If It Bleeds, It Leads…

Stephen King – If it Bleeds (Hodder & Stroughton, 2020) 

If there is one thing Stephen King has been excelling at in the past five years, it is short fiction.

I was completely blown away Gwendy’s Button Box – co-written with Richard Chizmar – and then his novella Elevation. I also thoroughly enjoyed his short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, despite never usually being a fan of short stories and always preferring to get myself stuck into a chunky novel.

If It Bleeds is a collection of three short stories and one novella, and a triumph over some of the longer works he has had published with-in the last few years.

The Institute, published before If It Bleeds in September 2019, and novels such as The Outsider and Sleeping Beauties (co-written with Owen King) fell somewhat flat. King has certainly redeemed himself with his latest collection, exploring old characters from his crime thriller trilogy Mr Mercedes but introducing some exciting new concepts and ideas at the same time.

The first story, ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, was immediately addictive. A ghost story that centres around a haunted iPhone, it was reminiscent of King’s best writing whilst also playing around with millennial ideas of ‘haunting’.

This story could have developed into something a lot bigger and I was disappointed to see it end quite abruptly. ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’ would have very much paid off as something longer, but despite this the story was eerie, unique and refreshing after a period of long and somewhat stunted novels.

Here, and in the second story ‘The Life of Chuck’, King is really experimenting with new forms of horror and storytelling. ‘Chuck’ is a three-act story which is told backwards, yet it also plays with perceptions of reality, giving off strong The Stand vibes at the start and tailing off into something a lot more philosophical.

By the end of it I was left feeling sad and moved. It prompts re-reading to fully appreciate. Whilst a lot of critics believe this to be the weakest in the collection, it is more ‘out there’ for King in that it explores the human psyche rather than outright horror.

The weakest story of the collection was ‘Rat’, which I felt for a short story took too long to get started. It didn’t have as much excitement, or pose as many questions, as the other stories. Yet I did like the idea that the main character was working alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. This is a setting which appears in many of King’s novels and was an obvious reference to those.

The title story, ‘If It Bleeds’, revisited the characters from Mr Mercedes and The Outsider. It was wonderful to be back with them and explore more of the themes that were left unveiled from the previous novels. The novella was just as compelling, and it was the perfect length for a brief glimpse back into the world. It is obvious that King adores the characters he has created in this series which is why he is constantly revisiting them, and this prompts better fiction.

I can only reiterate that King has been really grabbing my attention with his short fiction of late, and this collection is solid proof that he both enjoys writing and experimenting with it. Although at times he presents a lot of half-develops ideas, the pay off seems to be worth it.

– Rachel Louise Atkin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s