First, I'm an avid Stephen King fan. I'm pretty sure I've read all of his books but I don't think I can say I've read every word he's written....but I have to be close. After reading Just After Sunset, I'm convinced that King's true talent lies in the short story/novella sphere. He is a master at developing stories and characters quickly and like a spider can spin his web with perfection. His novels, all of them, are worth reading. You won't be sorry having invested the time with any of them, but his true masterpieces are in his collections of short stories and novellas.
Just after Sunset is comprised of 13 stories, many published previously. For example, The Cat From Hell was originally published in 1977. King displayed, even then, his willingness to experiment with publishing. Originally, only the first 500 words of Cat From Hell were published in Cavalier. Readers were invited to finish the story and the completed work was published later the same year. The story has been published, revised, and then published again. The story was also used in Tales From the Darkside. Others, such as Willa are recent creations and are a treat for the mind.
"N" continues King's willingness to experiment in getting his stories out to the public in innovative ways. The short story "N" was the basis for the animated series of the same name.
Harvey's Dream, originally published in New Yorker in 2003, is a story of fathers, daughters, and dreams and is a read that will keep you interested throughout.
Of all the stories included in Just After Sunset, my favorite is Stationary Bike. Richard Sifkitz has a belated physical and learns that his cholesterol is extremely high; dangerously so. Like so many of his generation he decides to get a stationary bike to exercise and hopefully ride off his health problems. Unlike many of his contempories, however, Richard rides his workout machine. He rides and he rides and he rides. He decides to paint a mural in the room he rides in to give him something to look at while he's working out. As in all of King's work, the simple mural turns out to be unique and Richard's bike takes him on trips he really doesn't want to make. This is a riveting story and is worth the cost of the book by itself.
Other stories of note (my opinion only) are "The Things They Left Behind", "Graduation Afternoon", and "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates".
I especially appreciated the last section, Sunset Notes, comprising King's own thoughts about each of the stories in the collection. I always like the special note he includes to readers at the end of many of his books.
Thank you once again Stephen King. "And the beat goes on!"
Peace to all.
on December 6, 2008
Although I have never been an advocate of the view that Stephen King was losing his touch, this collection seems to offer a version of King with so much energy and creativity that some of his more recent works pale in comparison. It is an intense and generous sampler of short fiction that truly shows King at his best, whether you consider his best to be his horror or his more mainstream work.
"Willa," which provides a quiet, understated opener to the collection, is suspenseful, eerie, and creative. It also, in my opinion, offers a rather unique solution to what I will admit is one of King's problems: crafting realistic modern dialogue for his younger characters. (A problems that he seems to have largely eliminated in this collection, by the way, with the exception of his creative use of it here.) "Harvey's Dream" is also quiet. I found it far more unsettling than "Willa," however, as its depiction of ordinary marital unhappiness--already frightening, given its monotony and barely suppressed hatred--slowly evolves into a sharp, ice-pick intrusion of unfortunate foresight. "Graduation Afternoon" features a similar kind of transition from ordinary unhappiness to the outright horrific.
"The Gingerbread Girl" is one of the best stories in the collection. King shows a deft touch with Emily's characterization while still writing at a white-hot pace and bringing this particular reader to the edge of her seat. He takes enough time to build up Em's past and her attempts to outrun it before starting the clock with the arrival of the zealously psychotic Pickering, one of the best and most frightening villains in all of King's short fiction. Another standout is "N.," a Lovecraftian story of OCD and the outside dimensions, which, given its portrayal of the eroding veil of sanity between us and a massive, incomprehensible evil, will probably have you organizing your things into circles (just to be on the safe side). There's also the very short "New York Times at Special Bargain Rates," which artfully blends disaster, afterlife, and premonition (three of the collection's major themes) in just a few pages to produce a quiet ghost story that doubles as a tearjerker.
"Mute" is marred by the distracting eccentricity of the wife's crime (pulled from real life) and "Ayana," though a rare unsentimental exploration of miracles, is lackluster, as is "Rest Stop."
"Stationary Bike" will probably be a divisive story. In my opinion, it's best going into this not thinking of it as a horror story, and simply enjoying the ride (no pun intended) as Sifkitz's exercise efforts begin to extend into the unnatural. And the ending, whatever its faults in terms of resolution of suspense, is a valuable lesson in terms of dieting. "The Things They Left Behind," with which it share a similar tone, explores the aftermath of 9/11 without the slightest hint of exploitation. It's also an interesting story about survivor's guilt and how grief latches onto possessions.
