Mar 5, 2014

Book Review : The Night Shift by Stephen King

At the outset, let me say I am not a big Stephen King fan. I’ve read a lot of his work and feel he often tends to really take a long time to tell a story (he himself refers to it as his “literary elephantiasis”). But having said that, I am a fan of the person as a human being and the creatively wicked concepts that have come through from that mind. This is a mind that has made horror stories like Carrie and Misery while also penning down such amazingly sensitive themes like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.

The anthology collection “Night Shift” is a perfect example of the early raw ability to keep his readers engaged. (Trivia: Most of the stories were first published in a men’s magazine at a time when he was still broke and trying to feed a family of four.)

I chose this book because it was one of the first anthologies I truly loved when I read it decades ago.
The young Stephen King was too obsessed with his narrative and storyline to fill it with large words and unnecessary commentary of the surroundings which could distract you… he wanted you to picture it in your head and didn’t want that mood to be spoiled by meandering along. 

As far as I know, 5 of these stories have been made into horror films over the years. Ones that I still recall include:

Jerusalem’s Lot -Told as a correspondence via letters and diary entries, this follows an ill-fated man and his servant as they take up residence in a house within the creepy town of Jersusalem’s Lot. As the days go by, more and more strange events occur and the two realise the true nature of the town and the secret within their own house. This story is quite creepy and in some ways is a prelude to the hit novel “Salem’s Lot”.

The Mangler – Do I have your attention if I tell you the prime suspect of a crime is a laundry machine? Laughter aside, it’s a very good example of how he views things differently.

The BoogeyMan – A man lies down on a couch and tearfully reveals the guilt he feels for the death of his young children at the hands of what he believes is the fabled boogeyman. What truly killed those children though? Tension builds up well in this story.

Battleground – A cocky hitman receives a parcel in the mail. It contains a bunch of war-themed toys. Unfortunately, they have a mind of their own too. A fan favourite, why things happen is not as important as who wins this battle within the confines of the room.

I am the Doorway – After coming back from space, an astronaut finds himself infected and slowly the beings within want to see the world through his eyes.

Sometimes They Come Back – A teacher , racked by guilt over the death of his brother decades ago, has to face his nightmare all over again when the supposedly dead killers of his brother start to reappear in his life. Again, why is not as important as how it will end.

Trucks – What happens if trucks get a life and decide they need us only as slaves? A role-reversal of the worst kind, this is like the evil version of the Transformers.

Strawberry Spring – A man relives his old days and tries to make sense of a series of murders that took place in the campus back when he was in college.  A very well written piece.

The Ledge – Caught cheating with a millionaire’s wife, a tennis instructor accepts a wager to walk a thin ledge across the 40th floor in exchange for sparing his life. Many movies have stolen this concept since.

Quitter’s Inc – When a friend suggests he take professional help to quit smoking and recommends a particular company, the protagonist has no inkling of what’s in store for him once he joins the program. Bollywood took this storyline and destroyed it. It works best as a short story.

Children of the Corn – When a couple traveling through Nebraska stop at a town for help, they find it mostly abandoned. The only ones around are a bunch of odd children. A hit movie too, the ‘Children of the Corn’ is now pretty much used as a saying to describe creepy silent kids.

The Man who Loved Flowers – Why? Why? Why, Stephen? Even a man who’s giddily in love and buying flowers for his beloved is not free from your evil thought processes.

If you see the list, you find many regular everyday themes. He takes things you and I see everyday ( people smoking , a fat guy drinking beer, farmyard children playing, a laundry machine, a bunch of toys, a class room, a rat problem, an illicit affair ) and just turns it around by adding a paranormal or psychological element to them. And he succeeds. He makes you think “Oh my God. What if it could really happen?” He makes you feel for the characters within the short confines of 5000 words.

That’s the sign of a talented writer for me. 

Author's note: This is my take for the prompt 'Book Review' in Write Tribe's Festival of Words 3.