Review – Just After Sunset by Stephen King

Stephen King -- who has written more than fifty books, dozens of number one New York Times bestsellers, and many unforgettable movies -- delivers an astonishing collection of short stories, his first since Everything's Eventual six years ago. As guest editor of the bestselling Best American Short Stories 2007, King spent over a year reading hundreds of stories. His renewed passion for the form is evident on every page of Just After Sunset. The stories in this collection have appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, Esquire, and other publications.  Just After Sunset -- call it dusk, call it twilight, it's a time when human intercourse takes on an unnatural cast, when nothing is quite as it appears, when the imagination begins to reach for shadows as they dissipate to darkness and living daylight can be scared right out of you. It's the perfect time for Stephen King.

The Stories (some may contain spoilers)

Originally published in the December 2006 issue of Playboy
A man finds himself stranded at a train stop,along with many other travellers. He goes looking for his missing fiancé, only to discover that things aren’t quite what they seem.
My Thoughts - This story was okay and could quite possibly have been creepy, but this plot’s been used by many authors and screenwriters too often before for the climax to hold any ooompph.

The Gingerbread Girl
Originally published in the  July 2007 issue of Esquire
A takes up running to deal with her crumbling marriage and the sudden death of her baby girl. She then runs away to stay on a secluded island, where she runs obsessively every day. During the off-season she finds herself trapped on the island with a madman, who she must run from.
My Thoughts - I just couldn’t get into this story, I didn’t like the main character at all, she wanted so badly to escape her problems and that’s not my style at all – honestly I would of been happy to see the killer get her.

Harvey’s Dream
Originally published in the June 2003 issue of The New Yorker
Harvey wakes up one morning and tells his wife of a disturbing dream he’s had. But the dream turns out to be more than a passing nightmare and reality begins echoing his dream.
My Thoughts – This idea of dreams coming true as you relate them to someone is fascinating, but again it’s an old idea and this story didn’t bring anything fresh to the table.

Rest Stop
Originally published in the December 2003 issue of Esquire
A writer driving along a highway stops at a rest stop for a quick pee, but walks in on a couple fighting, whereupon he decides to take on the tough guy personality of one of his characters.
My Thoughts – Reminded me of The Dark Half. Not much happening here though, seemed like more of a rough draft of a possible story.

Stationary Bike
Originally published in the Borderlands 5 anthology (2003)
After finding out that his cholesterol is way too high, a painter decides to exercise and eat healthy. To motivate himself he puts one of his paintings of a road on the wall in front of his stationary bike. He then finds himself transported into the painting, where he encounters a road crew who are not needed anymore because the road is in such amazing shape.
My Thoughts – This one didn’t do anything for me. A very bizarre and totally senseless exercise in fantasy and metaphor.

Graduation Afternoon
Originally published in the March 2007 issue of Postscripts
A not so well-off girl dates a rich boy, his family doesn’t approve. The relationship is doomed, but it ends differently than she thought it would.
My Thoughts – What the hell was that? A climax that tried to be shocking, but flopped like a dying fish.

The Things They Left Behind
Originally published in the Transgressions anthology (2005)
A man who survived 9/11 by not going to work that day lives with guilt. One day he discovers random items in his apartment that end up belonging to his dead co-workers. But he cannot just throw them away because they magically reappear. He also can’t ignore them because they talk to him constantly telling him horrific things about how their owners died.
My Thoughts – I liked this story, it had a great premise. But, and I’m being nit-picky here, I really don’t like the 9/11 connection here. I’m used to King making everyday things terrifying, nothing about that event in history needed to be made more horrific.

A woman’s brother who is a psychiatrist committed suicide after treating a patient know only as N. She has contacted a childhood friend of theirs with a story and N.s case file, which describes N.s obsessive-compulsive disorder and his infatuation with a circle of stones he believes is keeping evil monsters away. Apparently the psychiatrist developed the same OCD and infatuation after N.s death.
My Thoughts – Pretty cool story, even better if you watch the DVD of the online video. The ending was completely obvious, but the serialized videos were a neat twist.

The Cat from Hell
Originally published in the June 1977 issue of Cavalier
This is the story of a professional hitman who takes a job that instructs him to kill a cat. Even though he learns that the cat has been involved in many other deaths, he still believes this will be an easy hit.
My Thoughts – Pick up a copy of the DVD Tales From The Darkside. This story was made into a segment on this anthology style DVD. It’s hilarious and there’s a totally gruesome scene at the end.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates
Originally published in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
A newly widowed woman is in her bedroom dressing for her husband’s funeral, and avoiding family, when the phone rings. She picks up to hear her husband on the line, but his cell phone battery is dying.
My Thoughts – This was one of my favourites from the collection. The feelings of loss and possibility come through wonderfully here.

Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Playboy
A travelling salesman has recently discovered that his wife not only cheated on him, but also embezzled more than 100,000 dollars and spent it on underwear and lottery tickets. While on the road he picks up a hitchhiker who is a deaf-mute. Figuring he may as well tell his story to someone, even if they can’t hear, he recounts the whole pathetic tale. After his story’s been told his mute rider disappears during a stop, taking a St. Christopher chain from the rear-view mirror. A few days later the man gets word that his wife and her lover have been murdered. Upon his return home he finds his St. Christopher chain on his dresser with a note – Thanks for the ride.
My Thoughts – Another story I really enjoyed. The main plot with the mute was predictable, but the main enjoyment came from hearing the salesman’s story as it is told to both the mute and a priest. I got a kick out of hearing about the wife’s hidden underwear stash.

Originally published in the Fall 2007 issue of The Paris Review
A son is waiting in his dying father’s sickroom when a little girl arrives escorted by an older woman who encourages her to go to the father’s bedside. She touches the dying man and then leaves, but not before placing a kiss on the son’s face. Moments later the man recovers consciousness and over time recovers his health, going on to live a healthy life. Years later, the son is approached by a stranger who takes him to visit a little boy in a hospital who is very sick.
My Thoughts – Not a bad premise, but again it felt like a sketch of a story.

A Very Tight Place
Originally published in the May 2008 issue of McSweeney's
Two constantly battling neighbours are in legal fight over a peice of land the lies between their properties. One man believes the other is a witch who has cursed him. But after setting up an electric fence that kills the others dog, he requests that they meet at an abandoned building site to put the past behind them. But he has tricked the other and forces him at gunpoint into a port-a-potty, which hasn’t been emptied in quite some time. He then leaves the man locked inside the precariously tipped port-a-potty to die.
My Thoughts – Probably the scariest story to be found in the collection, and the most horrifying thing was the lengthy descriptions of poop!

My Final Thoughts
Being one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers, I was nearly out of my mind with joy to hear that he had a new collection of stories coming out. I’ve never been truly disappointed by anything he’s written (well maybe the ending of Cell pissed me off a bit) but halfway through Just After Sunset I felt like throwing this book out in a snow pile. I’ve seen many fantastic reviews of this and many people have said it’s vintage King. But if that’s the case I think I better give his early books a re-read. I found most of these stories felt old, and tired. The themes seemed recycled and the characters were empty. Writing about these stories makes me sad, as I said before, never has a King story made me unhappy. If I were to take a guess I would say that these stories started out as scribbled drafts for possible books, but then were left behind and forgotten. I’m not saying the stories didn’t contain any valuable points, however for me, a reader whose read everything written by King, these were better left unread. I think I may have to go re-read an old favourite (Salem’s Lot, or perhaps The Shining) to wipe this bad taste from my mind.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review - I'm not a fan of scary stories, so I knew this one wasn't for me from the start.

naida said...

Great review, some of the stories sound good, some not. Sorry you were dissapointed with this one.

I agree, the ending of Cell was awful.
I asked hubby to get me this one for Christmas. I'll see how I'll like it.

Luanne said...

I've got this one on my desk at work, reading it in 15 minute stints. I do agree - some of it just seems tired, done before.

My absolute favourite King of all times is The Stand.

Trish said...

50 books!! I haven't read any of them. :P Actually, I think I started to read one a long time ago (maybe Misery), but got scared. Now that I'm older, maybe I'll give him another go.

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of Stephen King. I read Lisey's Story and then... i would never pick Stephen's book by myself :)

Lightheaded said...

I think I should start reading the short stories of Stephen King. They sound good even if as far as short stories go, some are bound to disappoint.

I don't remember reading one before though I know that the film Shawshank Redemption was based on one of his short stories.

Hopefully I can get to the much older collection of short stories before this one though :) I'm an Unconstant Reader at most. And I've yet to read the final installment of The Dark Tower series :)

Jeane said...

That stationary bike one sounds really weird.

chartroose said...

I've been saying for years that the dude has lost it and should retire while he's still popular. "Duma Key" was okay, but it wasn't even close to old school King.

Oh, and I loved this: "I would have been happy to see the killer get her..." I don't know how many times I've read something that's so dreadful that I've wished that the main characters would die just to add some oomph to the story!

Ladytink_534 said...

I've seen similar opinions as yours so although I usually love his short stories I'm not going to read this :(

Dar said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy this one so much. I've not read it yet. Really, I much prefer his older stuff.

Anonymous said...

I've backed off SK for the time being. CELL bothers me still today. I know how stupid that sounds, but somethings I have a hard time getting over. Any idea when Joe Hill will be putting out another one?

P.S. Slowly getting caught up on my Google!

Maree said...

I'm thinking of re-reading one of his other collections ... sigh ...

Mo said...

I just finished this last week, and I did notice that I didn't finish it as fast as I usually do for King books. It took me six days (I usually read a book every 1-2 days). The ones I enjoyed were A Very Tight Place, The Cat From Hell, and The Gingerbread Girl. I don't think I considered whether or not I liked her, just that watching her struggle to survive and get free was good. I watched Tales From the Darkside this last weekend, and laughed so hard when I watched The Cat From Hell. It was different from the story (I would have liked to see it filmed the way the story ended) but the film was made 18? years ago.

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Anonymous said...

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