Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review of Graveyard Shift and Other Stories by Stephen King

It's probably quite fair to say that in the 70s, few if any people were thinking Stephen King would become a franchise, a thing unto itself in the publishing industry. I doubt there are many in not only the US but the globalized world who have not heard of the man. But with one of his first collections, Graveyard Shift and Other Stories, it's tough to tell.

The titular story kicks this short collection off. Classic (in my opinion completely vanilla) horror, “Graveyard Shift” tells of the crew and foreman working the night shift at an aging mill. Rats in the floorboards, all hell breaks loose when cleaning time comes and the men need to go below floor. King shows a little of the flair that would go on to make him literally a household name, nevertheless, this cannot stop the story from feeling like cheap television. Another cheap bit of content, “The Man Who Loved Flowers” at least does a good job of setting the reader up, then pulling the rug out from under their feet. For those who make it to the rug, gotcha! And that's it...

Perhaps the best written story in the collection from a pure technique standpoint, “The Last Rung on the Ladder” tells of a man recalling a day from his youth with his sister, a day that means everything to him hearing news about her as an adult. If this story had psychological depth, it could be a classic. As it stands, the end drama comes off as a mix of reality and hoaky parable. Perhaps the most poorly written story in the collection, “Night Surf” tries to combine comedy with post-apocalyptic beach horror. Some friends galavant on a beach, and oh yeah, there's a pandemic killing people, so they decide to toast a person inflicted, but the guy has bad memories of a clown at a town fair from his youth, and the girl by his side is coming on to him too hard, and... Yeah, a mess. Considering this version of the collection is the so-called tight, focused version, one has to wonder what the longer versions are like?

Closing things is the longest piece, “Jerusalem's Lot”, and is perhaps the best piece in the collection. Clearly a story in the vein of Lovecraft, if not in the mythos itself, it tells of a young man getting back to the roots of his family in an abandoned estate overlooking the ocean. Cults, rituals, and the supernaturally unexplainable escalated toward, what begins as quotidian (at least yesteryear normal) certainly does not end so. King showing his chops, style is appropriately altered to suit the scene, giving it the airs it needs to properly juxtapose the

In the end, I recognize the audio version is not the full version of the original collection. I recognize this is essentially King's debut collection. And I recognize that horror from the 70s is not the same beast (har har) as the genre is today—expectations, familiarity, reader savviness, etc. are all different. All this being said, the collection is middling to predictable. Horror fans undoubtedly will find a degree of nuance that I fail to appreciate, and I guess if you're into horror that's good. For my uncommitted soul, it's mostly vanilla. With the exception of “Jerusalem's Lot” and pieces of “The Last Rung on the Ladder”, it's difficult for me to praise the stories. King is a phenomenal writer in terms of technique, and if it weren't for that, the collection would be unreadable for me. I daresay, in fact, it's King's way with words which kept the pages turning, that is, rather than the rats, killers, alien diseases, and the like which appear on the surface. Take all that as you will...

The following are the six stories contained in the audio version of Graveyard Shift and Other Stories (a significantly reduced version of the original collection which contains roughly four times the number of total stories):

Graveyard Shift

The Last Rung on the Ladder

The Man Who Loved Flowers

Night Surf

Jerusalem's Lot

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