Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Review of "Afterlife"

Hey, check this out:

That, fellow Constant Readers, is the video of Stephen King reading a brand-new short story titled "Afterlife."  King read the story at his recent appearance at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on December 7.  (I tried to embed the video here, but I couldn't get it sized properly -- it kept vanishing off the edge of the post!)

There do not currently seem to be plans to publish the story in print format, but since the story is now out there in the world thanks to the magic that is the Internet in general and YouTube specifically, it got me to wondering: should I update my list of canonical King stories to include this one?

I think the answer is yes, so I'm going to do so.  If you've got a dissenting opinion on that, though, I'd love to hear it, so drop me a line ad let me know why you disagree with me.

Stephen King ... man, what the fuck is it with this guy?  How does someone keep churning out such excellent stories at such a pace?  This makes his ninth short story in the past two years, and of those, I'd argue that a minimum of seven-- including this one -- are outstanding to one degree or another.  How is he managing to still be this good this often?  (To say nothing of the two excellent novels published during the same time span as the stories.)

Seems like a bit of a miracle, doesn't it?

It's a shorter story than King typically writes; probably a bit longer than "The Dune" and a bit shorter than "Under the Weather," to use a couple of recent stories as comparison points.

It's a very simple story, in plot terms: Bill Anders dies of colon cancer, and finds himself ... elsewhere.  He's in a hallway of the sort you might see in a low-rent office building, and there is seemingly only one door unlocked to permit him entrance: the office of the manager.  He goes in, and has a conversation with the manager.

I don't want to give away the specifics of that conversation, because while there's not really enough plot here that it can be spoiled, there are nevertheless a few twists and turns you won't see coming, and it would be a shame for me to ruin them for you.  Go watch the video, listen to King read the story to you, and you'll know what I mean.

Personally, I thought it was a hell of a good story, and I imagine it'll read that way on the page whenever it eventually appears in print.  It's a funny story, and it's also strangely moving; King does an effective thing where he makes the idea of the afterlife seem both trite and fresh, which is a rather nifty accomplishment.  It reads -- or listens, rather -- like the work of a man who has come to an acceptance of the idea that he's really and truly going to die at some point, but has accepted it by giving an "oh, well" shrug and kept right on trucking with his day.

Deeply good stuff here, no doubt about it.  If you're a King fan, do yourself a favor and check it out.

And then, maybe you can leave me a comment and answer a question for me: did you think of the end of The Dark Tower during "Afterlife"?

I, for one, certainly did.


  1. I just watched this video last night. It's a very good story indeed. The end does remind me of the Dark Tower ending a great deal but I like the idea a lot in both cases. I wonder if this type of philosophy is something Mr. King believes in or at least considers a possibility. ("Reincarnation? Not really"). It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the topic. Also I noticed this story is going to be in the new collection, Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

    1. Thanks for the response!

      I'd love to read more from King on this topic. He's certainly got an interesting viewpoint (or seems to). I suspect he doesn't literally believe in something like what is depicted in this story (or "The Dark Tower," for that matter), but you never know.

      I'm glad the story is going to be included in the new collection; that's shaping up to be a heck of a book.