Lastly (in the order of this review, that is, not in the order of the collection), there are the more gruesome entries of "The Cat from Hell" and "A Very Tight Place." These are probably the best recent examples of what is often called (tongue-in-cheek) "Klassic King," and one actually is: "The Cat from Hell" dates back to the eighties and was often anthologized but never collected by King himself. It balances the grotesque with the vaguely ridiculous so well that, at the ending, you're torn between screaming or laughing as a cat gains a particular type of revenge upon a hitman and, presumably, his animal-testing employer. "A Very Tight Place" is better and even more disgusting, and it's best not to eat immediately before reading it, as it features some very detailed descriptions of what it might be like to be trapped in an overturned Port-O-San. Like "The Gingerbread Girl," this features some almost unbelievable suspense and a likable, emotionally beleaguered protagonist in a horrific situation it's impossible not to imagine, but this is slightly marred by a particularly unsatisfying ending and some laughable dialogue from the villain.
I've described some problems with some of these stories, so why five stars instead of four? Easy. When these stories work, they're really firing on all cylinders: involving, frightening, and impossible to stop reading. If you like King, you can't pass this up; if you haven't liked him before, this might be a good place to start. Definitely worth the money and any sleepless nights that may result.
I'm a bit surprised - disappointed even - in the rather mediocre average review score for Stephen King's anthology, "Just After Sunset." While this collection of short stories is not steeped in the sensational terror and gore of King's earlier works (most of which I thought were terrific), "Sunset" reflects a more mature King - the master of words relying less on horror and more on the subtleties of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I always found King a keen observer of culture and society - one of the best at capturing the most mundane details of ordinary life, and in King's case, weaving them into a dark fabric of fear that lures one from the familiarity of (a pet, a car, and friendly neighbor...) into unsettled and disturbing worlds, and epic battles of good vs. malevolence. All of which are reflected in this baker's dozen of darkness - twelve new and the "bonus" of "The Cat from Hell" - an early King tale that made it to the big screen in the 1990 movie "Tales from the Darkside". To the point, the contrast in style between the graphic and simple story lines of "Hell Cat", and the cleverly drawn irony of "Mute" could not be more pronounced. Both frightening, engaging, and entertaining reads, but where "Cat" is pretty much gothic horror, "Mute" is a cleverly drawn, sophisticated tale of suspense and murder that would fit well in a collection of Hitchcock.
I didn't find a bad story in the lot, but if I were to pick my favorites, in addition to the fiendish "Mute", I'd place the diabolically gross "A Very Tight Place" near the top of the list. Or the poignant "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" - an oft-told tale in many respects, but never replayed more beautifully than here. Another from that dimension into which we may pass after death is the opener, "Willa", a story that takes a few pages to get into, and may have you scratching your head at first. But when it delivers, it delivers a punch more sorrowful than it is terrifying. But perhaps the defining effort is "N.", a frightening drama that recalls earlier King themes, but twists them around into a gripping and thoughtful thriller bridging Stonehenge and crop circles with pastoral Maine landscapes.
Events like King's near-fatal accident in 1999 and 9/11 clearly had a huge impact on the author's life, and the imprint of these seminal events are very evident in these pages. If there is a common theme between these pages, it is individual reaction to unthinkable tragedy, tempered by King's own passage from near death. While King chose "horror" as his literary path to follow, I'm certain the strength of his prose would have placed him near the top of any genre. Not unlike Poe, King's "Cold damp winds, white skies and fleeing crows" evoke disturbing but familiar images - places we'd prefer not to be but revel in reading. So while this may not be "The Stand", it is not "Cell" either, but a collection of dark little gems that will again remind us how fortunate we are to have King, the rare author as talented as he is prolific.
on November 25, 2008
Stephen King is back once again with a collection of short stories. Most are hit or miss here. I have read the many reviews and it seems to consist mostly of either fans who glorify the author they worship and what they read or fans that just abhor the new tales of Mr. King. Of course there is one that brings back something that Mr. King said about the Army and Iraq. I have always enjoyed reading Mr. King's novels and short stories, and even though I am in the military, I will continue to read his work. He is entitled to his opinion. That out of the way, on with the review.
