Want a book that’s equivalent to an ooey-gooey-chocolate-marshmallowy dessert? One that’s both, oh, sooo bad and oh, sooo good? Check this book out!
In his latest novel, If It Bleeds, Stephen King has granted us four novelettes in one book. In doing so, I feel guilty about having fun during a pandemic. True to his majesty’s innate and fine-tuned ability, King has written four complete stories dripping with universal themes, fright, and insight to every one of us. Although the terror depicted is somewhat tame for Stephen King, his ability to create using both beauty and horror to represent the human condition is haunting.
Story 1: “Mr. Hannigan’s Phone” Craig is nine years old when he goes to work for the new transplant, eccentric billionaire, Mr. Hannigan. His job is to water Mr. Hannigan’s house plants and on afternoons, read aloud to the old man from any novel Hannigan chooses. Over the years, they develop a deep bond. So deep, it even reaches beyond the grave.
There are two themes I picked up on, each attached to either Mr. Hannigan or Craig. Theme one is the idea that we don’t own things, but that things own us. The more we gain, the more potential we have of being weighed down by things that don’t matter. The question is, what do we want to own? Electronics? Homes? Wealth? Or what about knowledge? Theme two is to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.
Story 2: “The Life of Chuck”
The Life of Chuck is a story about a character named Chuck and of his life, told in three parts, but reverse. I admit it was a bit confusing to me. Part 1, an apocalyptic tale, was breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly bleak. It made me wonder, what if the end of the world didn’t happen with a screaming kaboom, but more through a buildup of tiny fissures? Would I recognize it for what it was? Who would I want to be with at the very end?
Part 2 and 3 were tales about Chuck. Chuck, the man who’s picture and name, was merely a MacGuffin in Part 1, incited curiosity that seemed to drive the story but didn’t ever have real relevance to the plot. In my opinion, Stephen King could have cut out Parts 2 and 3, and his short story would have become an instant literary classic (who knows, it still might).
Story 3: If It Bleeds
If It Bleeds is a continuation of the super detective, Holly Gibney, and her ability to recognize otherworldly criminals when no one else can. I first became aware of Gibney from reading “The Outsider,” although she has appeared in several other books. However, I believe one doesn’t have to be familiar with Gibney’s quest to hunt down another murdering creature to appreciate the story’s intrigue.
Story 4: Rat
Rat feels like an old-timey Fairytale or parable. A teacher remembered for two things in recent memory–having an obsession with writing a novel and that the incompletion of said novel had nearly driven him over the brink. So, when one day he tells his wife he wants to a) write a book, and b) he wants to do it in total isolation in a cabin in Wyoming, of course, she’s worried about it, who wouldn’t be? Add to this a terrible snowstorm, zero cell phone or landline service, miles from town, and illness, what could be worse? A talking, magical rat? Maybe, you decide.
Overall, like all Stephen King’s books, If It Bleeds is an experience to have, not just during Halloween, or during COVID-19 isolation, but whenever one wants to take a journey without leaving the comforts of home.