This book is a collection of four novellas or long short stories.
The first story, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is funny because all along, till practically halfway to the end, it is absolutely normal. An old business whizz-patriarch is using the services of a young teenager to read him books he can’t read anymore. The old man pays for the service per hour of reading and three times a year he sends him a card with a lottery scratch ticket: Christmas, Valentine’s, and the kid’s birthday. One day one of these lottery tickets brings in 3,000 dollars. The kid buys an iPhone and offers it to the old man, the very same first model of this contraption his father had offered him for his birthday or any other occasion. The old man who was very critical against these supposedly modern faddish tools learns very fast how to use it, including to manage his stock-exchange belongings, shares, or whatever other bonds. But life is not eternal. So, the old man dies and then things become creepy. Enjoy the trip. The end is kind of weak because everything goes back to normal. Everyone knows, Stephen King first of all among them, that after any weird event life never goes back to normal. Think of the present pandemic.
The second story, The Life of Chuck, is tricky because Stephen King takes time upside down, or frontside back or wrong way right. It is a play in three acts starting with the third and ending with the first, thus in anticlockwise or anti-chronological order. It’s a trick that the cinema and television use all the time. Chuck dies at the very beginning, though you do not understand that very fast and he is born at the end. Poor chap. That shows how vain life is, how useless life is. Why on earth do you want to live a full life when this life can end at any moment, thank you and goodbye. There is some nostalgia in this story as if Stephen King were imagining what his life would have been if he had died at 39 or when a crazy driver and his dog ran him over and off the road one day with THEIR van. The dog possessed the driver. The driver owned the van. The van nearly killed Stephen King. I just wonder if this nostalgia is not something more serious like paranoid psychosis about getting old and wanting to be young again.
The third story, If It Bleeds, brings up Holly Gibney, just out of the Trilogy of Mr. Mercedes and other finders and keepers. She is confronted with a non-human — it is insinuated it must be an insect or a bug — entity more than a being of some human sort who feeds on the suffering of other people. We have already seen that. Such a being is called an Outsider. He is a changeling, one of those beings so famous in the TV series Supernatural. But here no Winchester brothers. Only Holly Gibney and two of her black and young friends, the Robinson brother and sister. But Holly Gibney doesn’t seem to realize that we all are decorations in the setting of this life in which we do not play a role but just witness the game we are forced to play at the end of the strings and rods that agitate our puppet body. The story is gross in many ways, but the suspense works well because at every bend in the tale there is some non-predicted and unpredictable twist in the fabric that surprises us or hurts our feelings. Stephen King is still able to twist our backbone with some giant pliers that hurt like hell, but gosh how good it is when it is finished, when it stops. And a retrospective look tells us we have not missed one pang in the emotional empathy and inebriating vertigo of horror suspense. And the end is what he, Stephen King, suggested in a video in the 1980s about how to make people lose their wits with an old woman in a wheelchair entering a lift and this lift falls right down to the basement, starting its fatal trip, well fatal for the old woman in her wheelchair, imagine how wasteful it is to have a wheelchair destroyed in such an inconsiderate way, starting its fatal trip, I was saying, on the 175th floor of the Empire State Building. Guess who is coming to dinner tonight. A smashed Outsider in an elevator car that definitely looks like a cartridge, Gadoosh Bang, right in-between the two eyes.
The fourth story, Rat, is superb. The story of a writer who wants to write a novel, though he has only published short stories and seems to have failed already three times in his attempts to write novels. After a while, he runs bang into a wall of words, and he loses his ability to find the proper easy-flowing words the story requires. Frustrating. He thought at first that by isolating himself in the fall in upstate deep forests in Maine he could do it. But he was not exactly prepared for the season, the weather, the cold, a storm, and many other things indeed. Including his panicking wife who had stayed behind in the big city with the kids, the only item of normalcy — according to the standard American image — since it is a father, a mother and two kids, a boy and a girl. And of course, all that leads to complete failure when a miracle happens. In the distorted mind of the author who is short and disconnected in front of his word traffic, a rat appears and provides him with a deal, though there is no real choice: the author barters the novel against one life, which will be two in the end. Disgusting indeed. Imagine how many people Stephen King must have killed in order to write all the novels he has written. If that is his secret, it is worth a good firing squad. So, in one word or so, writing novels is easy. Just kill your mother-in-law, or the plumber working in your kitchen.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU