I've written a couple of times now about books by Joe Hill, Stephen King's oldest son, who once upon a time was a badass little boy who co-starred in Creepshow.
All growed up now, he is the author of two awesome novels, one awesome short-story collection, one awesome Twitter feed, and one awesome ongoing comic book series. In short, he's still a badass.
Ah, but did you know Stephen King has another son who is also a writer?
I can't say for sure one way or another as to whether he's a badass, but it turns out that, like his father and older brother, Owen is a pretty damn good writer.
Big fucking shock there, right?
Now, lest you misread what I'm saying, allow me to clarify: Owen King isn't exactly a noob in the business. Far from it. He published a book called We're All In This Together back in 2005, and also co-edited an anthology of "new superhero" short stories, Who Can Save Us Now?, which was published in 2008. He's been publishing stories for over a decade now, and his first novel -- Reenactment -- is scheduled for release in 2013. [Bryant's note: the novel was later retitled Double Feature.]
I'm a big fan of We're All In This Together, which is a collection consisting of a novella and several short stories. Eventually, I want to revisit it and write a review -- my memory is too shabby to allow me to write a proper review without the benefit of a reread -- but for now, I can tell you this about that book: you should read it.
Owen's writing is -- like his father's, and his brother's -- very much focused on character. He appears to be a bit less interested in the horror genre; a couple of the stories in We're All In This Together fit that bill to some mild degree, but the novella from which the book draws its title is a straightforward character drama. If I were going to compare it to another writer's work, I suppose the names John Irving and Pat Conroy might suffice as a sort of shorthand; it's probably not a very apt couple of comparisons, but it's the best I can do at the moment.
Owen's most recent publication is a short story called "The Idiot's Ghost," which appeared right at the end of 2011 in the most recent issue of Fairy Tale Review (and can be purchased here).
The short summary: the superintendent at an upscale apartment building in New York City is saddened -- maybe even a little bit devastated -- by the sudden death of Trevor, a mentally handicapped young man whom he had taken under his wing as the building's porter. He isn't having much luck getting his wife to sympathize with his grief; she seems to be mainly interested in vegging out on the couch, watching as a violent coup unfolds in an unnamed foreign country. Before long, it becomes apparent that Trevor's ghost is haunting the building.
If this sounds like the setup for a horror story, think again: the emphasis here, instead, is on a terrific combination of humor and pathos. The super, Kurt, takes steps to try and get rid of the pesky ghost -- Trevor, who was childlike in life and is childlike in death, isn't scary, but he is definitely a nuisance -- and this leads to several surprisingly amusing scenes with exterminators, exorcists, and the like.
Eventually, though, it becomes clear that Kurt may not actually have much interest in getting rid of Trevor. I don't want to say much more than that, not because there is any huge plot twist that I want to avoid giving away -- there isn't -- but simply because there's no need. As summaries go, that one ought to suffice, and anyways, the real pleasure in this story lies in the quality of the writing itself, which is considerable. King is great at tickling the funnybone, and he's just as great at tugging on the heartstrings ... but he never feels like he's straining to do either one. Instead, he just puts his characters on the page and lets them do the work for him.
I loved the story, but I'd be a liar if I said I thought it was perfect. Kurt's wife, Linda, is a major character in the story, and she begins it as a bit of a shrew, only to become vastly more sympathetic by the time the story's end rolls around. I didn't feel like that shift in her attitude was executed particularly well, by which I suppose I mean that I feel as if it was barely executed at all. She's a shrew on one page, and then suddenly she's a supportive partner on the next, with seemingly no incident sparking the change. That's a legitimate gripe, but it's one that doesn't really alter the fact that I was both amused and moved by the story, and would recommend it to readers.
At this point, I have to confess to being a bad reader: I have yet to read any of the other stories in the issue of Fairy Tale Review from which "The Idiot's Ghost" derives. So I don't know whether or not to recommend it at all apart from King's story. However, at $10, it's not too steep an investment, and buying a copy will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you did your part to help out a literary journal.
As readers, that's something we all ought to do once in a while.
Also, here's an iron-clad offer: if you buy a copy and feel like your money was poorly spent, all you've got to do is drop me a line and let me know about it. I won't give you a refund, but I will promise to find a funny cat photo somewhere on the Internet and send it to you, because guess what? You can haz cheezburger.
Great offer, right? Right.