Saturday, 12 July 2014

Night Shift


"Night Shift" was Stephen King's first collection of short stories and as such it suffers from noticeable lack of skill and polish. Most of the stories here are way too ridiculous to be treated seriously. The actually read like class B horror movies. How can you seriously treat stories about :
- a murderous industrial laundry press ("The Mangler"),
- a colony of mutated rats living in the basement of old textile mill ("Graveyard Shift"),
- an astronaut who suffers from a strange virus he was exposed to during a space mission. As a result, numerous tiny eyes start appearing on his hands ("I am the Doorway"),
- a man who suffers from a fungus-like mutation ("Grey Matter"),
- evil cars taking over! ("Trucks"),
- a man threatened by an army of... toy soldiers ("Battleground"),
- a terrifying experience connected with mowing the lawn ("The Lawnmower Man").

To me these show that King was either still searching for his place and establishing his style or he was already good enough to take horror fiction with a pinch of salt. These stories are actually funny rather than scary. There are also other, better ones in the collection. Some are loosely connected with King's other novels, such as "One for the Road" and "Jerusalem's Lot" (references to "Salem's Lot"), or "Night Surf" that takes place around the time of events described in "The Stand".
"The Ledge" is a Hitchock-like narrated story about a man making a very risky bet with a mobster. The 'stakes are as high as it gets (money and gangster's wife or death) and the trial begins...
"Sometimes They Come Back" shows how traumatic past can unexpectedly catch up with you. The protagonist is a teacher (something pretty common for King) and has problems with a very bad-mannered student who very much reminds him of a hooligan who killed his brother many yeas ago...
"Children of the Corn" is one of King's most recognizable titles - I even remember seeing references to it in Family Guy. While it also lacks certain polish and has the class-b-horror feel to it, it is still one of the most memorable from the collection. It has this oppressive, dark atmosphere and takes place in well defined American rural setting.
"Quitters, Inc." is a story that I can recommend to anyone trying to give up smoking. It tells a story of a company that specializes in successfully helping people give up smoking. Their methods are quite unusual but the treatment is almost always successful
"The Woman in the Room" was probably the most powerful one from the whole collection. The protagonist is a man who struggles with the idea of euthanizing his terminally ill mother and helping her escape from the pain she suffers every day. His thoughts and actions are morally ambiguous and it's really hard to judge his deeds.

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