Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 3 (1970-1974)

King graduated from college in June 1970; his first published novel, Carrie, would not hit shelves until April 1974.
  
These were the crucial years; these were the years during which the dream of becoming a published author had to come into conflict with the reality of becoming a published author.  By all accounts, it was a struggle.  I find it hard to imagine that there is anyone for whom it wouldn't be.
  
Through sheer hard work and talent, King persevered.
  
Imagine for a moment what the world would be missing if he had not managed to do so.  No Shining, no Dark Tower, no Pet Sematary, no It, no 11/22/63, no Shawshank Redemption.  No Maximum Overdrive!  I don't know about you, but I don't want to contemplate a world without Maximum Overdrive.

But let's not ignore these lean-year(s) pre-Carrie works; by writing them, King kept himself in the game long enough to be able to write Carrie.  Without them, odds are good that Carrie never happens.  There are some excellent stories among that group, and they deserve their moment in the sun.
  
Fair warning, by the way: most of the images here are somewhat NSFW.



  
"Graveyard Shift"
(short story)

  • published in the October 1970 issue of Cavalier
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978

The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Graveyard Shift"
  

 
image courtesy of Rich Krauss


    I'd like to have a copy of that magazine, and not for the reason you think: I'd like to have it because there's a hot, naked redhead on the front cover, and I'm guessing that there's more of her inside the magazine.  What, you thought it was for the Stephen King story?
      
    Well, okay, yeah, also for the Stephen King story, which may have differences compared to the Night Shift version.  We amateur scholars need to be able to verify these things.  So not just for the nekkid redhead.
      
    Assuming we don't count "Slade," "Graveyard Shift" was the first story King published post-graduation.  It's a tale of gigantic man-eating rats and the eternal struggle between Worker and Manager.  Personally, I don't think it's an especially strong story, but it's not bad, and serves as a capable enough jump-off point for a new era in King's fiction.



      
    "I Am the Doorway"
    (short story)

    • published in the March 1971 issue of Cavalier
    • collected in Night Shift, 1978
     
    The Truth Inside the Lie review of "I Am the Doorway"
      
     
    image courtesy of Rich Krauss


      If I seemed indifferent to "Graveyard Shift," know that I am the opposite of that on the subject of "I Am the Doorway," a weirdo sci-fi/horror story that remains one of my favorite King tales of the era.
        
      It's about an astronaut who journeyed to Venus, where he had a harrowing orbital experience.  After his return, things didn't really get much better.


        
         
      "Suffer the Little Children"
      (short story)


      • published in the February 1972 issue of Cavalier
      • collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993
         


      image courtesy of Rich Krauss
        
        
        This horrifying little tale didn't appear in a King story collection for over twenty years, but don't let that make you think it's a dud.  It's no dud.
          
        It's about a teacher who discovers that her students are slowly turning into monsters and takes matters into her own hands.
          
          
        "The Fifth Quarter"
        (short story)


        • published (under the pseudonym "John Swithen") in the April 1972 issue of Cavalier
        • reprinted (under King's byline) in the February 1986 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine
        • collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993
          

          
          

          "The Fifth Quarter" is notable for being the only King-penned work (that we know of) to be published under a pseudonym other than "Richard Bachman."  I don't believe there to be others.  King has stated that no others exist.  But King also stated that the Under the Dome television series was going to be great, so I can't always trust Stephen King.
            
          Regardless, "The Fifth Quarter" was eventually collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, where it proved to be a crime-fiction tale about an armored-car heist gone wrong.  I haven't read it in quite some time, so I don't feel on solid ground when it comes to assessing it.  And that'll be the case for a lot of these stories moving forward.  (My reread project has only gotten up to "Suffer the Little Children" when it comes to short fiction.)
            
            
          "Battleground"
          (short story)

          • published in the September 1972 issue of Cavalier
          • collected in Night Shift, 1978

          image courtesy of Rich Krauss

            
          "Battleground" is a fun story about a hitman who gets targeted by a group of ultra-advanced toys, presumably at the behest of their manufacturer.  It's a nightmare What-If scenario, where the events are so baffling and dismaying that the reader is forced to sympathize even with a cold-blooded assassin.

          In other words, it's vintage King.
            
            
          "The Mangler"
          (short story)

          • published in the December 1972 issue of Cavalier
          • collected in Night Shift, 1978

          image courtesy of Rich Krauss


            The image that that nice young lady's right breast is pointing toward is an illustration which accompanied "The Mangler" inside the issue.  So while King's name didn't make the cover, his story did.  His days of having his name ignored on magazine covers would certainly not last all that much longer.
              
            Tangent time: isn't it weird to think that scarcely forty years ago, a magazine like this one had a readership that was both large enough AND literate enough to help foster the talents of a guy like Stephen King?  It blows my mind a little bit.  These days, even literary magazines struggle to accomplish things like that; but back then, it was assumed that as soon as guys finished looking at the nipples and whatnot, they'd actually sit there and read the articles.  And they must actually have DONE it, too!
              
            Amazing.
              
            Anyways, you know "The Mangler," right?  It's the one about a possessed laundry machine that chews a few people up.  A ridiculous premise, but one that King takes absolutely seriously.  He makes it work, too.



              
            "The Boogeyman"
            (short story)

            • published in the March 1973 issue of Cavalier
            • collected in Night Shift, 1978
              


            image courtesy of Rich Krauss



              Arguably one of King's most effective short stories even to this day, "The Boogeyman" is about a despondent parent who visits a psychiatrist to unburden himself regarding the deaths of his children.  He didn't do it; it was the Boogeyman.
                
                
              Marriages
              (by Peter Straub, novel)

              a Coward, McCann& Geoghegan hardback, published 1973

              The Truth Inside the Lie review of Marriages






                  Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that at certain appropriate times, I'm going to also include certain King-adjacent books on this Guided Tour?  There won't be a huge number of them, though, and they will mostly be books by members of King's family, such as his wife Tabitha and his sons Joe and Owen.
                    
                  But it also seemed appropriate to perhaps consider mentioning works by anyone I deem to be a major collaborator of King's.  So far, there's really only one person who's made the grade in that regard: novelist Peter Straub, with whom King co-authored the major novels The Talisman and Black House.  
                    
                  Yes, yes, I know; both Stuart O'Nan and Richard Chizmar could be said also to be major collaborators.  When I say "major collaborator," I mean someone who has co-penned at least one lengthy piece of fiction with King, and neither O'Nan nor Chizmar qualifies in that regard.  (Faithful was more of a tag-team effort than a collaboration, and "A Face in the Crowd" is a minor work, as is Gwendy's Button Box, a short story masquerading as a novella.  Those are just opinion, of course; but they're MY opinions, and since I'm your guide on this Guided Tour, you're stuck with me.)
                    
                  And here's the facts as I see them: it's impossible to properly evaluate The Talisman and Black House without having an understanding of the work both authors did prior to those novels' publications.  Far too often, King fans downplay or ignore the fact that Straub's name is just as big on the covers of those books as King's is.  There's a reason for that: he's just as important an element of those novels as King was.
                    
                  So, with that in mind, we'll occasionally peek in on the career of Peter Straub.  I'm not going to cover everything, but I will briefly look at each novel up to Black House, and if the third volume in their collaboration ever materializes, I'll revise these posts and add all of Straub's post-Black House novels as well.
                    
                  As for Marriages, it's ... not much of a novel.  Simultaneously underwritten and overwritten, it's the kind of novel you fear King might have "grown up" to write if the impulses governing "Stud City" had flourished.  I honestly can't remember much of anything about Marriages, apart from being bored by it.
                    
                  Thing is, I wonder if maybe I didn't quite give it a fair assessment.  I didn't read it as closely as I would have if King had written it; and that's inherently unfair, which in turn makes me wonder if maybe I missed something.  I don't think I did; in all honesty, I believe this to simply be a mediocre first novel.  But one of these days, maybe I'll take another shot at it.
                    
                  While we're here, let's jump our timeline a bit so as to also take a look at Straub's second novel:
                    
                    

                  Under Venus
                  (by Peter Straub, novel) 

                  • collected in the omnibus Wild Animals (Putnam, trade paperback, October 1984)
                  • published in paperback by Berkley, February 1985

                  The Truth Inside the Lie review of Under Venus






                      Straub's second novel was written circa 1974, but remained unpublished until 1984 (presumably due in part to the excitement over The Talisman).
                        
                      Like Marriages, it's a melodrama; unlike Marriages, it's somewhat effective and occasionally moving.  I don't remember much more about it than I do about Marriages, but I do remember a bit more; at least a bit of it stuck with me.
                        
                      The question King fans would likely have is this: will reading Marriages and/or Under Venus genuinely give me a better understanding of The Talisman and/or Black House.  I have to answer no.  They will give you a better understanding of Straub in general (especially his next novel, Julia), but is that knowledge specifically germane to his collaborations with King?  Nah, I don't think so.
                        
