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on August 17, 2001
Sometimes collections like this can be hard to judge. Most of the time the author will have ups and downs, with one story that may appeal to one audience and another which appeals to a different one. Different Seasons, however, manages to provide a good body of work that should appeal to just about everybody.
To be clear on the content of the book, this is actually two novellas and two short stories--both Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Breathing Method are both on par with such classics as "Bartleby the Scrivener." The format of the book is perhaps a little hokey--the stories follow the seasonal theme--but ultimately that artistic touch is irrelevant to the real appreciation of the book, at worst, and endearing, at best.
The stories themselves are excellent, a fact attested to by the production of three major films based on the first three of these pieces. The first presented is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and of them all, it's probably the best on the whole. The characters in the story are well written and, all things considered, it's really just a fine story with a positive message that you might not be used to seeing in Stephen King's writing. Second is Apt Pupil, which is more reminiscent of King's usual subject matter and tone, but still manages to provide an engrossing and interesting view into the nature of evil and the parasitic relationship that a man can develop with it. The Body is probably the most endearing of all the stories in the book, even if it is the roughest in terms of production. With a reflective, old-man-on-the-porch-in-the-sunshine voice, King is able to relate this tale of the loss of innocence and the passage into adulthood. The final tale is actually reminiscent of other, older authors than King. The Breathing Method uses several old tricks of such superluminaries as Melville and Hawthorne in its presentation, and manages to wrap an entertaining story around an allegorical examination of the writing process.
Taken as a whole, this collection is truly one of the most excellent efforts that King has ever put forth. While he still does tend to bloat a little (a complaint many have about his novels) in the middle two stories, all of them manage to create an atmosphere wholly their own and to take the mind of a reader away to another place, which, as King says in the afterword, is his first and highest goal. While little new ground is broken in the themes King analyzes, the themes themselves all still bear examination. His storytelling is at its height here, and this is a book that all readers should pick up at one point or another. It may not be horror, but that, in this case, cannot be said to be a failing, as King showcases his cross-genre talent. A truly fantastic book.
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on February 20, 2000
Different Seasons was the first Stephen King book I have ever read. I chose to read it after watching the movie "The Shawshank Redemption", which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was interested in reading the story on which the movie is based, so I soon found that "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" was one of King's novellas in Different Seasons.
One of the ways I determine whether or not I like a book is if I become involved in the story; not as a reader, but as a character. If I can envision the actual events and feel that I am watching the story unfold, then the story is worthwhile and a pleasure to read. I felt this way while I was reading Different Seasons.
The first of the four novellas, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", was interesting to read. It was somewhat unfortunate that I had seen the movie beforehand because I found myself making many comparisons and contrasts. Nevertheless, I came to enjoy the story of Andy, Red, and prison life in Shawshank.
The story "Apt Pupil" was the basis for a recent movie of the same title in 1998. I have not seen the movie -- yet. I found this story to be the most captivating of the four; it left my eyes riveted to the page and I almost finished it in one sitting. The story of a young boy who becomes obsessed with a Nazi was well-written and intriguing how King built up to the final climax. By far, "Apt Pupil" was the best story in the book.
Next comes the story "The Body", which served as the basis for the eighties movie "Stand By Me" (I have not seen this movie either). The story of boys on a quest to find the dead body of another teenage boy was quite interesting, but seemed to drag on and became boring at some places in the middle of the story. I expected, based upon the other stories in the book, to be met with a climax in the end, but was disappointed. If you enjoy reading stories about life and the pros and cons of growing up, then "The Body" is a good read. If you expect a climax or unending suspense like myself, then this story does not make the cut.
Lastly, there is "The Breathing Method", the story of a young pregnant woman who learns the Lamaze breathing method from her doctor. This is a story within a story, however, since the story is told to members of an obscure club to which the narrator belongs. This story did not disappoint me, however, since "The Breathing Method" ended with an awe-inspiring climax that was well-written by King. Although it was the shortest story of the four, it is still a good novella. By the way, "The Breathing Method" is the only story of the four that has not been made into a movie -- yet.
