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.


38 comments:

  1. Not my kind of genre at all...but you have rounded off all the stories brilliantly. Great!

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    1. Thanks.. i doubt many in WT are fans of horror... but I havent read anything recently so had to go back in time to write about one..

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  2. Sounds a bit weird to me -- but that is Stephen King. But thanks for writing a great review which helps make the decision whether to get it or not.

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    1. Haha.. indeed it is Stephen King doing what he does best

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  3. Ooh, now you have me intrigued! And I thought that was King's job ;) Jokes aside, I love this genre and will try and pick it up soon. Thanks!

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    1. do get your hands on this if you enjoy horror... worthwhile read.

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  4. A very well written review. Something to learn from. Thanks Dr. I echo your thoughts that i am not a Stephen King fan but I have read a couple from the list. You are right, he makes you feel for the character.

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    1. in his longer novels, he tends to digress and go way off topic... in shorter stories, thats a lot less so it makes it more focused on the story.

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  5. Brilliant review... You got me hooked on this one :) I love his works.. They are fast paced and gripping

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    1. Please do find a copy... u will have a great time.

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  6. I read Stephen King for the first time last year for my book club and chose one of his book of short stories. I was disturbed by it most of the time but I guess that's the point of the book! I have bought The Shining and want to read it as I haven't watched the movie...

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    1. his newer short stories collections are less scary and more unsettling. The earlier works are more brilliantly executed to scare people or make them think...

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  7. I have read Carrie by Stephen King. It was a chilling horrifying and a gory and kept me glued to the book till the very end. I must definitely pick this one.

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    1. Carrie is what made him famous... his first book. Before that, he had to sell short stories in magazines for money.. Night Shift consists of these very same stories which made a name for him

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  8. A comprehensive review.

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  9. Lik you- not a big Stephen King fan, but this one woke my curiosity..What you say about him taking "normal stuff" and twisting them around... Hm -might have to check this one out:-)

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    1. thats his specialty... taking everyday things and adding a macabre twist to it...

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  10. I have of course heard of him and his genre. Very recently someone gifted me one of his books. I don't have the strength to pick up his books. *shudder* yes I am fainthearted :D

    Richa

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    1. haha... some of the earlier work could leave you creeped out. But his most recent work has tended to be more philosophical, I feel.

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  11. I too am not much of a King fan either. In fact the first book of his that I read was 'On writing'. I found that so mind blowingly amazing that I read Carrie and didn't mind it so much though the blood and gore was a bit of turn off and it was SUCH a sad story. I am tempted to try out this one though. You're right about his style of adding paranormal elements to everyday people. It does make it interesting.

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    1. Carrie is what finally put food on his table.. it made him a star. These stories were before that... sold to what I imagine was that time's version of Femina and Women's Era! :)

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  12. Stephen King.....probably one of the rare ones who can make the ordinary macabre! Thanks for reading and coming up with the great list of his novels here!

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    1. these are his short stories within the book actually :D but thats not a bad idea.. making a list of his best novels..

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  13. That's a really nice review you have up there! Commendable job! I'm not an ardent fan of Stephen King but I know what you mean when you talked about his "creatively wicked concept".

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    1. he has so many brilliant ideas running through his head... you cant help but appreciate the creativity

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  14. I have read Carrie and The Green Mile. I read half way through Insomonia. He drags that book so much! I want to know what happens it the end, but I am scared to pick it up again. Already added this to my wish list. :)

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    1. OH gOD... Dont continue. I was a child when I bought that book. It is so annoying and not worth it.. that and Rose Madder are some of the really annoying books of his where he just goes on and on.

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  15. I enjoy his books.. but haven't read too many since I don't prefer horror.
    This one seems very interesting! Will check it out! :)

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    1. its not so much a matter of being scary as it is about being unsettling. He makes you look at the toys in the room, the inanimate objects around u and wonder "what if they're possessed?" :)

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  16. I still remember reading Carrie, Cujo and pet semetary which was nerve wrecking - i kept looking at my cat in suspicion!.. I stopped reading his books after Insomnia ... uggg...I haven't read this one, but 'wiki-ed ' it after seeing your review.. maybe I ll try to find a copy online...

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    1. Hahaha.. Cujo and Pet Semetary really scarred many for life regarding love for pets :D
      So many of these words are used as "terms of expression" now - Carrie, Cujo, Pet Semetary, Misery, Children of the Corn...

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    2. children of the corn ....brrr... never found blonde blue eyed serious kids cute after that

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    3. haha.. exactly.. those kids were so creepy!

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  17. Read and enjoyed quite a few of his books. Guess, I need to visit him again, Roshan:)

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    1. basic rule is earlier books are creepy, present day books more philosophical

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  18. Loved reading this post on Stephen King coz I am a HUGE fan and I especially loved your point about how he uses many regular everyday themes and just turns it around by adding a paranormal or psychological element to them. And like you said, yes, he succeeds. He makes you think! You have nailed it!

    More book reviews on your blog pls, I demand:))

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    1. happy to see a female Indian SK fan :D Not many choose to read his book for the genre but he actually brings so much to the plate within his stories...

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So what do you think ?