Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A look at recent King-family short stories

I have a real brief one for you tonight: just wanted to give you a brief set of reactions to four recently-published King-family short stories that I read this week.
We'll proceed in the order in which they were published, which gives us the added benefit of saving Big Steve's story for last.
Up first:
"All I Care About Is You"
(by Joe Hill)
published in The Weight of Words, December 21, 2017
When he's at his best, Joe Hill makes you want to fuck someone, or punch someone, or donate a bunch of money to charity, or run outside and tump a car over.  Do something passionate, at any rate.  I had none of those options available to me after reading this story, which finds Hill either at his best or real damn near it; so I just ate some Moon Pies.  Story of my fuckin' life, that.
I don't really know why it took me this long to read the story.  Well ... I do know, it's just for a fundamentally silly reason.  
See, a few years ago, I made a sort of vow to myself: that going forward, when I buy anthologies -- I do not extend this courtesy to magazines (for reasons that don't even make sense to me, much less to any hypothetical people with whom I share them) -- so as to have copies of stories by authors such as Hill, King, etc. whose work I enjoy, I will not allow myself to merely read their contributions and then toss them aside.  I used to do that all the time; and when I say "used to," I mean from, like, 1990-2015.  It's insulting to all those other authors!  Plus, I have a tendency these days to ONLY read the Kings and Hills of the world, i.e., people who are already on my approved list.  Reading anthologies is a good way to pick up at least a modicum of familiarity with other authors.
Understand, it is like an ice-pick in my heart to realize I can't find the time to read more or less every genre author there is (and I'd love also to read copious amounts of non-genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, you name it).  But I can't, so I kind of don't worry about it much.
Insisting on making myself read the entirety of these anthologies is my way of not throwing in 100% of the towel; if I can keep 0.05% of it, well, better than none, right?
So basically, I was waiting to find the time -- which I apparently needed to be just right -- to settle down with The Weight of Words.  I got the book in late 2017, and here, halfway through 2018, the time had just not been quite right.
But when -- and apologies for this full-tilt detour into crazy-town, but hey, this IS a blog, so you asked for at least a little bit of crazy -- I read new, published-online stories by both Owen and Stephen King last week, and (spoiler alert!) loved them both, it got me to thinking that there was a major new story by Joe Hill just sitting there on my shelf, waiting forlornly to be read.  And so, I've broken my rule, and dove right into The Weight of Words, flipped to very near the end, and consumed "All I Care About Is You."  All I cared about for the moment was that story.
That said, I will read the entirety of the anthology before the summer is out; I may well make it the next thing I read once The Outsider has been vanquished in fact.  We'll see as to that, but before the summer is out, for sure.
And when I do read it, I will 100% reread "All I Care About Is You," which immediately became a lock for a spot in my top three Hill short stories.  "Pop Art" and "20th Century Ghost" are the current #1 and #2; I'm not sure I had any kind of formal pick for #3, but I feel like if I'd had to choose one, it would have been either "In the Tall Grass" or "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead."
Well, no more; "All I Care About Is You" vaults immediately into at least the #3 position.  I think "Pop Art" is safe at #1, but a reread might find the #2 spot up for grabs.  Regardless of where they get slotted in, this story is sheer dynamite.

