It’s hard for many of us to fathom what lies beyond this physical realm, but Stephen King has zero issues helping us stretch our imaginations to what ‘could’ be possible. The prolific author of sixty (!) spine-tingling bestsellers have birthed countless films, TV series, and other nightmares fuel for anyone who’s read, seen or experienced his work in one medium or another.
For many, King’s name is synonymous with what lurks in the dark and within the shadows. Sadly, his latest collection of four novellas, If It Bleeds, doesn’t quite rank with his best.
With the exception of the Holly Gibney story (from the Mr. Mercedes series) it almost feels as if King is dabbling with the idea of terror, rather than offering a full-blown look at what truly keeps us up at night. ‘Mr. Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’, ‘If It Bleeds’, and ‘Rat’ all employ elements of King’s signature hallmarks, yet ‘Mr. Harrigan’s Phone’ and ‘If It Bleeds’ are the only inclusions that offer any real rewards for your reading efforts.
Death is a part of the human experience and yet we still have so many questions about it. What happens to the person when they die? Many people claim they know but in the end, do they really know? In ‘Mr. Harrigan’s Phone’, the friendly relationship between teenage Craig and billionaire Mr. Harrigan is so strong it extends beyond this realm, almost a dial-an-avenging-angel type of deal. It just goes to show the sort of friendship that can be struck with people with the power to change one’s life in an instant.
What would you do if you could predict someone’s death or even your own? The whole idea may seem preposterous, but King knows how to make it plausible. In ‘The Life of Chuck’, Chuck discovers an odd secret about his grandfather – he could see the deaths of his loved ones in the locked cupola of his house. Of course, when you tell a child this, what else are they going to do? Curiosity kills the cat and that’s something that will haunt Chuck until his death bed.
Holly Gibney may have started out as a meek little mouse in the Mr. Mercedes saga (followed by The Outsider), but under her old partner Bill Hodges’ tutelage she managed to transform into a strong, capable woman who won’t bend to her mother’s guilt trips anymore. As the collection’s titular story, ‘If It Bleeds’ explores the idea of a chameleon feeding on the terror and chaos of horrible accidents – while masquerading as different reporters and journalists. It’s one of the more chilling tales, and remains true to King’s original style of horror.
Lastly, ‘Rat’ almost seems modelled after certain aspects of King’s own life with a twist. Drew Larson is a pseudo-author, with half a dozen short stories under his belt, and is only able to finish his first, and possibly last, novel with the help from a plucky little rat. They strike up a deal where someone in Drew’s life will have to die in order for him to finish the book. What would a pseudo-author do – relinquish the ability to finish his novel or allow a friend to stay alive? To have that sort of power is something our human experience doesn’t seem equipped to handle.
The only absolutes in life may be death and taxes, but Stephen King opens our minds to the unexplainable in our reality. If It Bleeds is like a blow-up monster that King created for us, to intrigue and perhaps frighten us about all the external sources of our fear, but it sadly ends up being an inflatable air dancer with a leak. The writing remains stellar, natch, but lacks a certain depth that longtime readers expect from previous collections. Almost as if King only wanted us to feel slightly scared, instead of completely terrified, of things that go bump in the night.