Stephen King has given me so much. There is no other writer who has provided me with as many joyful reading hours. With as many memorable books and characters. King's generosity as an author has been a decades-long inspiration, but he has never given me a book before now.

Stephen King and Richard Chizmar have each given away a hundred books to help readers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We've all taken a hit from this crisis, and my own book-buying budget has been slashed. So I was delighted to hear that I won a copy of If It Bleeds.

In my deepest fantasies I dreamt that my copy of If It Bleeds is inscribed as such:

To Mark Sieber, I loved He Who Types Between the Rows! Your fan, Stephen King

No such luck.

That's okay, I didn't really expect it, but one must have one's dreams.

Here we are, all these decades after I doubtfully picked up The Shining, half expecting to hate it. In a few paragraphs I was hooked, and I have been a diehard King fan ever since.

Stephen King has a history of books that contain four novellas. The first, Different Seasons, remains one of the finest books he has done, and it is the one that convinced some people that he was more than just a trashy literary boogeyman. He later did Four Past Midnight and Full Dark, No Stars.

Now we have If It Bleeds.

The cover of the Scribner edition of If It Bleeds is striking. Honestly, I cannot decide if I like it or hate it. It certainly catches the eye, and makes people do a double-take.

As for the stories...

If It Bleeds begins with Mr. Harrigan's Phone, a piece that recalls themes from earlier King stories. A pinch of Word Processor of the Gods, a dab of The Monkey. Maybe even a pinch of Pet Sematary. Mr. Harrigan's Phone features one of King's believable young characters. Stephen King, like many horror people, has stayed in close touch with his inner youth.

Mr. Harrigan's Phone is a highly readable and thought-provoking story of a rich man who is given a phone that continues to work even after he is long buried with it. King displays an admirable amount of restraint in this piece. The Stephen King of forty years ago may well have added a rotting, hungry corpse had he written a similar type of story. Mr. Harrigan's Phone is a good one, and a nice opener to the collection.

The Life of Chuck is an odd one. It starts out like some kind of whacked-out Philip K. Dick-like science fiction story, but evolves into something else. This novella delves into the multitudes within all our minds, and the things that bring magic into our lives. Much of King's latter work deals with mortality, as he of course has a vested interest in the process. The Life of Chuck is sad, funny at times, and joyous. It may be my least favorite of the book, but that does not mean I didn't enjoy the story.

The title novella, If It Bleeds, features Holly Gibney, who constant readers previously met in the Hodges Trilogy and The Outsider. I really like Holly, and I love the way King has evolved the character. You could read If It Bleeds without previous knowledge of the aforementioned books, but your experience will be richer if you had. If It Bleeds may be a bit of a retread of The Outsider, but it works best as a character study. I hope we see more of Holly in the future.

Finally there is Rat, the story of a very frustrated writer. It deals with the crippling uncertainty and near-madness any writer goes through. My guess is it is at least partially autobiographical. A short story writer retreats to an isolated cabin to finally write his first novel, but his timing is crucially off. He has developed the flu and a life-threatening storm is on the way. A crippled rat offers the writer an ominous deal to finish his book and survive the weekend. Or is it all a hallucination?

Four novellas, each of them represent Stephen King still on top of his game. Definitely in the upper tier of his books.

I hardly think Stephen King visits the Horror Drive-In, but who knows what strange things happen in the World Wide Weird. If you happen to be here, Steve, thanks for the book. Thanks for all the books.

Written by Mark Sieber



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