Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual (Scribner, 2002)
[originally posted 28Mar2002]
Rumors of Stephen King’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. 2002 is gearing up to be another highly productive year for King, and he starts us off with his first short story collection since 1993, Everything’s Eventual. It sure is nice to know that King doesn’t feel the need to turn everything into a novel, and while his short stories have gotten longer, they still pack the punch that the early tales did. However, they pack it in a more literary style. This is great stuff. It’s still recognizably King, but it’s New Yorker King rather than bargain-basement porn-mag King (check the prepub credits in Night Shift).
After reading the title story in this collection, I briefly fantasized about a world where the millions of people who reflexively buy King’s works who’ve never so much looked inside a literary magazine would bring away from this (and other such tales in this volume, notably “Luckey Quarter” and “Lunch at the Gotham Café”) an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of the modern short story such that they could crack the binding on the new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, say, and not feel out of place. (From there, it’s one step to getting them to like poetry, and than I can take over the world at leisure.) I came to my senses a few minutes later, but there’s still something to be said for it. Up till now, King’s stories have always been well-defined pieces of work, with strong beginnings and endings and enough happening in the middle to keep people reading. No one would ever accuse, say, “Survivor Type” or “Grey Matter” of being an ambiguous piece of writing. But King was already showing his literary hand as far back as Skeleton Crew (with the haunting story “Nona”), and he tipped it last year with the brilliant “Blind Willie.” Now comes Everything’s Eventual, and he’s laid it on the table; this is the new King, the one I’ve been waiting for during the last couple of transitional releases. These stories are ambiguous, they require thinking (and sometimes leaps in logic) from the reader, and they’re simply better-written than his early work. King the literary author has finally caught up with King the storyteller.
As seems almost obligatory these days, yes, there’s a Dark Tower story. However, it doesn’t feel as invasive as most recent Dark Tower references, because it’s actually set in Mid-World (rather than showing up as a reference, as in “Low Men with Yellow Coats” or Bag of Bones). It’s also very much in the style of early King, despite actually being in a series, and thus begging for loose ends. Oddly, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” stands on its own more than any Dark Tower material since the first book. Go figure.
King’s back, and better than he’s been since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I knew he’d get there sooner or later. ****