top of his game. There isn’t a dud in the bunch. King chose the order of the stories by shuffling all the spades in a deck of cards plus the joker; and the serendipitous result, he says, created a nice balance between “the literary stories and the all-out screamers.” But these stories are already a nice balance in themselves: eerie and spare, chilling and vivid, full of strong voices and real characters getting a jolt of terror out of an ordinary day.
Like the horror writer in “The Road Virus Heads North,” who stops off at a yard sale on his way home. Or the divorcing couple who get the true measure of one another in a bloody encounter with a maitre d’ in “Lunch at the Gotham Café.” Or the woman in the acidulous marriage whose sense of déjà vu keeps getting sickeningly stronger on her second honeymoon in “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French.”
An O.Henry prize winner (and one of King’s least favorite stories), first published in “The New Yorker,” reveals the roots of an old man’s fear in a boyhood encounter with the devil on an idyllic stretch of trout stream in rural Maine. Another “New Yorker” story, “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” is a poignant, haunting tale of a lonely traveling salesman whose graffiti collection engenders a life or death dilemma.
The story King says is his favorite, because of its unexpected shift from humor to horror, “L.T.’s Theory of Pets,” turns on a gruesome twist at the end, which didn’t stick with me half so much as the chilling aftermath of a choice forced on a college kid during his hitchhiking encounter with Death in “Riding the Bullet,” first made famous as an e-book.
In a Dark Tower story, “The Little Sisters of Eluria,” prequel to King’s seven-volume (book five, now completed, is 900 pages) “magnum opus,” Roland is attacked by green mutants and wakes in a gleaming hospital tent staffed by “nurses of death instead of life.” Teeming with romance, adventure, horror and heroics, this story has a literally creepy ending.
The title story, “Everything’s Eventual” features a naïve young high school drop-out with a certain talent but no clear ambition, who discovers his dream job is a nightmare. Though the stories are in a randomly chosen order, “Autopsy Room Four” is the ideal opener, a pitch-perfect blend of black humor and visceral horror told by a golfer who wakes up on an autopsy table. Inspired by a “Twilight Zone” episode, King gives it a thoroughly up-to-date twist. The poignantly low-key “Luckey,” about a motel chambermaid who receives a “luckey” quarter as a tip, is an appropriate closer too. Gritty, but plaintive too, the story holds a hopeful note.
Most stories are told in the first person and King’s narrators – young, old or middle-aged – seem to speak right into your ear, so immediate and expressive are their voices. They are, mostly, ordinary people whose ordinary lives take a heart-stopping turn. There are also a couple of successful horror writers and a few motel rooms, including the haunted one, room “1408.”
King accompanies each story with a short note about its inspiration and development, and sometimes a few words about how the writing went and what he thinks of the story now. An introduction laments the lack of outlets for the short story form and shares a few of his marketing ventures.
Short stories, says King, do not come easy. His are pared down and cut close to plot, character and setting, with each of these elements honed and none of the manic digressions you sometimes find in his novels. A terrific collection, imagination harnessed.