Like I said, most of the stories are hit or miss and a few that just seem to be. We start off with:
Willa--This was one of the average stories. The writing was good and the characters had a life of their own to them. I at least was able to enjoy the story and had no problem reading through it once all the set up was over with. 3 out of 5
The Gingerbread Girl--Had a promising start. I really felt for the protagonist and her way of dealing with her current situation. Once the story changed and she was in danger, the story failed to hold my interest and I had to push myself to finish reading it. 2 out of 5
Harvey's Dream--To me, this was classic King. I really enjoyed reading it even though the ending was pretty predictable but still left the reader to fill in the ending and let him/her finish the story in their own way. 5 out of 5
Rest Stop--Another average story but with an ending that just didn't seem to deliver. After all was said and done it felt the part of someone who wished they could have done something different after they had already acted accordingly to their character type and had to write that different action down. 2 out of 5
Stationary Bike--Once again Mr. King is telling us, "Hey, I had a bad accident and it has so affected my life that I have to tell you about it again and again and again in a different way." This was not a bad story by far, it just would have been better without the reading having to be reminded of the accident that he suffered. 3 out of 5
The Things They Left Behind--I enjoyed this one. It took a long while to get into it, but once I found out what was going on, I would have loved to see all the different interactions the protagonist would have had with the rest of the people he was destined to see. 4 out of 5
Graduation Afternoon--What to say about this. It was one of those stories that you read and once you get the setting down and the characters established, something happens and then the story ends, and I was left say, "And the point of that story was what?" 1 out of 5
N.--Took awhile to get established, but moved pretty well after. The visions were easy to conjure up and the story was well written for the most part. This is one of the longer stories that flowed ok, but I did have some times where the situation was a bit too descriptive and bogged it down a bit. The ending was completely predictable and didn't leave nothing for want. 4 out of 5
The Cat From Hell--This I am going off of memory here. I read this back many years in an anthology called "Twists of the Tale: An Anthology of Cat Horror" after I had seen it in the movie, "Tales from the Darkside, The movie". I really enjoyed the story and enjoyed reading it and rooting for the cat the whole time. 5 out of 5
The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates--This was a decent tale yet with some flaws. I really feel that after the protagonists gets the phone call that she would have put a lot more suspicion in it and would have spent more time questioning the caller. It was also another story that left the main plot open for the reader to use their own imagination to continue the story if they wanted or to leave it as it was and call it finished. The sub plots were wrapped up nicely and fit well. 4 out of 5
Mute--I read this one in the edition of Playboy. I just have always wanted a magazine with a Stephen King short story in it. This was a decent "be careful what you wish for" type story. I wasn't disappointed with it, but I wasn't wooed by it either. Just average King fare. 3 out of 5
Ayana--This is a guardian angel type story and if done correctly, could rate up with "Highway to Heaven". It wasn't a bad tale, but it was nothing to write home to mom about either. It just was. I did like the use of the ex Marine as the helper. Is Mr. King trying to make up for something, hmm? 3 out of 5
A Very Tight Place--I admit, I read about this one in the notes before I read the story, but it did not take away from the story itself. Actually there really wasn't much to take away from it in the first place. Just another typical revenge type of story and another average one at that. Mr. King was going for a bit of a gross out and mildly succeeded. This one was also very predictable. The reader can definitely see that Mr. King and his family are spending a lot of time if Florida on the island of the filthy rich. 3 out of 5
Some where good, some were ok. I still look forward to reading Stephen King's work because I like his writing style and I always know that I will be entertained regardless and this one is no exception. Overall this was an average anthology.
on December 4, 2008
If you're looking for stories along the lines of his original shorts, such as Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, forget it. In this series of shorts, he seems to have a dream of being the "Classic American Traditionalist". He falls short as I believe this is not his calling. All-be-it I bought this book, in hardback as only a true fan will, I am rather disappointed. As a true King fan, I do not wait for the paperback, or the waiting list at the public library. I must have the first date released hard cover. The first story drew me in, but the ending left much to be desired. Not his usual ending flourish or turns and twists... The second story, The Gingerbread Girl had such a long and drawn out beach run, I found myself unable to focus and becoming bored.. highly temped to skip entire paragraphs.
It's a KING book and you know you'll buy it, but don't hold your breath.
This pales, ghostly white, in comparison with Everything's Eventual, the last collection. This doesn't touch Skeleton Crew, which you know you could pull off your shelf, dust off, and stay up til 3:40 am with a bag of Lay's Salt and Vinegar potato chips, and read all over again. Skeleton Crew brings that warm nastalgia feeling of a true King book. This is like walking through a quagmire to get to the ocean. You know you must buy it, read it, and sit rocking in the corner until his next work is published.
on August 10, 2014
It goes without saying, though I'm going to say it because it's so obvious from all my King reviews, that I am definitely a fanboy of Mr. King. With the internet and the chance to post reviews ad nauseum, a lot of reviewers rip apart books and even write paragraph after paragraph, ruining the story and the plots. I think a lot of these people fancy themselves "authors" and feel the need to prove it by writing short stories about someone else's work.
My review of this book like all my reviews of Mr. King's books is short and sweet. "Just After Sunset" is a collection of short stories and they all kept me interested from start to finish. I have never read anything from Mr. King that he didn't capture my attention and keep me coming back for more. He's done it from the time I was a teenager and he continues to do it now that I'm 60. I couldn't imagine growing up without being frightened and entertained by The Master.
on January 3, 2010
The short story is a fantastic form. A small package that packs (most times) a great punch. There are short stories out there that don't pack any punch, but they all can't be perfect. This is the second short story collection I have read in the past three months (the other was by various authors) and continue to marvel at reading masterfully written fiction.
