Any Stephen King short short story compilation is going to be a mixed bag. He’s been doing it for a lot of years, and some of them were first issued in some sketchy publications. And like some of his novels, the choices aren’t as well edited as perhaps they should have been.
Still, they offer certain, um, charms to the aficionado of the spine-tingling or stomach-turning. In his later years he’s developed an unofficial status as a Giant Of American Letters, and whether that’s for quality or quantity you’ll have to decide for yourself. But there’s no question he’s got a knack for it. Did you know that a spilled carton of Chinese takeout could convincingly evoke gut-wrenching horror? Oh yes, it can.
The opener, “Willa,” is a nice ghost story told from the point of view of the ghosts. “The Gingerbread Girl” takes one woman’s personal horror as a starting point, and spins it out into an escape-from-the-bad-guy treatment with a nice ironic twist at the end. “Graduation Afternoon” is a succinct and well-drawn “slice of death,” in which characters are going through their usual activities when the worst thing imaginable happens.
“The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” is another ghost story, again with a decent enough twist to it.
The best are “The Things They Left Behind,” sort of a ghost story, but with a post-9/11 theme that resonates strongly. “N.” is a story so Lovecraftian (a monster called “Cthun” even) that in the author’s notes he doesn’t even bother to mention it. (Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing).
And to close out, “A Very Tight Place,” in which a feud between neighbors results in one being trapped inside a Port-A-Potty turned door side-down. If you think about it for a minute, there’s only one obvious way out.
So again, a mixed bag. I got mine from the library, and that’s good enough. It’s not a keeper, but it gives a few nice chills along the way.