Top positive review
Wild and awesome ride, despite not being terribly original
on November 16, 2014
Stephen King is known for two things primarily, at least in my opinion--his amazing narrative prose, and his originality in spinning dark, fantastical, unique yarns like no other story. Well, the latter trait is lacking in this collection of four novellas (plus a fifth super-short story), but this is excusable for this long-time King fan because his writing is in top form in each of the stories, making each one harder than the last one to put down.
All of the stories focus on the dark sides people try to hide from others--sometimes successfully, sometimes not. To a lesser extent, the four main stories all examine the theme of revenge as well. The problem is that each of the four stories have been done to death by other authors and mediums, and I kept waiting for the classic King original twist that made the story unique. For the most part, there were none, but because of the excellent writing the stories are very enjoyable. Thus, the lack of originality is not a big problem. Also, King's trademark dark humor is prevalent in each of the stories, which in and of itself makes these stories unique even if they may sound like stories you've heard before.
Each story could essentially be described as "King's take on ______":
'1922': King's take on Edgar Allen Poe, and my personal favorite of the collection. Written as a confession letter by the protagonist, the letter/story describes a violent crime committed by a farmer in the midwest immediately prior to the Great Depression, and the effects of the resulting guilt of that crime on the writer and his accomplice. The less you know, the better. A brief epilogue at the end of the tale sheds new,horrifying light on the events described by the narrator, and completely changes the reader's perspective of how the story's events unfolded. It is this twist that makes 1922, for me, not only the best story in this volume, but also the most original.
'Big Driver": King's take on the revenge thriller. A female authoris the victim of a brutally vicious crime on her way home from a speaking engagement, and embarks on a mission for revenge afterwards. The description of the crime itself is deeply disturbing and hard to read about, but there is an element of dark humor to the revenge portion afterwards. Longest story in the collection, and seemed overly long towards the end, but I had to keep reading just to see how far the protagonist would take her desire for revenge. The few "twists" that are there seemed pretty obvious, to me, but that doesn't take a lot away from the overall quality of the story. Is now a Lifetime Channel movie--can't really see that working.
"Fair Extension": King's take on the classic "deal with the devil" story. Easily the funniest (albeit darkly funny) of the collection--a dying man makes a deal with you-know-who to extend his life, at the expense of the happiness of someone close to him. King's depiction of the devil is fantastic, and it would not be surprising if this would be how the devil operates in these modern times, if he were real and actually made these sorts of deals. After the devil is out of the picture, the story seemed to drag on just a tad, to the extent of elicitng an "okay, okay, we get it" reaction from me.
"A Good Marriage": King's take on the "spouse with a secret" story. The wife in an over 25-year-old marriage thinks she's happily married to her accountant husband, until she discovers a terrible secret of his in the garage. Like with Big Driver, the story is not terribly original and a lot of the developments are obviously forecasted, but I kept reading to find out what the protagonist would do. Also like with Big Driver, at one point it seems as if the story is over, but King needlessly drags the story on for a rather unnecessary conclusion.
"Under the Weather": a very short story at the end of the collection. Any synopsis would ruin it. Short but funny--and kind of gross.
Overall, despite the sensation I have heard these stories before, I had never heard KING tell these stories before. And with his unique, funny, sentimental writing style, King elevates each story to become dark examinations of the depravity men and women are capable of. Not his best, but great stuff all the same.