From the Desk of Chancellor Dwight C. Watson – If It Bleeds: Rereading Stephen King

collage of book covers of titles written by Stephen King

One in a series of reviews contributed by Chancellor Dwight C. Watson

I am a huge Stephen King fan!  I constantly marvel at King’s unique sensibility, saturated with a morbid, mortifying hysteria. When I was 14, I started reading Stephen King because I always loved mystery stories – and the scarier the better.  I later learned when I was a reading teacher that at the age of 14, I had the reading ability to comprehend some of what I was reading, but did not have the conceptual level. I later reread several of these novels so that I could get a better understanding through a more mature conceptual level. 

If you have not done a repeated reading of a book that you read when you were younger, then I encourage you to do so.  As your conceptual levels are enhanced, you find that a repeated reading will give you a more nuanced perspective.  Listed below is the catalog of Stephen King’s extensive work.  The books in bold print are those that I have read or reread.  Note that my voracity for King waned over the years and I missed some of his later novels. 

I do, however, love short stories or novellas.  Stephen King has written two previous compilations of his short stories.  If It Bleeds is King’s third volume of short stories.  I read the first set of short stories, Night Shift, when I was in 11th grade.  Several of the stories listed below in the book Night Shift have become featured films.

Night Shift -1978 – The book was published on the heels of The Shining (1977 Doubleday) and was King’s fifth published book (including Rage, which was published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman). Nine of the twenty short stories in the book had first appeared in various issues of Cavalier Magazine from 1970–1975; others were originally published in PenthouseCosmopolitanGalleryUbris, and Maine Magazine. The stories “Jerusalem’s Lot,” “Quitters Inc.,” “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” and “The Woman in the Room” appeared for the first time in this collection (Wikipedia, 2020).

TitleOriginally published in
Jerusalem’s LotPreviously unpublished
Graveyard ShiftOctober 1970 issue of Cavalier
Night SurfSpring 1969 issue of Ubris
I Am the DoorwayMarch 1971 issue of Cavalier
The ManglerDecember 1972 issue of Cavalier
The BoogeymanMarch 1973 issue of Cavalier
Gray MatterOctober 1973 issue of Cavalier
BattlegroundSeptember 1972 issue of Cavalier
TrucksJune 1973 issue of Cavalier
Sometimes They Come BackMarch 1974 issue of Cavalier
Strawberry SpringFall 1968 issue of Ubris
The LedgeJuly 1976 issue of Penthouse
The Lawnmower ManMay 1975 issue of Cavalier
Quitters, Inc.Previously unpublished
I Know What You NeedSeptember 1976 issue of Cosmopolitan
Children of the CornMarch 1977 issue of Penthouse
The Last Rung on the LadderPreviously unpublished
The Man Who Loved FlowersAugust 1977 issue of Gallery
One for the RoadMarch/April 1977 issue of Maine
The Woman in the RoomPreviously unpublished

Different Seasons (1982) – This is a collection of four Stephen King novellas with a more dramatic bent, rather than the horror fiction for which King is famous. The four novellas are tied together via subtitles that relate to each of the four seasons.

NameSubtitleFilm adaptation
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank RedemptionHope Springs EternalThe Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Apt PupilSummer of CorruptionApt Pupil (1998)
The BodyFall From InnocenceStand by Me (1986)
The Breathing MethodA Winter’s TaleThe Breathing Method (TBA)

At the ending of the book, there is also a brief afterword, which King wrote on January 4, 1982. In it, he explains why he had not previously submitted the novellas (each written at a different time) for publication. Early in his career, his agents and editors expressed concern that he would be “written off” as someone who only wrote horror. However, his horror novels turned out to be quite popular and made him much in demand as a novelist. Conversely, the novellas, which did not deal (primarily) with the supernatural, were very difficult to publish as there was not a mass market for “straight” fiction stories in the 25,000- to 35,000-word format. Thus, King and his editor conceived the idea of publishing the novellas together as “something different,” hence the title of the book. Note that this volume contains two classic movies, Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption.

If It Bleeds is a collection of four previously unpublished novellas by Stephen King. The stories in the collection are titled “If It Bleeds,” “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” “The Life of Chuck,” and “Rat.” It was released on April 28, 2020. Some say that this is King’s best work in recent years, showcasing his talent once again when it comes to the novella. In each of these novellas, King reflects upon death in some way, and he handles death with depth, courage, and inevitability – people die and others survive to die another day.  Why read such a treatise in the middle of pandemic?  Sometimes by concentrating on the fantastical, I can better absorb the real. 

