Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Devouring Stephen King: Nightmares and Dreamscapes

"I still see stories as a great thing, something which not only enhances lives but actually saves them- nor am I speaking metaphorically. Good writing- good stories are the imagination's firing pin, and the purpose of the imagination, I believe, is to offer us solace and shelter from situations and life- passages which would otherwise prove unendurable."

This book marks the first time that I've really realised that I find Stephen King's writing incredibly comforting- scary as it can be, when I was feeling ill, all I could even consider reading was my next Stephen King book. Some people might suggest that this is because his writing is 'easy', but nay! I just, after 32 books, find it comforting and familiar, and not a bad medicine, either.

Nightmares and Dreamscapes, as I discovered, is King's third collection of short stories, and might well be my favourite so far. I'm always a fan of his short stories anyway, because I think that he can really be more brutal than in his longer fiction, and also explore different genres, but not in a way that makes them a hot mess, a la The Tommyknockers. Included in these different genres are even stories that don't fall into the crime/thriller/horror/sci-fi category at all, as my favourite in the collection, My Pretty Pony doesn't. And this is all true of his two other short story collections too, but I just like the stories in this one better. Or, at least I think that there are less boring stories, and on the whole I was just continually entertained.

And now, the difficult part of every short story review. Tell you about every story, or go more into detail about the ones I really liked? I... Still don't know. So let's see what comes out!

Stories I really liked

Suffer the Little Children: This one really scared me, and I don't really know why! I think it just tickled my scaredy bone, maybe because it's kind of subjective and has a fairly open ending. Or maybe because it's AWESOME.

The End of the Whole Mess: I really liked this because there's a whole 'writing against the clock' thing going on in an apocalyptic world. Very sci-fi-ish, but also very human and brotherly love-ish.

Chattery Teeth: Quite horror-y, but in a pretty unexpected way- I liked it more than I would have if someone had described the plot to me, so I won't.

You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band: A couple gets lost and ends up in Rock and Roll heaven. This story could have been really dreamy and exciting, but because of COURSE this is Stephen King, things get pretty scary, pretty quickly.

Rainy Season: Really really scary and gross. But in a good way...

My Pretty Pony: I'm a sucker for a story about time and how it gets away from you, and My Pretty Pony is exactly that. A grandfather explains to his grandson the elusive nature of time, and it's just wonderful. Like this:
"Grandpa, watching him closely seemed to read all this in the boy's brown eyes, to know all the words for all the things the boy could never have found a way to tell, things that could not escape him because his mouth could never articulate the language of his heart. And then Grandpa nodded, as if he wanted to confirm this very idea, and suddenly Clive was terrified that Grandpa would spoil everything by saying something soft and soothing and meaningless. Sure, he would say, I know all about it, Clivey- I was a boy once myself, you know.
But he didn't."
I really feel like sometimes King's writing outdoes himself, and he strikes upon some essential truths, and it happens only when he has a child narrator, and I believe My Pretty Pony is one of those times.

The House on Maple Street: This was SO much fun, and has a really good ending, and I just genuinely wholeheartedly enjoyed it.

Stories I Didn't Like So Much

Dolan's Cadillac: Ostensibly a revenge tale, it was fine, but not great. There was slightly too many technical things, and not really enough action. But it was good revenge...

Dedication: This was really really gross. Like, seriously unnecessarily gross. In the notes at the end, King worries that it might be non-politically correct, but honestly? I just thought it was gross.

The Fifth Quarter: A kind of crime/thriller story, but not a great one. There are better ones just included in this collection, so... Not my favourite.

Head Down: It isn't King's fault that I didn't like this at all it's just a matter of personal preference. In that, this is a piece of non-fiction about Little League baseball, and I understand nothing about baseball, so a lot of it was kind of lost on me. But I did like the whole 'yayyy teamwork!' aspect of it all.

Pastiches that I had mixed feelings about (I only learned the word pastiche when I was wikipediaing this book, so go me!)

So for some reason there are THREE stories in this collection that are homages of sorts to various authors, and I don't think this is something King has ever done before, so they deserve special attention. So here's what I thought about each of them.

Crouch End: This is apparently based on/an homage to HP Lovecraft, and I didn't love it (it was set in London, and all the characters were like 'pip pip, what's all this then' and really non-authentically English) BUT it did scare me A LOT, in a good way, and I feel like this means I should probably read some actual Lovecraft? Yes, I should.

The Doctor's Case: This is basically a Sherlock Holmes story as imagined by Stephen King, where Watson gets to solve the case. I have never read any Sherlock Holmes story, so I have no idea how accurate it is, BUT if Sherlock Holmes stories read like this one, then I am about 1000% more interested in them than I was before I read it.

Umney's Last Case: This story was really interesting to me, because earlier this week Alley reviewed The Maltese Falcon, and I was like 'I have no idea who Raymond Chandler is' etc but as it turns out (as I learned from this Chandler pastiche) I entirely know the way Chandler writes because it's been homaged again and again and again. And I LOVES it. What makes this story even better is that it goes all meta and Sophie's World-esque, and I LOVE shit like that. Seriously.

It's definitely a mixed bag, with mixed forms and genres, and mixed types of endings (hence 'nightmares' AND 'dreamscapes') but that doesn't make it any less readable and interesting and just plain GOOD. Definitely one to come back to whenever I want a nice (or nasty...) little short story.


  1. Want to read this one. Especially the Holmes one which I know is in your pastiche (yay Wikipedia) group but still sounds interesting.

    Really need to put together that King list for you to go through and figure out what King I should read...

    1. Ah, but it is a GOOD pastiche. Actually, I don't know if it's a good pastiche or not, just that I really liked it!

      Definitely make the list! I'm SO excited to pick your next King/s :)

  2. Is there a better short story collection of his? I could maybe handle short stories, but I dunno about his full-on novels.

    1. IMHO this is the best short story collection. I suspect Alley would say that Everything's Eventual is better, but this is my favourite. (I have read Everything's Eventual, but I don't remember it, so it might indeed be better. I'll let you know.) ANYWAY, I think this is a really good collection for you because there are only about 3 or 4 stories that are ACTUALLY scary, whereas the rest are something else. And it's all mixed up so you're not constantly scared.

      Doesn't that giant paragraph just SCREAM 'please read some Stephen King, please please!'?

    2. Well I can't quite say Everything's Eventual is better cos I haven't read this one. But yes, EE is better cos it has 1408 and I heart that story.

    3. You can't say it, but you will anyway? Awesome.