Stephen King, Riding the Bullet (Scribner, 2000)
[originally posted 10Apr2000]
After many rumors that the accident in 1999 had stopped King from writing, seeing something–anything–from him is a relief. Of course, King characterizes any work this small (seventy pages) as a short-short, and it was probably meant more to test the idea of electronic distribution more than it was as a King release. (And it was a smashing success, actually, with half a million downloads in the first week, but we’ll see what happens when they try to charge for one.)
Taking it in that light, and reviewing it form the standpoint of its format, I have to also take into account the program used to view it, Glassbook, which is an absolute disaster. Instability and crashing are probably the least of its woes. [ed. note 15Aug13: Glassbook was acquired by Adobe in 2001 and folded into Acrobat Reader, dying a quiet, obscure, unheralded, and completely deserving death.] And dammit, I hate the whole reading-on-the-computer screen thing, even if the typeface, size, and amount of whitespace were quite nice, unlike most ebooks. I want paper and ink and something I can hold in my hand. The computer revolution won’t keep me from buying paperbacks any time soon.
That said, the tale itself: it’s pretty much stock King, with the same kind of tone and simplicity as the stories in Hearts in Atlantis; a guy hitchhiking home from the University of Maine gets a ride with a rather odd driver who makes him question his own life, and its utility, in relation to that of his dying mother. It has the same strengths as any piece of King’s writing, especially that of King’s trademark ability to characterize, and to make small details into memorable mementos. Still, I found myself not liking it as much as the Atlantis material (and I’m wondering whether this is an outtake of that). Perhaps it’s only because of the format—I can’t tell. One way or the other, if you like King, go for it. If not, you’re not missing much. This is a revolution that’s not going to happen. ***