                      However, isn't it nice to see where Straub was in his career compared to where King was?
                        
                      You're welcome.
                        
                        
                      "Trucks"
                      (short story)

                      • published in the June 1973 issue of Cavalier
                      • collected in Night Shift, 1978

                        
                      image courtesy of Rich Krauss

                      Say, remember when I was talking about Maximum Overdrive earlier?  Well, this titty-mag from June 1973 is where that movie got its start, in the story "Trucks."
                       
                      The movie is ridiculous, but the story it's based on is serious and relatively effective.  It's not dissimilar to "Battleground" and "The Mangler" in that it takes a patently ludicrous idea and then proceeds to say, "Yes, okay, fine, that's true; BUT ... what if it actually happened to you?  Would it seem ludicrous then?"
                        
                      And the answer, of course, is no.  That's what King had going for him during the Cavalier years: an ability to identify with his readers and thereby get them to believe in damn near anything.
                        
                        
                      "Gray Matter"
                      (short story)

                      • published in the October 1973 issue of Cavalier
                      • collected in Night Shift, 1978
                        
                        
                        
                        

                        According to his notes in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, King tried to convince his editor to leave "Gray Matter" out of Night Shift in favor of "Suffer the Little Children."  I like "Suffer the Little Children" just fine, but I think his editor made the correct decision: "Gray Matter" is a memorable tale, and Night Shift would have been poorer without it.
                          
                        For those of you who don't know, it's about a guy who gets some really skunky beer and goes through some ... changes ... as a result.
                          
                          

                        "It Grows On You"
                        (short story)

                        • published in the Fall 1973 issue of Marshroots
                        • revised version published in the August 1982 issue of Whispers
                        • re-revised version collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993
                          
                        scanned from The Illustrated Stephen King Companion
                          

                            Disclaimer time: I've got no idea how extensive the various revisions to this story were.  So the Nightmares & Dreamscapes version could be exactly the same as the Whispers version, which in turn could be 100% different than -- or exactly the same as -- the Marshroots version.  Until I have all three copies, no way for me to know.
                             
                            I remember very little about this story.  Wikipedia informs me that (A) it is about a house that grows on its on (not unlike the mansion in Rose Red) and (B) that King has stated it can serve as a kind of epilogue to Needful Things.

                            This latter point leads me to believe that there must have been some heavy revisions prior to the story's 1993 collection in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  But, again, no way for me to know currently.  Someday, maybe!
                              
                            There's also no way for me to know whether this story appeared before or after "Gray Matter."  I guess there's no real need to worry about it.
                              
                            And yet, I kind of do worry.  I worry a lot.
                              
                              
                            "The Horror Market Writer and the Ten Bears"
                            (essay)

                            • published in the November 1973 issue of Writer's Digest
                            • reprinted in Kingdom of Fear: The World of Stephen King, 1986
                            • collected in Secret Windows, 2000
                             


                             
                             

                              One of the first notable essays of King's career, "The Horror Market Writer and the Ten Bears" is a fun piece that can be found relatively easily in the Book Of The Month Club exclusive collection Secret Windows.
                                
                              What you won't find there are these illustrations:
                                
                                








                                
                                
                              I can't remember where I found those; I normally like to credit wherever I pinch things like that from, so my apologies go out to whoever I have aggrieved in this instance.
                                
                              It's a fun little essay, which makes it worthy of inclusion here.  But apart from that, it's also telling that even prior to his first novel being published, King was contributing to one of the major magazines of his industry at the time.  We can look at this one of at least two ways:
                                
                              (1)  King's reputation as a writer of short fiction -- and, specifically, of short horror fiction (given this essay's emphasis) -- was already on the rise.  Otherwise, why would anybody be turning to him to provide advice for other up-and-coming writers?
                                
                              (2)  King's publisher (Doubleday) and/or editor (Bill Thompson) managed to secure King a spot in Writer's Digest as a means of getting a bit of pre-publication publicity for the upcming release of Carrie.
                                
                              Of the two, my money is on the latter.



                                
                              "Sometimes They Come Back"
                              (short story)

                              • published in the March 1974 issue of Cavalier
                              • collected in Night Shift, 1978 


                              image courtesy of Rich Krauss


                              "Sometimes They Come Back" is the final short story that saw publication before King's first novel (Carrie) hit bookshelves a mere month later.  It would still be another couple of years before he cemented his status as a bestselling author, so this doesn't quite represent the end of the lean years / in-between years.  But it's close.  And without a doubt, everything changed from Carrie onward.
                                
