King Retains His Crown

Just After Sunset is Stephen King’s first collection of short stories in 6 years. He writes in his introduction that he was afraid he’d forgotten how to do it; that writing short stories isn’t like riding a bike, you can forget how.

Well, he had nothing to be afraid of, I’m glad to say. Comprised of 13 stories, JAS, shows King at the top of his game. Opening with Willa, the first of the stories, he’d written, we’re introduced to a group of strangers waiting at an abandoned train depot. And if you think you can guess where this story is head, you’re probably right. In the right hands, every cliche’d plot can seem fresh; every revelation, becomes new. And Willa is a fine example of this. The stories that follow run the gamut, from the Lovecraftian overtones of N, to the psycho killer in The Gingerbread Girl, and finally to the closing story and its port o potty, A Very Tight Place.

Many of the stories would be right at home in Skeleton Crew, NIghtmares and Dreamscapes, and even his first collection, NIght Shift. There’s a timelessness to his stories, something that at times is missing from his novels. Maybe their brevity keeps a lot of his pop culture references at bay, which adds to that quality. Rereading a lot of his earlier, it seems dated (even my favorite novel The Dead Zone seems like a nugget out of time), but the short stories…the stories never feel that way.

And that I think, is his true gift. King has created some real people, in horrifying, and at times absurd, situations, but you always believe. In spite of some missteps with his recent novels (Lisey’s Story and The Cell come to mind), this collection is a winner and represents some of King’s best writing.

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