Night Shift by Stephen King

Rating: 4 of 5

A solid collection of 20 short stories that demonstrates King’s ability to transform everyday normalcies into our worst nightmares. Several of these stories have since been adapted for the screen.

Stephen King has brought together nineteen of his most unsettling short pieces–bizarre tales of dark doing and unthinkable acts from the twilight regions where horror and madness take on eerie, unearthly forms…where noises in the walls and shadows by the bed are always signs of something dreadful on the prowl.

The settings are familiar and unsuspected–a high school, a factory, a truck stop, a laundry, a field of Nebraska corn. But in Stephen King’s world any place can serve as devil’s ground…if the time of night is propitious, and the forces of darkness are strong, and the victims are caught just slightly off their guard… (Source: StephenKing.com)

Book cover Night Shift (Paperback) by Stephen KingShort story collections are sometimes hit or miss; you’ll either love most of them or forget most of them. Thankfully, Night Shift falls under the “hit” category. Here’s a quick recap of each story along with my two cents.

↓ 5 STARS ↓

I Am the Doorway” was the first story in this collection to give me a major case of the creeps. A retired astronaut has to deal with the reality of coming home with more than just the experience of space travel. Hint: Look at the book cover. *shivers* My favorite of this collection.

Gray Matter” is an excellent example of King taking an everyday situation, a contaminated beverage, and twisting it into a hellish experience for a man, his son, and the small town in which they live. The descriptions of Ritchie were so vivid I could almost smell him. (For some reason, when I finished this story, Dreamcatcher popped in my head.)

Children of the Corn” gave me nightmares. I often wondered if the story would pack the same punch as the movie; now I know. Religious crazies always give me the heebie jeebies, but make those nutcases parricidal kids too, and woo-boy! Non-stop shivers.

The Last Rung on the Ladder” is a gut-wrenching story of a brother’s guilt over not being there for his sister. Heavy themes but more dramatic than horrific. I especially appreciated the relevance of how we all are often too busy with our individual lives that we skip putting in the time on our most important relationships, taking for granted that we’ll have tomorrow to do so.

One for the Road,” a sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, reminds us why we should always be prepared whilst traveling and never stray from the beaten path. This is in my top five faves from this collection.

↓ 4 STARS ↓

Jerusalem’s Lot,” a prequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, unfolds through a series of letters from the current owner of Chapelwaite, a place avoided by nearly everyone because of its sordid history. There was a strong feeling, for me, of M.R. James’ influence on this tale. And just when I was sure I knew what was going on, King took it to a whole notha level.

Battleground” surprised me. I had already watched its adaptation for a TV mini-series, so I had high expectations. While the TV version and especially William Hurt’s performance as Renshaw had more depth and reality, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story. Plus, the story further supports my theory that dolls (and maybe all toys) are not to be trusted.

Quitters, Inc.” – Smoking and a smoker’s attempts to quit have been featured in many of King’s tales. This story reminds me of a chain letter from the mafia. You know, read this then pass it on, or else. Only I can’t figure out why anyone, after experiencing “the program,” would refer anyone they knew. Perhaps they don’t really like the people they refer? One thing’s for sure, this “program” works.

I Know What You Need” mixes a dollop of the paranormal with a healthy dose of stalker-ish love and obsession to deliver a potent tale of one man’s devotion to the woman of his dreams. Of course, she’s about as deep as her pocket book. So in the end I actually liked “the bad guy” more than Elizabeth.

The Man Who Loved Flowers” demonstrates the power of perspective by telling the story from the people observing and interacting with the main character. A chilling realization that one must not judge a book by its cover or make assumptions about anyone, ever.

↓ 3 STARS ↓

Graveyard Shift” is told through the POV of Hall, a drifter who works the three-to-eleven shift at a mill in Gates Falls, Maine. Hall doesn’t mind the crappy conditions of the mill or his a-hole foreman. What he minds are the rats. This story will probably have the most impact on those afraid of rats and being underground.

Night Surf” is set in the world of The Stand and follows a group of survivors after Captain Trips (later renamed Captain Tripps), a flu-like virus, has already begun to wipe out the world’s population. Sadly, I wasn’t a fan of this one; the story is too short to have such unlikeable characters. But it was fun to read the seedlings of what would grow into an epic novel.

The Mangler” is an example of a sub-genre within King’s work that I refer to as “possessed machines.” This one dabbled in the occult and featured a moderate amount of gore. It was memorable and may cause some readers to hesitate briefly before approaching their appliances.

The Boogeyman,” unfortunately, didn’t scare me at all. Its concept of “the monster in the closet” interested me; it just didn’t affect me. Maybe it was that I didn’t much care for Lester Billings. Or the fact that no one seemed to protect their children – to sacrifice themselves so their kids would be safe. My dislike of this story is, I’m sure, for subjective reasons.

Trucks” was probably my least favorite of the entire collection. Not being a big fan of Christine I kinda figured this one wouldn’t knock my socks off. It’s a terrifying premise, though: machines with a consciousness and the ability to rule the world. There’s no contest between the human body and a 15,000 pound truck.

Sometimes They Come Back” was another story I’d already seen adapted for the screen. The movie was okay but the short story was 100% better. There was more authenticity to the characters and the town. And I better understood Jim Norman’s grief and the evil behind his brother’s death. My only complaint is that the ending seemed fairly rushed, even for a short story.

Strawberry Spring” – A serial killer terrorizes a college campus, disappears, and then resurfaces nearly a decade later. Meh.

The Ledge” – Stan Norris has an affair with Marcia Cressner, the wife of a mob-type badass. When Cressner finds out he makes Stan a wager he can’t refuse. If Stan wins, he gets Marcia, money and freedom. If he loses, well, he’ll be dead so it won’t matter much after that. Nerve-racking suspense for anyone with a fear of heights.

The Lawnmower Man” might inspire you to do a complete background check on your next landscaper. I found this story ridiculous and hilarious! And I wondered when he wrote it if King was inspired by some of Arthur Machen’s work.

The Woman in the Room” explores some adults’ inability to deal with caring for their disabled or dying parent. I wasn’t sure if John loved or hated his mother. And I’m still not sure if he did what he did because he loved her and didn’t want her to suffer or because he just didn’t want to suffer anymore.

What’s your favorite short story? (By any writer.)

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