To conclude, I enjoyed Different Seasons and recommend it to anyone who is willing to let his/her imagination wander into the realm of fiction. If you dislike King's horror stories, I recommend this book as an alternative to his more gruesome books, since there is only a little bit of horror to spur the mind. Overall, these four novellas are worthwhile reading for all seasons of the year. Enjoy.
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on September 22, 2000
This book was very dark and frightening. This haunting novella, about a young boy's strange and perverse "relationship" with a fugitive Nazi, is quite thought provoking. King gets into the psyche of a serial killer, whether he is a Nazi or the salutorian of his high school class.
The former SS man and butcher of 800,000 now lives as a "kindly old man", hiding his identity from the world and charming the pants off of his "pupil's" naive parents. The "pupil", Todd Bowden (or the "boy", as Kurt never refers to him by name), is a bright and seemingly normal young teenager. Kurt brings out a dormant evil in Todd that he feeds with his nightmare stories of the concentration camps.
Kurt and Todd share a common bond and even though they have nothing outwardly in common. These commonalities are more telling than the exteriors they represent. They are both masters of deception and lies. They share a sick need to torture and hurt people and animals. Most of all, they lack a conscience and have no love or empathy for their fellow human being. Todd thinks of killing his loving parents and torturing young girls. He gets his kicks on murdering homeless drunks, as does the old man he emmulates. He hates this old man because he sees too much of himself in that rotting diseased old package, but he has a need, an addiction almost, to visit him and experience the tales of the massive slaughter. Separated by 65 years and countries halfway across the globe, the similarities between these two individuals exist nonetheless. The old man recognizes it and enjoys the company of one so much like himself.
King points out that in the deep dark places of the mind, there is sometimes an inward need to experience the macabre and horrific. Edgar Allen Poe couldn't have done a better job at translating this need! King is brilliant! It is interesting to note that Todd's character has a striking resemblence to that of Cathy in John Steinbeck's masterpiece, "East of Eden". Both were handsome young people who's looks and art of deception both disguise a genetic flaw; an utter lack of conscience. They both charm and delight those naive around them, while thinking up how to destroy those that love them or get in their way. If you enjoyed "Apt Pupil", I highly recommend "East of Eden".
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on August 21, 2002
This 1982 collection of three superb novellas and one also-ran is a valuable addition to your book collection. Insert Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" into the CD, settle in your favorite chair, and get ready to enjoy.
"Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" I am one of the few people I know that has not seen everyone's favorite movie, "The Shawshank Redemption." Yes, I do live on this planet, but I stubbornly avoid prison movies. After reading this life and hope-affirming story, I will have to break my rule and give Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman a chance to wend their magic. Wily old Red, a lifer who has seen it all, tells the story of Andy Dufresne, an innocent man who is sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. Andy gradually wins the respect and finally awestruck admiration from the cynical Red by his patience, determination and understated kindness and true sense of self. As I approached the end of this story, I could think of at least six awful ways clever and manipulative King could end the story. I caught myself saying "not this time--please!" knowing that I was firmly caught in any web King cared to devise.
"The Apt Pupil" I will state at the outset, was my favorite. Mysteries and thrillers are my preferred form of escapism; "The Apt Pupil" is a psychological thriller at its finest. Todd is frighteningly enough, every parent's dream child. Modest, polite, handsome, gifted student and athlete with a winning grin that melts teachers and friends alike. At 13, he has the world in front of him. He also has a peculiar interest in what went on in concentration camps in WWII. By sheer chance he discovers a neighboring old man, Mr. Henker aka Dussander is in fact one of the most brutal Nazi war criminals and who has been living under an alias for all these years. Rather than being shocked, Todd wants to hear all about it. Dussander does all he can to drive the boy away, but finally gives in from the very justified fear that Todd will turn him in. Thus begins a descent to the depths with Dussander's depravity reawakening and Todd's symbiotic parasitism of Dussander's soul. The novel is so well done, it gives you a series of small shocks until you are so weakened, the huge momentum of last big horror about does you in. What is interesting is you can't decide who is the more depraved, Dussander or the boy. Brilliantly conceived and executed.
