BOOK REVIEW: JUST AFTER SUNSET BY STEPHEN KING

JUST AFTER SUNSET

GENERAL INFORMATION

TITLE: JUST AFTER SUNSET

AUTHOR: STEPHEN KING

PAGES: 353

PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON

YEAR: 2008

GENRE: SHORT FICTION

COVER TYPE: HARD BACK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_After_Sunset

www.stephenking.com

BLURB FROM THE COVER

Now: just after sunset, as darkness grips the imagination, that’s when reality grows thin. When you can feel the everyday become the unexpected in this captivating collection of twist-in-the-tail stories of suspense, terror and dark comedy from the No 1 bestselling author.

A blind girl visits a dying man and saves his life with a kiss. A crime writer is faced with a real crime – and has to draw upon his alter ego for courage. And a young couple seek the bright lights of a nearby town and end up playing the jukebox for eternity.

This tantalising, thrilling volume explores the human experience as ordinary objects assume extraordinary powers and familiar journeys take a different turn. From the surreal to the horribly real, King plays a riveting riff which will keep you spellbound from first page to last.

EXTRACT

You don’t see what’s right in front of your eyes, she’d said, but sometimes he did. He supposed he wasn’t entirely undeserving of her scorn, but he wasn’t entirely blind either. And as the dregs of sunset faded to bitter orange over the Wind River Range, David looked around the station and saw that Willa was gone. He told himself he wasn’t sure, but that was only his head – his sinking stomach was sure enough (WILLA)

REVIEW

WILLA: The title character tries to make the group of people she’s stranded in the middle of nowhere with, including her fiancé, realise they actually died in a train crash and are haunting the station. She wants to encourage them to head to the lights of a nearby city before the station is pulled down and they are trapped in darkness.

Willa was first published in the December 2006 edition of Playboy.

I thought Willa was a weak story. I love the idea behind the story. The idea of the souls of the dead lingering on earth fascinates me. I don’t think King executes it very well in Willa. I really wanted to like this story but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

THE GINGERBREAD GIRL: A woman copes with the death of her young daughter by taking up running. This becomes an obsessive compulsion that jeopardises her marriage. She leaves her husband and stays in her father’s summer home in Florida. She comes face to face with a serial killer she needs to outwit.

The Gingerbread Girl was first published in the July 2007 issue of Esquire.

I loved The Gingerbread Girl. It’s one of the best stories King has ever written. Just After Sunset is worth reading just for this great story. I loved the fact the main character outwits the killer and drowns him in the sea. Cool beans.

HARVEY’S DREAM: Harvey and his wife after having breakfast one morning. He tells her about a terrible dream he had. Someone called their house and told him their daughter had been killed in a terrible accident. The dream frightened him badly. The phone rings and Harvey knows his dream has come true.

Harvey’s Dream was first published in the June 30, 2003 issue of The New Yorker.

I thought Harvey’s Dream was a very weak story, weaker than Willa. It came across as something an amateur would do who had never learned any better. I thought the phone ringing after Harvey recounted his dream was crass. I wasn’t impressed.

REST STOP: A crime writer stops at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. He hears a man and woman in the cubicle next door. They are arguing. He’s beating the shit out of her while she begs him to stop. He takes on the persona of his tough, ball-breaking pseudonym to kick the shit out of the man and save the woman from her bad choices.

Rest Stop was first published in the December 2003 issue of Esquire.

I really enjoyed Rest Stop. I thought it was a great little story. Who hasn’t witnessed or overheard some creep beat the shit out his woman and wanted to intervene? I liked the fact the character had to pretend to be someone else to do it because he would have been too scared as himself.

STATIONARY BIKE: An overweight man discovers he needs to make some drastic changes when he has a check-up at his doctors. He buys an exercise bike and obsessively uses it in the basement of his house every day. He has a picture of little workmen he imagines are responsible for keeping his body in shape. The workmen come to life and urge him to slow down because he’s taking their jobs away and one of the crew has already committed suicide.

Stationary Bike was first published in Borderlands 5 in 2003.

I bought a CD of King reading Stationary Bike years ago and loved it. The written version is even better. I love this story as well. It’s funny. I love the fantasy elements with the main character seeming to travel inside the painting on his wall and the workmen coming to life. I think Stationary Bike is great and very unique.

THE THINGS THEY LEFT BEHIND: A man who survived 9/11 because a promotion told him to call in sick at work is haunted by his work colleagues who were all killed. Personal objects that belonged to each of them start to turn up in his house. He tries to get rid of them and they reappear. He eventually starts to give the objects to surviving relatives.

