Reviewed in the United States on April 22, 2020
I will preface this review by confessing that I am a massive Stephen King fan. I read everything the man puts out, for better or worse. I will also add that his novellas and short stories are among my personal favorites.
So, having said all that, IF IT BLEEDS is another 5-star contribution from a master storyteller. Each story is unique, and yet there is still an underlying theme that threads them together. I will add some of my quick thoughts about each piece.
The primary entry is MR. HARRIGAN'S PHONE. It is a bittersweet, coming-of-age ghost story told from a first-person perspective. I will also confess that I am partial to first-person storytelling, and some of my all-time favorite King stories are in this fashion (11/22/63, Bag of Bones, Revival). The story feels like vintage Stephen King, (a term I am reluctant to use, because late in his career, Stephen King has written some of his most compelling fiction) in that it could easily fit in with DIFFERENT SEASONS or FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT. From start to finish, this piece was captivating. It was tightly wound, and it ends on a button.
THE LIFE OF CHUCK seems to be everyone's favorite (based on what I've seen from book Twitter and King fans across all social media platforms) and I can definitely see why. When Stephen King gets more literary with his writing, he also usually produces an exquisite story. The story is told backwards, and in three-acts. It gave me 11/22/63 vibes, and it moved my heart and spirit. I guess, after some reflection, it is "my favorite" from this collection as well, though it feels wrong to say that. This one was the most creative, and I think I love it mostly from a writer's perspective. King's ability to remain innovative after 45 years is inspiring.
IF IT BLEEDS is the eponymous story, and continues King's recent interest in blending crime with the supernatural. It is a direct sequel to a previous work, THE OUTSIDER, which was a stunning novel in its own right, and adapted beautifully as an HBO limited series. Holly Gibney has divided King fans since her introduction in MR. MERCEDES, and I have long been in the camp that loves her. Perhaps it is because I notice certain qualities she has that some of my closest friends have (maybe myself, as well), but mostly I think it's because she is resilient and tough, and yet filled with an unmistakable empathy. IF IT BLEEDS is the longest story in this collection, and it was the fastest one I read. Page-turning suspense and high-stakes with characters I've come to enjoy reading more about.
RAT is a twist on the classic Faustian tale, one that King has explored in a number of stories throughout his career. In his previous novella collection, FULL DARK, NO STARS there is a story titled "Fair Extension," which follows a character who shows no remorse about the catastrophic bargain he strikes up. Here in "Rat," the main character is uncertain if the bargain was a fully-realized thing, if he really meant it, or if he is losing his mind. This story is clearly King having fun, and it is certainly a fun, slightly unsettling read.
Of course, I love every opportunity we get to hear about Stephen King's writing process and his thoughts. Usually we are blessed with a forward or an author's note in his collections, and IF IT BLEEDS is no different.
What a blast these four stories were, and I cannot wait to revisit them soon.