“The house was built in unhappiness, has been lived in with unhappiness, there has been blood spilt on its floors, there has been disappearance and accident.”-JERUSALEM’S LOT by Stephen King
I’ve written about Stephen King before on this blog. In my review of IT back in May 2020, I complained about King’s penchant for ‘overlong’ writing in some of his doorstoppers. I have always thought one of the pieces of advice in his excellent memoir On Writing was ironic. In it, King refers to the classic American writing guide, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and highlights the guideline to “omit needless words.” Of course, it’s all subjective but just imagine if King had applied it more forcibly to his own writing. How about omitting needless pages and pages of backstory, Stephen? No? Well, who am I to argue with one of THE bestselling authors of the last 50 years.
I realize that I’m waffling a bit myself, but I just wanted to say how much I’ve come to prefer King’s shorter works. Which leads us to Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories.
‘Night Shift: Excursions into Horror is the fifth book published by Stephen King, and his first collection of short stories. The book was released by Doubleday in February of 1978. Night Shift received the Balrog Award for Best Collection, and in 1979 it was nominated as best collection for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. Many of King’s most famous short stories were included in the collection.’
First things first, every story in Night Shift is worth reading. It is a brilliant collection of short stories, and I find it almost incredible that it contains Stephen King’s earliest writings. To be this good from the very beginning blows my mind. I’m going to give my brief thoughts on the stories that I enjoyed the most. As always, I will keep things as spoiler-free as possible.
“Jerusalem’s Lot” – The opening story of the collection acts as a (kind of) prequel to King’s 1975 vampire novel Salem’s Lot. He wrote it while still in college, but it wasn’t published until 1978. It is written in the epistolary style as a series of letters and diary entries during the month of October, 1850. What struck me while reading it was it read like a very good pastiche of H.P. Lovecraft’s style, only much better written than the old master of purple prose.
“Graveyard Shift” – Following the antiquated style of “Jerusalem’s Lot,” “Graveyard Shift” is a return to what many consider classic King. Not one for the faint-hearted, this is a tale of a rat infestation in the basement of an old textile mill. A cleaning team is sent in to exterminate the rats, but they get a lot more than they bargained for in the dark places under the floor. This early piece by King was first published in the magazine Cavalier back in 1970.
“I Am the Doorway” – is a great little story that mixes science fiction and horror. An astronaut returns from a flyby of Venus with a strange infection on his hands. He unwittingly becomes a “doorway” for an alien species to view our world. How will we appear to their alien eyes? Will they attempt to communicate with us?
“Gray Matter” – A gruesome and creepy blast of a short story with a Lovecraftian feel to it. Some pretty gross body horror in this one, so be warned. I reviewed this one in an earlier post during Halloween last year.
“Trucks” – This is a completely bonkers, yet highly entertaining story about a group of people trapped at a freeway truck stop. The trucks have somehow become sentient and are attacking the people who attempt to leave. You can tell King was having fun writing this tale. He enjoyed it so much that he wrote and directed the 1986 movie adaptation “Maximum Overdrive“.
“The Ledge” – Stan Norris has been having an affair with criminal boss Cressner’s wife. He gets caught and has to face Cressner. The older man offers Norris a wager. If he can walk all the way around the ledge outside Cressner’s apartment, Norris can go free. Unfortunately, the apartment is on the 43rd floor. It’s a long way down! King keeps the tension cranked way up in this thrilling short story.
“Quitters, Inc.” – Are you trying to quit smoking? “Quitters, Inc.” positively guarantees you will give up the habit. In fact, they will go out of their way to make sure you do. If you are tempted to sneak a quick smoke while no one is looking, think twice before you do. They could be watching you right now… This is an excellent short story by King. He has a great time exploring the perils of addiction and the consequences of giving in to our cravings. It is also one of two stories from this collection adapted for the screen as part of the 1985 movie Cat’s Eye. (The other one is “The Ledge“.)
“Children of the Corn” – One of King’s more famous short stories, it was first published in the March 1977 issue of Penthouse. I was surprised to learn that the 1984 movie adaptation spawned a whole franchise that I’ve never heard of; a franchise currently running at eleven films! Have you seen any of them? The original story is about a couple who end up in a seemingly abandoned Nebraska town. In the local church, they discover some weird writings on the walls and the pipe organ stuffed with corn husks. On leaving the church, the couple are attacked by a group of children armed with farm tools. This is definitely a weird one, but it’s made me kind of curious to seek out some of those eleven movies. They can’t all be bad, right?..
“One for the Road” – is set in the same world as King’s novel Salem’s Lot. It picks up the story a few years after the events of that book. Herb “Tookey” Tooklander runs a bar in one of the neighboring towns of Jerusalem’s Lot. On the night of a fierce blizzard, a man bursts into his bar begging for help. His car got stuck in a snowdrift a few miles away and he has left his wife and young daughter there. Tookey and his friend attempt to calm him down and offer to help. But they are uneasy about venturing out into the blizzard, especially as it will take them closer to the abandoned town.
Here’s a list of the rest of the stories in the book:
“Night Surf”; “The Mangler”; “The Boogeyman”; “Sometimes They Come Back”; “Battleground”; “Strawberry Spring”; “The Lawnmower Man” “I Know What You Need”; “The Last Rung on the Ladder”; “The Man Who Loved Flowers” “The Woman in the Room”
Night Shift is a brilliant collection of short stories by Stephen King. I recommend it for anyone seeking some thrilling reading for Halloween. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of these stories and you’ve probably seen a filmed adaptation of one or more. Have you read any of the stories? Do you have a particular favourite? Please let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Wakizashi, *planning to go see DUNE later on this afternoon. Hey, that rhymes!* 🙄