"The Body" made into that sleeper hit, "Stand By Me," is a coming of age story of one Labor Day weekend in the lives of four 12-year old boys. I suspect King is so excellent at this type of story is because there is still a great deal of the 12-year old boy remaining in him. That is my one criticism of this tale; King, the grown up narrator, interferes too much. A corpse of a 12-year old boy has been discovered and abandoned by the "big" boys of Castle Rock who fear they will get in trouble. The four youngsters decide they will "discover" the corpse themselves and become famous heroes in the local TV and newspaper. The boys are not morbid, and it is clear they see this as an adventure, camping out in the woods, hiking, and then their just rewards. The body is just incidental or a means to an end. A breathtaking example of King's lyric abilities is when he describes a wild scream heard by the boys in woods at night:
"The scream climbed with a crazy ease through octave after octave, finally reaching a glassy, freezing edge. It hung there for a moment and then whirled back down again, disappearing into an impossible bass register that buzzed like a monstrous honeybee. This was followed by a burst of what sounded like mad laughter ...and then there was silence again."
"The Breathing Method" I noticed was dedicated to Peter Straub and his wife Susan. Alas, I am afraid that is what "The Breathing Method" is. Bad Peter Straub. Old men gathering in a strange club telling chilling tales to one another. The title tale was almost comic in its horror, the type that makes me want to go, "Oh puh-leez."
This is a 5-star book with one not so good story (and many people liked it). By all means, get the book, read it and then rewatch the DVDs.
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For all those who doubt the fact that Stephen King is one of the all-time great masters at the craft of writing, there is Different Seasons. If nothing else, the doubters should at least acknowledge King's important contribution to reviving the lost art of the novella. King has always said he would write, whether he ever sold a single book - and I think that is completely true. He didn't write these four novellas with publication in mind; each one was written immediately after the completion of a best-selling novel - and each one just sort of sat there after it was finished. What, after all, can a modern author really do with manuscripts too long to be short stories and too short to be novels? Eventually, the idea came to King to just publish them together, with a title that speaks to the fact that these are not the author's usual blood-dripping, creepy-crawling horror stories. In doing so, he not only gave us four of his most captivating works of fiction, he showed a whole new generation of readers the vast, inherent power of the novella.

Three of these four novellas are even better-known than many of King's best-selling novels - due in no small part to the movie adaptations that followed in their wake. It all started with the film Stand By Me - which was not marketed as an adaptation of a Stephen King work of fiction. This was a smart move, considering some of the weak adaptations of earlier King novels. I can only guess how many impressed moviegoers were shocked to learn that Stand By Me was adapted from King's novella The Body. It's a story of four boys who set off to see a dead body, that of another kid hit by a train; their adventure makes for an extraordinary coming-of-age story. It is, in fact, a story about childhood, founded upon a mysterious event in King's own early days (he supposedly saw a friend hit by a train when he was four years old - but there has always been some question as to whether or not this is true); The Body feels autobiographical, and it truly does recapture the essence of childhood and the maturing process into adolescence. I like to think of The Body as a fantastic warm-up to King's later novel It, which captures the essence of childhood almost perfectly.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption gave birth to Shawshank Redemption, the most critically acclaimed and popular of all King movie adaptations. I think the movie is even better than the novella (largely due to Morgan Freeman), but everything that shines in the movie is here in the novella. An innocent man, convicted of killing his wife and her lover, gives new meaning to the term patient resolve - and has a profound effect on some of his fellow prisoners. I think it's the ultimate prison story, as it shows us the good and the bad of prison life and imbues its characters with a humanity rarely seen in prison-based stories. It's just a stellar piece of writing.