The Things They Left Behind was first published in Transgressions in 2005.

I thought The Things They Left Behind was a great story. The narrator is haunted because of his guilty heart. He feels he should have tried to persuade his co-worker’s to stay away from the office because he felt something terrible would happen. The Things They Left Behind is about survivor’s guilt.

GRADUATION AFTERNOON: A young woman is at the house of her boyfriend to celebrate graduating from high school. The festivities are interrupted when a mushroom cloud explodes in the sky nearby, possibly some kind of nuclear attack.

Graduation Afternoon was first published in the March 2007 issue of Postscripts.

I hated Graduation Afternoon. I thought it was the weakest tale in Just After Sunset. It wasn’t very well written and came across a pointless. King is capable of much better.

N: A psychiatrist starts to treat a patient he refers to as N who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. N stumbled across a strange field called Ackerman’s Field some months ago that has a ring of eight stones. N believes the stones are holding some enormous monster at bay. One of the stones fades and can only be brought back to reality by being viewed through a camera lens and touched until it becomes real again. This kicks off N’s obsessive compulsive behaviour. This gets worse when he receives a key in the post that suggests he has become the new keeper of the field. N kills himself. His psychiatrist develops his obsession when he visits the field and starts to do the same things until he kills himself. The psychiatrist’s sister is next.

N was published for the first time in Just After Sunset.

I thought N was brilliant. King offers us a Lovecraftian inspired piece. The monster in Ackerman’s Field is right out of Lovecraft’s Clotho Mythos. N was a brilliant story, just brilliant.

THE CAT FROM HELL: A rich old man hires a hitman to take out the demon cat he believes has been stalking his family. The family own a famous pharmaceutical company who experimented on cats many years ago. He believes the cat has been sent from hell to avenge this. The cat has killed three members of his family. The hitman thinks the old man is a crank and takes the cat off to dispose of. The cat gets loose and causes him to crash the car and kills him by forcing its way inside his mouth and suffocating him. The cat claws its way back out of his body and goes after the old man.

The Cat From Hell is an early story and was first published in the June 1977 issue of Cavalier.

I really enjoyed this story. It was a bit gory but lots of fun. I saw a version of this filmed as part of an anthology movie years ago.

THE NEW YORK TIMES AT SPECIAL BARGAIN RATES: A woman grieving the death of her husband receives a phone call in the middle of the night. The caller claims to be her husband. He’s calling her just before the accident that takes his life. She is distraught and thinks this is a prank. She remarries and haunted by the memory of her first husband.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates was first published in the October/November 2008 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

I thought The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates was a bit of a clunker. Like Willa I thought the idea behind the story was great. King didn’t execute it very well. I wasn’t impressed.

MUTE: A man picks up a deaf/mute hitchhiker. He confesses his wife’s infidelity to this stranger and the fact she embezzled over $100,000 from her work to pay for her affair and this as left them both in the shit. His wife and lover are beaten to death after he drops the hitchhiker off. He goes home and finds a medal the hitchhiker stole hanging on the wall next to his wedding picture with a note that states thanks for the ride. He believes the hitchhiker killed his wife and her lover.

Mute was published for the first time in the December 2007 issue of Playboy.

I thought Mute was a great story. Mute is very well written and original. It’s written in the style of the man ‘confession’ to a priest and this works really well.

AYANA: A young blind black girl visits a dying man and gives him a kiss. He makes a remarkable recovery. The man’s family, who saw the young girl wonder if she has some kind of healing powers or if this is a coincidence.

Ayana was published for the first time in the fall 2007 issue of The Paris Review.

I thought Ayana was a very weak story. Like Willa and The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates, I loved the idea behind it but King just didn’t make this work for me. I was very disappointed.

A VERY TIGHT PLACE: A man seeks revenge of the man he believed ruined his life. He traps him inside a port-a-potty and turns it upside down. He believes the man who dies a slow and painful death. The man escapes and seeks revenge.

A Very Tight Place was first published in the May 2008 edition of McSweeney’s.  

I really enjoyed A Very Tight Place. King made me feel very claustrophobic as I read the story. The man is covered in shit when he escapes his prison. This was gross but well written. Another great little story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Just After Sunset is a mixed bag of a collection. I thought some stories were great, others were just okay and some were very weak. I enjoyed the collection for some of the better stories but felt disappointed overall. King can do so much better. One of his earlier collections, Night Shift is much, much better.

RATING

3 STAR RATING

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