                              My memory is that this is an excellent story, but to be honest, I don't remember it quite well enough to be sure. 
                                
                              It's about a guy whose brother died when the two of them were kids.  His death was the result of a pack of bullies, and when the older brother -- now (obviously) an adult -- begins teaching in a new school, he is understandably dismayed when the bullies begin showing up, looking exactly the same as they did back then.
                                
                              Sometimes, you see, they come back.
                                
                              And so shall we, with a look at the first few years of King's career as a novelist!

                              24 comments:

                              1. (1) Cavalier certainly gave it the good college try with these covers.

                                (2) Along the lines of what you say re: at one point there was an industry in place to shepherd along someone like Stephen King. I think about that all the time! It's so incredibly bogus that we (not that WE do it) don't allow for this anymore. And not just Stephen King - so many examples. I really feel like 2017 needs to be audited pretty hard and some basic principles re-established. I'm a free market kind of thinker, but if the answer is to state-subsidize a magazine/record-company context and paradigm, then so be it; these artists need the space to develop.

                                (3) Love those illustrations from the essay!

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                                1. (1) They really did. I'm especially fond of several of them, and that's all we'll say about that.

                                  (2) I suppose there's an argument to be made that the Internet -- and I think we're supposed to not capitalize that anymore, but I'm still doin' it, by damn -- is allowing artists to foster themselves. And I'm sure there is some great stuff happening as a result. But I wouldn't even begin to know where to find it, and don't care enough to try my own process of sorting the wheat from the chaff. I rely on gatekeepers to do that for me. And sometimes they let me down, sure. But that's where by wheat-versus-chaff process comes in; I'm okay with sorting gatekeepers.

                                  So, sure, I bet there is still a lot of great stuff happening. But I'm guessing the lack of fostering is resulting in a lot of missed opportunities, too.

                                  (3) Yeah, those are pretty great. I'd like to find a copy of that magazine. All of these magazines, really. A project for an older, richer me! Bryant of 2025, git 'er done!

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                                2. (2). I hear what you say about how today's paradigms can't foster talent the way the pre-Net industry did.

                                  That said, for those who've been keeping tab of the coverage of "Outside Influence" meddling on American accounts, it does seem inevitable that somewhere in the near future, all new kinds of safeguards will have to be put in place just to make sure the country stays running.

                                  It will be interesting to see how this impacts certain outlets like Amazon, or the like. I mean, will the growing awareness of Troll-bots mean a necessary return to more analog means of commerce, as opposed to the current digital setting?

                                  A few years ago I wouldn't have even regarded such talk as up for consideration. Then the Net was proven to be far from a helpful safeguard. Therefore I'm left tow wonder if the global economy will have to take a necessary step back in order to avoid "interference s" from "hostile actors".

                                  Just a thought, anyway.

                                  ChrisC

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                                3. Somebody -- might've been Alan Moore -- said (not sure when exactly) that the Internet was much more dangerous than anyone realizes. Humans simply aren't meant to be able to access that much information; the average among us cannot handle it.

                                  I feel this every day, and have tried to pull as far away from it as possible. I might yet try to go further back still.

                                  I have no answers for how this is all going to shake out, but it will continue to develop with rapidity, I suspect. It might be that the younger generations, who have grown up with this from day one, will end up being more capable of handling it. No guarantees in that regard, but I wouldn't write it off.

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                              2. "But I wouldn't even begin to know where to find it,"

                                Amazon recommendations and "best of the year" lists are a good place to start, I've found hundreds of quality new horror titles over the past few years. We are living in a age of plenty, good sir.

                                As a fan of The Stand, I might recommend a book called "Between Two Fires" by Christopher Buehlman.

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                                1. I appreciate the recs, but to be honest, I have virtually no interest in reading new books. I'll never live long enough to read everything I want to read that's already in the world. Same goes for music; I'm still trying to stay at least somewhat current on movies and tv shows, but even that may not last forever.

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                                2. Wow, that's a surprising outlook, but fair enough! Of course it's your free time to spend as you wish. I do think we are living in a new golden age of horror fiction, however. I remember being in college in 2005 and basically realizing that all the books that I wanted to read were released in the 70s/80s. I couldn't find anything new that caught my eye, but times sure have changed.

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                                3. I hear really good things about "My Best Friend's Exorcism." So I don't doubt that there is a lot I'm missing out on.