Apt Pupil is my favorite, though, and it finally, after years of fits and starts and rumors, was made into a film in 1998. The movie did make some changes to the original storyline, but it was a vastly underrated film that truly embodied the spirit of King's original novella. The most horrible things can oftentimes be the most fascinating. I know I've always been fascinated by everything that took place in the Third Reich. The teenager in the story, though, is obsessed with those atrocities, and that obsession turns into something increasingly disquieting and dangerous when he discovers a former Nazi living under another name in his neighborhood and blackmails him into telling him all the "gooshy" details of his part in the Holocaust. Apt Pupil is one of the most impressive psychological studies of evil I've ever read.

The Breathing Method sort of gets lost in the shuffle. It's shorter than the other novellas and has never been adapted for film. I really like this story, though. It has a classic fireside story feel to it, hearkening back to the likes of Poe, with its mysterious gentlemen's "club" and emphasis on story-telling. The particular story we are privileged to hear about is in some ways rather ridiculous and certainly quite melodramatic - yet it works extremely well. The novella was dedicated to Peter and Susan Straub, and I think it shows the obvious influence of horror maestro Straub from top to bottom (which, to my mind, is a good thing).

The Breathing Method supplies the theme that serves as a sort of mantra for the entire collection: It is the tale, not he who tells it. The story is everything, and the author is sort of a literary midwife who helps the birthing process along. I heartily believe that many a King critic would fawn over Different Seasons if they read it without knowing who wrote it. This book is a perfect introduction for those yet to experience King for themselves - these are, for the most part, mainstream works of fiction that reveal a master storyteller at work.
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Until I started reading King myself, I had always thought of him as a horror writer. The first book I read by King was IT. After reading that, I realized that he wasn't just a horror writer, but was a good writer who happened to write supernatural tales. Then I read DIFFERENT SEASONS and I realized that King wasn't just a good writer, but is one of America's greatest living authors. King doesn't write to impress the acadmia of America. Instead he writes to tell a story. However, like all great writers, he manages to tell his story, yet subtlely examines social issues all while exploring the different sides of human nature and without distracting from the story.
I consider DIFFERENT SEASONS to be some of King's best work. Four novellas are contained within this book, each one examining a different season of the year and a different view of human nature: from the uplifting RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION to the terrifying APT PUPIL to the loss of innocence in THE BODY to the winter's tale of THE BREATHING METHOD. Each story offers a unique perspective at the nature of humanity. My favorite story in the collection is Shawshank and my least favorite is Apt Pupil. Many people do not like The Breathing Method, but that has to do more with the style than the story (out of the four tales it is the one that would be most difficult to turn into a film) and it is the only one with any supernatural undertones. Like all of King's writings, this was a fast read and quite entertaing. However, it is also the most enjoyable King work and one of his most thought-provoking. It's not just a "good thing", it's one of the best of things.
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on September 26, 2001
I've said it before and I'll say it again: even without using any supernatural elements in his stories, Stephen King is a brilliant author. The strength of his storytelling is in his characters and the first three stories in this book make that very apparent.
I've seen the movie SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION a couple of times, so I knew the ending. Nevertheless, I found this novella to be engrossing. The first person narration gives the story a personal feel, even if the narrator isn't who the story is really about. Using this technique, the reader doesn't really get into the head of the main character, but that makes the story all the more intriguing since we don't know what he's planning or thinking or even what his true motivations are.
APT PUPIL (I haven't seen this film) was scary because it was so realistic. We see the characters going from a respectable student and a quiet old man to two people giving in to their base desires. While one of them welcomes this as a return to things familiar, we see the other one struggle against them, knowing that they are wrong, but not being able to do anything about it. This is a truly horrific story, but it contains none of King's usual supernatural elements.
