I hate how something as simple as a cold can come careening through your home and, inevitably, your routine. Our family has been bogged down with this cold/flu thing for nearly a month now, and although we’re lucky it’s nothing serious, we’re all still a bit irritated. Couple that with a semi-major home-improvement project and an in-law visit, and you’ve got yourself one very neglected blog. My apologies to my readers, all 19 of you.
I pick up my current read, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and within five minutes, I’m asleep. Not because of the content (it’s a good book) but because I’m utterly exhausted.
So it got me to thinking, maybe I should pick up a quicker read, perhaps a collection of short stories. I always seem to forget about those when searching for my next book, and they are perhaps some of the most well-written types of stories. Think about it. You have merely a fraction of the space to tell a story that encompasses everything a novel would: a cast of multi-dimensional characters, a plot, some good dialogue, some sort of action and an ending. That’s tough and would take some concise writing. Which is what makes my choice of authors a strange one when reaching to my shelves for a short story: Stephen King. King is not necessarily known for his quick, punchy writing, but he is a master of short storytelling all the same.
I have a confession to make: I am a Stephen King junkie. A nut. I. Love. His. Work. One year for Christmas, my husband rounded up most (there are a few rare books that are either way too expensive or nearly impossible to get) of King’s work in hardback and built me a bookshelf to house them all. It is my prized possession.
Of course I’m still young, and I have a lot of reading to do, but as of right now, in my opinion, no one writes dialogue like King. (Richard Russo (Empire Falls) is a close second). Dialogue is an important part of any writing effort; it’s a big part of how characters are formed and even how scenes are set. While writing dialogue, authors become each character, slipping in and out of them as the conversations bounce back and forth.
King writes long, usually taking his books into the thousand-page territory with tons of distractions from the story and plot. Despite that, he is always able to hold my rapt attention, even when he takes three pages to describe a spot on a window. But some of his best stuff is in his short story collections, and one of my favorites is Everything’s Eventual.
This collection contains a wide array of King’s writing abilities, from what he’s best known for: the macabre; to what he should be revered for: his dramatic and haunting character pieces. My favorite bits of the book, though, are King’s musings before and after the printed stories. He gives a few sentences – just a blurb really – of insight into how the story came about. Even his casual words are so real, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up because you can almost feel him behind you, reading over your shoulder.
Although I love a good thriller, and there are a couple doozies like The Road Virus Heads North and Autopsy Room Four, nothing chills me to the bone like my favorite story in this collection, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away. Mostly because it’s so sad and dark and yet is edged with a lining of hope. Or I should say, the possibility of hope, since we aren’t really sure how it ends. I’m usually horrible at remembering characters and plots, but there’s something about this one that sticks. It’s the story of a lonely travelling salesman, Alfie Zimmers who has a quirky habit of collecting bathroom-wall graffiti at his many stops along his sales’ routes. And who, almost as casually as I’m mentioning it here in this entry, plans to kill himself in a Motel 6.
Maybe the hope-lined edge isn’t really there. Maybe I’m creating it by wishing for hope because the story itself is so bleak. Which I guess is why it has stuck with me over the years. Although there is no dialogue, you feel you know Alfie, and you leave the story feeling quite sad and alone, much the same way Alfie apparently did. And I like that. Not the whole feeling sad part necessarily but feeling something, anything.
And that’s what King does best. He makes you feel, and his collection of work runs the gamut of emotions: He scares you of your mind in Bag of Bones, makes you sad and even angry in The Green Mile, frightened yet determined in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and connected to and hopeful for each and every character in The Stand. Regardless of what type of reader you are, a sci-fi nut, a horror junkie or a character-driven type, King has anything – and everything – you could ever hope for. And, thanks to my amazing hubby, I have nearly all of ‘em.