                                  Here's the thing, though. My reading has REALLY slowed down. I keep trying to get that back on track, and keep failing. At this point, I don't know that I'm making it through a dozen books per year; in a perfect world, it'd be two books per week.

                                  I'm 43, so you do the math on that. Not only do I want to read my way through all of King's books three or four more times, I'd also still like to catch up with a lot of the writers whose work I've only partially investigated (Bradbury, Herbert, Heinlein, Barker, freakin' Twain, etc.), or essentially haven't read (Gaiman, Matheson, Bloch, Dickens, etc.), not to mention some of the others of my favorite writers (McMurtry, Tolkien, Dahl, etc.) whose work I want to reread and blog about.

                                  Checking out new authors takes a backseat to all of that for me.

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                                4. I understand. We're all going to (eventually) die with thousands and thousands of great books unread. I actually just bought "My Best Friend's Exorcism", the paperback cover was too good to pass up. That author also released a fantastic book called "Paperbacks from Hell" which I'd imagine you'd enjoy.

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                                5. Oh, yeah -- I've heard of that! I didn't know the same guy wrote both.

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                                6. It was recently brought to my attention that Hendrix also wrote a series of posts revisiting King's novels over several years. I skimmed them, and found that he has some interesting things to say. I even found a link to my own blog, which was rather a pleasant surprise.

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                              3. My reading has fallen way off over the past 5 years or so as well. I stepped back a few months ago and analyzed how I spent most of my spare time and realized the bulk of it was spent trying to (in vain) catch up on all of the TV shows that are out that I want to watch. It's great that we are in a golden age of television but there is so much quality TV out there that I've realized I can't watch it all. So now I have restricted myself to only following 2 shows with my wife and 2 shows on my own. As a result I've found time to read again and am really enjoying getting back into it. Hopefully I won't fall off the wagon the next time I hear about a TV show that sounds awesome :)

                                "And yet, I kind of do worry. I worry a lot" - I laughed out loud when I read this :)

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                                1. I have been through that cycle with tv shows, too, and have cut way back. Even so, it seems like every time I get rid of one, two more that I'm interested in pop up. Tv shows are like a damn hydra in that way these days.

                                  I appreciate that LOL. I do my best!

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                              4. The inclusion of Straub here is interesting. I've never read either "Marriages", nor "Under Venus". I am familiar with both books, however, thanks to Bill Sheehan's "At the Foot of the Story Tree".

                                Sheehan's makes some interesting observations about both of Strabu's two first novels, I think they are useful in at least getting an idea of Strabu's major drawbacks as a writer.

                                Sheehan says:

                                "Stylistic issues aside, the story (of "Marriages,sic) itself is fundamentally ordinary and uninvolving, and neither the authors efforts to invest it with a highly charged, poetic language nor his deliberately disjointed presentation of its component parts is able to pump much life into it....Still, given one's knowledge of the author's subsequent career, it's hard not to see in this offshoot the first tentative stirring of a narrative impulse determined to assert itself among the alien surroundings of a sedate, and extremely literary, first novel.

                                To be continued.

                                ChrisC

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                                1. Continued from above,

                                  Sheehan goes on to note:

                                  "The key word here is literary. "Marriages" is best and most charitably viewed as the work of an extremely intelligent young man who has read a great many good novels, and whose sensibility has been shaped by those books and by his own emotional and intellectual responses to them (27)".

                                  The problem is that the word Literary comes close to having an undeserved bad rap. When I think of Literary I'm reminded of authors like Dickens or Shakespeare, and I happen to think a lot of their work stands the test of time.

                                  Nor should words like Sophistication be fitted for a dunce cap. It is quite possible for a work of fiction to be both Literate and Sophisticated. As an example, witness the best work of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen.

                                  Straub's problem, in contrast, is that he's obsessed with presentation to the detriment of narrative. His post-"Floating Dragon" work is often crammed so full of stylistic narrative flourishes, that story winds up grinding to a complete halt.

                                  To be concluded.

                                  ChrisC

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                                2. Concluded from above.

                                  Granted, these same stylistic flourishes were already present by the time he came to write "Dragon". The difference there is that he seemed aware that his first obligation was to telling an entertaining tale, so that his worst impulses were held in check.

                                  After the publication of "Dragon", however, Straub seems to have devoted himself to this pseudo-literate exercise in faux-sophistication. This problem is mainly one of style getting in the way of substance.