The third story, THE BODY, is the best in the book. I've only seen the first twenty minutes or so of STAND BY ME (which is based on this story), so I didn't really know what to expect. Some of King's best work comes when he is telling coming of age stories of teens or pre-teens. IT and CHRISTINE were brilliant and I now have to put this story in that category. No true horror here, just a story about four ordinary friends in middle America spending the last weekend of the summer together. This is King's trademark brilliant character interaction and development. The story itself isn't all that exciting, but watching these boys together makes the story a very enjoyable read.
Finally, we have THE BREATHING METHOD. While not as engrossing as the other stories, it does get back to King's supernatural twist at the end. I enjoyed reading it, but it just didn't grab me the way the others in this book did. I'm not sure I can really pinpoint why because the characters were just as developed.
Anyway, if you're a King fan, you'll definitely enjoy these stories. If you haven't read King before, don't read these expecting to be surrounded by the macabre. These truly show off King's strengths as a storyteller by stripping away all the horror and supernatural elements. He's probably one of the best writers in America today and these stories prove it.
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on January 20, 2002
"Different Seasons" is a collection of four mainstream novellas written between 1975 and 1982. As the author admits, after a huge novel he felt a need to write a small-form novella, which nevertheless might be considered a novel at a stretch of imagination. King repeated the experiment 8 years later, publishing another collection also consisting of four novellas, a collection handsomely entitled "Four Past Midnight". Both volumes are proof that King feels right at home with about any literary form, including novellas. That's a rare phenomenon among the writers, which only contributes to the overall high opinion of Steve King as an omnipotent author. All four novellas included here are uniformly strong; some claim that this volume represents about the best that King can master. Whereas one might argue as to whether this is the number one book among those written by this prolific author, one can't really deny that "Different Seasons" may be placed somewhere at the very top of his abilities.
The first novella, 'Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption' has been hailed as a stunning literary achievement of Stephen King. Indeed it is, for we may say that it was the first work of that author that finally showed that he was capable of writing a good story in virtually any genre. More than that, as he steadily wrote and published the novels, we learned that his works are in fact genreless, that most of them are universal and timeless, since they carry messages that appeal to all generations, and will continue to do so in a hundred years as well. Moreover, over the years King became the author who most contributed to the Americana thread in the literature of the XX century. His portrayals of the society, especially the small-town, close-knit neighborhoods, is yet to be matched by anyone. The main strength of his works is the actual story, whatever it is about. In 'Shawshank Redemption', King portrays the wasted life of a businessman who had been unjustly sentenced for life on account of his assumed guilt in the slaughter of his wife and her lover. I have never read as good an account of life in prison, and one cannot overestimate the burden that the awareness of the whole life to be spent in a box has on the inmates. First, one hopes, then one protests, then one fights with the grim reality and slowly gets adjusted to the ordered life in prison. Then one becomes an institutional man. No one hopes for too long. Only one man hoped all the time. The banker. As you will see, the novella is an apotheosis of the spirit. Hope springs eternal.
The second novella, 'Apt Pupil', was adapted to silver screen a few years ago, just like 'Shawshank' was, but for those of us who read the book, it was a bitter disappointment. Almost identical, it completely changes the ending, adding a soppy happy end to provide a false feeling of "redeeming quality" for those who can't cope with reality and need artificial sugar no matter what. King wrote a story about a young man who becomes slowly fascinated with an old national socialist, a German commander of the concentration camp whose identity the boy discovers by accident. King hypethesizes on the effect that brutality and real horror might have on a young personality. The conclusion King draws is a clear one. The young admirer becomes the one he admired. The novella ends in a bloodshed, and what we get with the movie adaptation is a silly teenagerish story. The moral messages of King were trivialized, trotted over, ignored. That's unforgivable. If you haven't seen the movie and haven't read the novella, I strongly advise that you buy the book and pass on the adaptation.