The stories in this book, in my humble opinion, are some of the best pieces King has produced in a while. I have read that people say it isn't better than SKELETON CREW (it's been a while since I read that one, so I plan to go back and take a look), but I would have to say it is some of Kings better stuff recently. To be honest, I haven't read all of his recent work, but I have read some. I think this book should be ranked with some of the best works of short horror fiction written. He has stories that have a lovecraftian feel. He has stories that make us think of Poe. There are stories that remind us of the best of TWILIGHT ZONE. It is a terrific collection.
Two of the impressive stand outs are "N" and "Willa" from this collection. I enjoyed them quite a bit. I enjoyed all the stories, but if I had to point out one that wasn't on par with the others, then I would have to go with "Graduation Afternoon".
If you are looking for some good fiction (some horrific, some suspenseful, some thrilling, some just down right heart tugging) this is a book for you.
Although I haven't read much Stephen King in the past couple of years, I thought this book might make up for it since there were about 14 short stories that prove Mr. King still remains a master of his genre.
There really isn't much I can write without giving too much of each story away, but I will say that I was absolutely terrified reading N. . Biting my nails to the quick while reading The Gingerbread Girl. Feeling sad and tearful while reading The Things They Left Behind and The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates. Stationary Bike and Mute were amazing - they had me on the edge of my seat and A Very Tight Place was just too grisly for me. Each story evoked a different feeling, they were all unique and special.
Also, as an added bonus, the last couple of pages are King's personal thoughts on what prompted him to write each story. I love reading insider/behind-the-scene details like this - so this was very cool.
As always, my only complaint about short stories is that they are just tooo short =) There were many instances were I just wished the story would keep on going. But all in all this book was classic King and a must-read for any of his fans or lover of the horror genre.
on May 3, 2014
I somehow missed this collection while waiting for Under the Dome, and I'm so glad I found it just before the release of Mr. Mercedes.
What a romp! Since Mr. King has provided us with a helpful tidbit of information on how each of the stories in this collection came about, I don't need to review each one. What would be the sense? Suffice it to say that all of these stories is a perfect example of his incredible talent.
While he doesn't go quite to the level of horror, he does manage in every one to chill the bones, warm the heart and sometimes scare the bejesus out of the reader.
In his notes, he states that Willa is the weakest, but he nevertheless liked it enough to include it. I disagree. I really enjoyed it as I did all of these. Perhaps, Stationary Bike was my favorite, but they're all great.
And now, comes Mr. Mercedes. And, by the way, I think Lisey's Story is his best novel.
Are you a Stephen King fan? Do you enjoy his weird, sometimes perverse sense of humor? If so, "Just After Sunset" should be right up your alley. Stephen King has been at the top of my must read list since I first stumbled upon "Carrie" and "Salem's Lot" many many years ago. He has become a cultural icon since those days with so many best sellers, movie and television tie-ins that his name has become synonymous with horror and supernatural fiction. King has mastered many story formats including novels, novellas, serializations, audios, long ranging epics, internet fiction, and, of course, short stories.
In the introduction to "Just After Sunset," King mentions how the structure of a good short story differs from a novel and how managing issues of character development, backstory, and time-frame have to be "minituarized" to make things work. Those Constant Readers among us who have devoured everything he has published are sure to have wished, at times, that some of his more wordy and extended efforts had been miniturarized by 50 or 100 pages. That is why he characteristically is so good in his short story compilations such as "Skeleton Crew" and "Night Shift". While "Just After Sunset" is not up to the level of the two previously mentioned collections, it is still a worthy read of 13 King tales ranging from "The Cat From Hell" written in 1977 to "N.", his most recent creation.
I have always considered King's greatest gift when he is really "on" to be his ability to paint word pictures in the reader's mind...he can in a few words or allusions create a picture of which he writes immediately in the reader's consciousness, often making it seem almost like a movie in one's mind. I think that is one significant factor that explains why so many of his works have been translated into screen productions of one sort or another. A great deal of what happens in the stories in "Just after Sunset" is cerebral in nature which forces the reader to decide if the protagonist is plain crazy or prophetic when no one else listens such as in "N." and "The Things They Left behind".
Make no mistake, King can still evoke a sense of horror or dread in his reader in a matter of paragraphs sometimes. "The Gingerbread Girl" and "Harvey's" Dream" quickly engulf the reader in growing horror. I rated "Just After Sunset" with 4 stars only because I have previously read many of the stories in this compilation previously in other venues...but I do highly recommend it to the Constant Reader or to anyone else who might want to get their feet wet with a little vintage King.