                                  Straub's later novel, "Mr. X", gives the best demonstration of what I mean, as I'll swear it is the same story as Neil Gaiman's "Anansi Boys". Both concern protagonists who learn that they are, in fact, supernatural entities, who come from a long line of the same.

                                  Straub's treatment, while entertaining, often tends toward the ponderous, and tries to be more intellectual than the story itself can hold. Contrast this with Gaiman's version, which features a sequence involving a room full of Mutant Killer Attack Flamingos. It is as a ridiculous, and awesome, as it sounds.

                                  Where Straub can't help trying to be smart with his material, Gaiman knows enough to get out of the way and let the story go to work.

                                  All of this goes to prove a point Sheehan makes, the can be summed up as Straub's wort failing as a writer:

                                  "For all its learning, sophistication...it lacks the quality of actual, considered experience that characterizes Straub's...better work".

                                  ChrisC

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                                3. I wrestled with myself over including Straub, but it wasn't much of a fight, really; I won, and decided that Straub is too important a figure in King's career to have been excluded. For better or for worse, their collaborations are as Straubian as Kingian, and not recognizing that would be a mistake.

                                  I like what Sheehan has to say about "Marriages." He is kinder toward it than I am, but he's undoubtedly a hundred times more knowledgeable about Straub's body of work, so I yield to him.

                                  I'm 100% interested in the notion of "literary" as it applies to authors I enjoy. There are no-telling-how-many definitions of what "literary" even means, and I imagine most of them are wrong. I think in many instances, what people mean is "recognized canonically by academics." And that is certainly a good jumping-off point, but I find that academia often carries a whiff of the totalitarian, and permits few (if any) "outside" opinions. This makes them far too conservative for my tastes ... even though my own literary tastes permit for relatively few outside opinions. Throw something at me that I find to be guilty of stepping outside my preferred form, and I'll turn my nose up at it. I'm aware of this fault within myself, though, and if somebody comes along and takes me by the hand and shows me that I'm looking at it wrong, I'm open to that correction.

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                                4. Now, as for Straub, I just don't think "Marriages" works. But I wonder, is that because I just haven't been taken by the hand and properly introduced to it (as it were)?

                                  I'm looking forward to reading further into Straub's career, and am now looking forward to "Mr. X" just to see what I make of it.

                                  I think -- HOPE -- I will give Straub a fair shake. I'm going to proceed with as few preconceptions as I can about what the stories should be. It's a mistake to think of him as King 2.0, or Gaiman 2.0, or as anybody but Straub. (Not that I'm saying that's what you're doing; just as a general statement.) So it may simply -- or complexly -- be that he has different intentions in those later books. If so, I'd like to think that I'll pick up on it and give them their due.

                                  But I wonder. Because I have to admit that I've seen signs in the earlier books that what he's doing could very well lose cohesion, like that poor terminally ill guy in "Floating Dragon" who is literally being held together by his bandages until somebody begins pulling at one. From there: goop on the floor.

                                  If "Mr. X" is the literary equivalent of that guy, I won't be overly surprised.

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                              5. These are some of my favorite short stories from the early era. Superbly creepy, especially Suffer the Little Children and Gray Matter. I was also genuinely afraid of Jagger in The Fifth Quarter. Something is up with that guy and it served to make me see him as something other than human.

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                                1. It's been a long time since I read that one.

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                              6. I see Sometimes They Come Back as one of the stronger stories in the collection, but overall I'd say something like Skeleton Crew represents a higher level of work. Do you see much progression between the two, or do you think it's just a reader's preference? I felt taken out of the story, for example, when the narrator mentions offhand that the protagonist acquired blood for his ritual by finding a stray cat and slitting its throat. I also feel like Sometimes They Come Back, and other stories like Gray Matter and The Mangler, are missed opportunities in terms of depth and scope, whereas his later works would squeeze every ounce of tension out of those fertile stories.

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                                1. I think it's at least partially a matter of preference. Without really sitting down and studying the two collections back to back, I can't feel great about this, but I think I'd probably say that the "Night Shift" stories are stronger in terms of their hooks, whereas the "Skeleton Crew" stories are stronger in terms of their execution. On average, at least.

                                  Honestly, it's a toss-up. I really can't choose between them, even though I always do in the end; it always feels like I get it wrong.

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                                2. Actually, that's a great way of articulating what I was trying to say. I totally agree, and I should have qualified the question as you did with "on average." Well put, as usual!

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                                3. Thanks! The winner of a competition between those two books is whoever is reading one of them.

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