Summaries

“If It Bleeds”The premise of the title story is based on a journalism adage that if it bleeds, it leads! This means that stories that witness the gruesome death of others are often the lead stories on the nightly news in which the viewers “eat the pain of survivors and bereaved the deaths.” The protagonist of the title story, Holly Gibney, is by King’s own admission one of his most beloved characters, a “quirky walk-on” who quickly found herself at the center of some very unpleasant adventures in End of WatchMr. Mercedes, and The Outsider. Holly seems to always stumble upon those where the dead are not really dead, but somehow becomes something else.  In this particular case, the something else a shape-shifting TV journalist that follows the leads to the “bleeds.” An on-the-ground reporters who turn up at very ugly disasters. Holly has a sort of a shining for the paranormal. “Only a coincidence, Holly thinks, but a chill shivers through her just the same and once again she thinks of how there may be forces in this world moving people as they will, like men (and women) on a chessboard.” This title story kept my sensibilities gasping as viscerally felt exposed to Holly’s every move.  I was afraid for her and terrified of what might happen to her in the end.

“Rat” – What if you could have what you want, but you have to sacrifice something in return?  This something in return was going to happen anyway so what difference would it make.  You get yours, the something happens and all is good, but is it.  This is the premise of the short story “Rat.” An author abandons his family and goes to a remote cabin to write his novel.  He tried writing a novel before, but lost his way and almost his sanity. But this time, he is cooking with gas and the novel is coming together word-by-word and page-by-page until he lost his edge after a life-threatening winter storm.  So how does he get back on track? Of course, he makes a deal with a rat. In the careful-what-you-wish-for department, there are the usual hallucinatory doings, a destiny-altering proposal, and of course a writer protagonist who makes a deal for success that he thinks will outsmart the fates.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” – A teenager finds that a dead friend’s cell phone that was buried with the body still communicates from beyond the grave. Craig gets a job working for the retired Mr. Harrigan when he’s just nine years old, watering plants and reading to the old man, who has retired to the small town of Harlow, Maine, after a successful business career. As the years go on, Craig buys an iPhone for him as a thank you gift after a scratch-off lotto ticket that Harrigan had gifted the boy pays off. The old man is reluctant to accept the phone at first, but comes to enjoy it. When Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig places the phone in his pocket to be buried with him. One night, missing his friend, he leaves a voice message. To his shock, he gets a text in return. Craig will learn that not everything dead is gone.

“The Life of Chuck” – As the world around him crumbles into oblivion, a man realizes that he contains multitudes. A story told in reverse, starting with the end of Chuck Krantz’s life, and moving back in time to show how he’d lived that life. “The Life of Chuck” started a bit strange, with Act III to be precise. At first I thought it might be something futuristic. But then you’ll learn who Chuck Krantz really was. The whole story is a kind of chronology of death foretold. The Life of Chuck is the story of a man’s life told in reverse and it works so beautifully. This is the type of King story I love most of all because he just sucker punches when you least expect with a story-within-a-story that tugs at your heart and emotions. I was so caught up in the dance sequence, the drumming, and the colliding stories, that I actually shed a tear.

Stephen King’s Chronology

1. Carrie (1974)2. ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)3. The Shining (1977)
4. Rage (1977)5. The Stand (1978)6. The Long Walk (1979)
7. The Dead Zone (1979)8. Firestarter (1980)9. Roadwork (1981)
10. Cujo (1981)11. The Running Man (1982)12. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)
13. Christine (1983)14. Pet Sematary (1983)15. Cycle of the Werewolf (1983)
16. The Talisman (1984)17. Thinner (1984)18. It (1986)
19. The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)20. The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987)21. Misery (1987)
22. The Tommyknockers (1987)23. The Dark Half (1989)24. The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991)
25. Needful Things (1991)26. Gerald’s Game (1992)27. Dolores Claiborne (1992)
28. Insomnia (1994)29. Rose Madder (1995)30. The Green Mile (1996)
31. Desperation (1996)32. The Regulators (1996)33. The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997)
34. Bag of Bones (1998)35. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)36. Dreamcatcher (2001)
37. Black House (2001)38. From a Buick 8 (2002)39. The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)
40. The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004)41. The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)42. The Colorado Kid (2005)
43. Cell (2006)44. Lisey’s Story (2006)45. Blaze (2007)
46. Duma Key (2008)47. Under the Dome (2009)48. 11/22/63 (2011)
49. The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)50. Joyland (2013)51. Doctor Sleep (2013)
52. Mr. Mercedes (2014)53. Revival (2014)54. Finders Keepers (2015)
55. End of Watch (2016)56. Gwendy’s Button Box (2017)57. Sleeping Beauties (2017)
58. The Outsider (2018)59. Elevation (2018)60. The Institute (2019)
Titles in my reading history are in bold.

About Ellen Latorraca

Reference & Instruction Librarian Liaison for the College of Education & Professional Studies
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