Review: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

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Synopsis:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas —Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds— each pulling readers into intriguing and frightening places.

A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Review:

People love Stephen King. They love the older stuff because he was such a good storyteller and he can scare the pants off of the readers. They love the middle of his career because it shows that not everything that you do will be perfect but you have to believe in your craft. They love the newer stuff because it is familiar and comforting. The four novellas in If It Bleeds do not reinvent the wheel, do not bring many new ideas to Stephen King’s realm, and they really don’t hit very hard. But there is something about them, something soothing that is like your grandma’s peach cobbler or a late night radio DJs silky voice. We follow him because he is now the age of many of his readers’ fathers or grandfathers, and he writes like they would tell tales. This comfort in an unsettling time has brought many people back to King and many people that have never left to praise his works even more.

“Mr Harrigan’s Phone”

In the opening story, a boy befriends the eccentric old man down the street, helping him around his house and becoming his friend. There is an innocence to the friendship, which turns a little more deviant once the boy buys Mr. Harrigan a phone. This friendship between a boy and an older man has been done by King quite a few times (Apt Pupil, ‘Salem’s Lot, Needful Things and Hearts in Atlantis come to mind immediately), but it’s still a good dynamic, still a good trope. This is a strong opening story, and maybe the one I enjoyed the most. 

“The Life of Chuck”

This is broken into three different sections. The first section is a climate-horror story where the entire world is falling apart, yet these billboards start popping up that say, “39 Great Years! Thanks Chuck!” with a photo of a guy nobody recognizes. This is probably the strongest section in the entire book. I was sucked into the story so the next two parts were kind of a let down. This is King where a story that he is writing becomes too much. The ending is sloppy and unsatisfying. The first part is fantastic though. 

“If It Bleeds” 

The biggest novella in the group, this follows Holly Gibney, the Finder’s Keepers detective, with her own stand alone case. If you have not read the Bill Hodges Trilogy or The Outsider, be prepared to have all of them spoiled for you. King spends a great deal of time going through all of the cases that he has written her into as ways for her to have information on the current case, like the four King novels that she is in previously are the limit of her knowledge on how to be a detective. I think this is a pretty good sequel to The Outsider and I would almost bet money that this was written as a second season of The Outsider series on HBO. There is the same mystery and the same vibe between the two works. 

“Rat”

A man wants to finally write his Great American Novel so he goes up to a cabin, gets a severe fever, and has a rat tell him that he’ll strike him a deal if he wants help finishing his novel. This whole writer in a cabin story has been done by King a few times, and this lands squarely in a fairy tale kind of realm more than a horror story. 

All of the stories are decent, but they all also seem like there is not much effort being placed. These plots have been used, sometimes repeatedly, in King’s work, and this makes these novellas feel familiar and comfortable. I listened to someone talking about King’s writing, and the person said that King has this style of writing, kind of a folksy, down-home, grandpa spinning a yarn kind of quality to his writing, and now I notice it in every paragraph. I don’t feel like I will stop reading King in the future, but this collection is proof that many of his new stories are the same as his old stories and that there are other horror writers that are telling newer, more interesting horror stories.

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