We are then treated to the longest, third novella in the collection, 'The Body'. A prelude to a work much larger in both scope and size, It, which King wrote between 1981 and 1985, The Body is a story of friendship between a bunch of schoolboys. It's a story of preadolescent boys whose lives are transformed by a supposedly minor event. The world looks much different when you are a young lad, and there is nothing that beats discovering the world's mysteries with best friends. This world undergoes a major change and the point of this long story is to emphasize that at that moment of change, it's important to catch the moment, realize what is just going to happen, come to temrs with it, yes, but also preserve what is of value in the outlook on the world we are about to lose forever. The bottom line is that with the perspective of dull, unimaginative life of an adult, we should try to preserve the appreciation for fantasy we used to have, the belief that everything can happen, that cheerful naivete of young days.
The book ends with 'The Breathing Method', is a haunting old-fashioned tale in a tale. Elderly ladies and gentlemen meet regularly in a club, where each time a different life story is told. The main tale seems to have much in common with the classic occult story, "The Omen", and the determinacy of events. The point made is that some events are not to be changed, we can't escape our fate. 'The Breathing Method' is very old-style and those of you who are fond of XIX century mysteries, will appreciate it even more than I did, and I admit I felt completely captivated.
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on October 24, 2011
Whenever I think about how mean people (and how inaccurate their assessments are) can be I think about how that over-inflated ego called Harold Bloom said that King wrote nothing but "penny dreadfuls", then said that was too charitable. Somehow this cheers me up about life, however, because it just goes to show that everyone has to suffer through other people's nasty comments in life. Because King does deserve to be the phenomenal success that he is, and the more I read the more clear it is that he is the quintessential voice of our times--someone with clear morality and a lucid assessment of the world around him.

And it's all told through these remarkably perceptive, frightening stories--in these stories nothing supernatural happens, and yet they are so poignant and full of adept observations about life and people. The Shawshank Redemption is probably one of the best stories ever told about human dignity and hope through terrible circumstances, and very understated. Apt Pupil--I like this story because it reveals what I've always considered to be the quite obvious nature of those who are obsessed with Nazis (allegedly from a historical standpoint), which is that there is a fine line between fascination and adulation, and ultimately emulation. People claiming to be horrified by the atrocious crimes of the Nazis who are yet unable to turn away from shows about them or who are openly attracted to their paraphernalia. And I love that King shows the way that there is not that much difference between what America claims to abhor about the Nazis and unthinking, violent nationalism anywhere (which we tend to praise if on the side of the victors).
"The Body" is so beautiful and painful to read I was really shocked and moved that it was so effective. It touches on these eternal truths about that time in childhood, the passionate love we have for our friends, being on the edge of young adulthood but still very much children. How deeply we feel everything--and how funny our friends could be. I laughed out loud at some of the points here. Probably one of the most brilliant short stories ever. "The Breathing Method" was terrifying but also exhilarating in a way. Absolutely wonderful stories, and a hundred years from now King's stories will be unquestioned additions to the cannon of late twentieth and early twenty first century literature.
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on May 8, 1999
I read "Different Seasons" in the early 80's, after I became totally taken, not by the nature, but by the style of "The Shining" (the way the story was told and the way I got engulfed on the thoughts and on the basic nature of its characters.) Unlike "The Shinning", the stories of "Different Seasons" became a total reading experience -same writer, different themes-. In "The Body", Stephen King masterfully explores the romanticism and nostalgia of childhood discoveries among the most unlikely friends. "Apt Pupil", on the other hand, focuses on the unexpected sources of potencial evil, an exchange that goes beyond age and culture. Hope is ,at the end, the predominant theme in both "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" and "The Breathing Method". Without missing the expected gory and violent scenes(especially in "Apt Pupil") this compilation of novellas was then -in the early 80's-, and still is my favorite Stephen King publication!
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