I kind of don't want to say a single word about its contents, and you know what...?  I'm going to follow my gut on that one.  I went into it knowing literally nothing, up to and including what genre (if any) it fit into.
I feel as if I benefited from that lack of knowledge, and I am going to pass it along to you, thus continuing the sackful of crazy impulses that has been the hallmark of this post thus far.
"Dark Carousel"
(by Joe Hill)
published as a vinyl-exclusive audiobook on April 18, 2018
I'd also waffled on listening to "Dark Carousel," which I bought immediately upon release.
But see, I've got a mild prejudice against audiobooks in that I prefer to read in prose rather than have a story read to me.  I will (and do) make exceptions, especially for rereads; but on a first read, my preference is fairly firm.  Plus, I ain't got no turntable.  I do have the MP3 download that accompanied the wax, though, so that option was always there.
And after deciding to write this post, I figured it just made no sense to not include "Dark Carousel."
The setup for this one is thus: a quartet of nineteen-year-olds get drunk and do something they ought not to do.  This involves a carousel at a carnival, and some lost money, and a great deal of beer.
It's a good, dark horror story, narrated quite capably by Nate Corddry.  I hope it will be included in Hill's next story collection (whenever that may appear) so I can read it on the page for myself; but until then, this format is just fine.
"Positive Comments"
(by Owen King)
published as a Ploughshares Solos download on May 15, 2018
This one will set you back the price of a $1.99 download, and if you've enjoyed King's short fiction in the past -- or if you enjoyed Double Feature and want to dip your toes into the short fiction (or if you enjoyed Sleeping Beauties and want to dip your toe into King's solo work in general!) -- then you will almost certainly consider this to be two well-spent dollars.
I certainly did.
The story is about a sister and her brother.  She is a college instructor who teaches an art class; he is a somewhat shiftless record-store operator who has a tendency to get into pointless arguments on the internet.  He ends up lending her some assistance when her life is interrupted to some degree by a student who turns in a project late.  The project involves leaving positive comments on the profiles of single mothers, in an attempt to artistically demonstrate how spreading positivity around can have a beneficial impact on the world.
This story is funny as fuck.  The best single line is probably this one: "Cass was not the sort of person who laughed about buttholes."  There is another bit that sent me into literal gales of laughter.
Vintage Owen King here, y'all.  
(by Stephen King)
published at on May 17, 2018
That artwork does not technically represent the story in an official capacity; but it's close enough for my satisfaction, especially considering the story currently has no official artwork beyond the banner art for King's website.  Anyways, that piece is by Francois Vaillancourt, who, having enjoyed King's published-for-free-online story, decided to do a piece of art to commemorate it.  He showed it to Richard Chizmar, Chizmar showed it to King, and King promptly Tweeted his approval.
So it's kinda-sorta official, and anyways, Vaillancourt is a professional artist whose work is going to grace the cover of the King-edited anthology Flight Or Fright later this year, as well as the SST Publications edition of Hans-Åke Lilja's anthology Shining in the Dark.  So he ain't no nobody, you know?
Neither is King himself, obviously enough, and his new short story "Laurie" proves it pretty capably.  If you've enjoyed his short fiction of the decade thus far -- and I have, very much -- then you will likely feel that this fits alongside it very nicely, in terms of both quality and content.
I won't say much about the story, except to note that it's about a grieving widower who is given a get-to-feeling-better present by his sister: a puppy.  Thing is, he doesn't want a puppy.  He really doesn't want a puppy much at all.
And here's the thing about that: having seen Vaillancourt's artwork for this story, you have probably developed a sudden fear for what might happen to that puppy.  And here's the thing about that: if you know anything about King's social-media presence, you almost certainly know that he is madly in love with his own Corgi (Molly, the Thing of Evil).  So don't be too sure you know what that image above means.
That said...
This is a story by Stephen King.  You will have no doubts about that upon reading it, I assure you.
Which you should absolutely do.  I mean, sure, you could wait for it to turn up in King's next collection.  But why would you?  It's right there waiting for you, and it will cost you $0.00.  You can afford that for damn sure.
I debated whether I was going to mention this, but I also knocked out a trio of older King-family pieces that I had not gotten around to reading after recently acquiring.
"The Saved" by Joe Hill:  This short story originally appeared in The Clackamas Review in 2001, but was also published in the limited U.K. edition of 20th Century Ghosts.  I had no idea that that edition contains material not present in other editions until relatively recently, which means that I had no idea by 10th-anniversary limited edition from PS Publishing contained a Hill story I'd never read before.  But so it did, at least until tonight.  It, like "The Widow's Breakfast," is a revised excerpt from an abandoned Hill novel called Giant.  Good stuff.  It's about a father who gets lost in a snowstorm, and though it is not obviously supernatural in any way, it's got whiffs of it.  And anyways, it's Hill, so who cares what genre it fits into?  It fits into the genre of "real damn good," which is the best genre of all.
"Home Brew" by Owen King:  I try to grab up Owen King stories when they get published, but I never did have any success finding a copy of the journal "Home Brew" appeared in.  However, the story was made available for free online, and is there still, and how this escaped my attention until now I do not know.  But now I know, and I read it tonight, and it's typically witty stuff from King, with the same thread of melancholy that runs through a lot of his work.  It's about a schoolteacher whose husband has become obsessed with home-brewing beer.  And then it's about a lot of other stuff, too.  Well worth a read, says I.
"Never Quite As Simple" by Owen King:  This relatively short essay appears in the 2015 essay anthology The Good Book, in which writers reflect on their favorite Bible passages.  Lest that make you apprehensive, I will say right up front that King abandons none of his wit, none of his observational skill, nor none of his propensity for profanity.  He's not shy about admitting that he's coming at this from a secular perspective, and since I share that perspective, this works for me just fine.  (And as a special cameo of sorts, the essay begins with a King-family anecdote from Owen's childhood, complete with a drunken Steve King leaving beer instead of milk for Santa.)  Whether it fits in with the rest of the book I cannot say; I have not read it, and while I probably will at some point, there's isn't the same amount of heat for it that I've got for, say, The Weight of Words.  But if the rest of the book is as good as King's essay, it'll be well worth my time.
And that, friends, is that.
When next we speak, we shall speak of The Outsider.  I'm writing this the night before it comes out; I doubt I'll publish it until tomorrow night though, so, by the time you read this, I'll already be neck-deep in a new King novel.
Gotta love that.


  1. Mr. Burnette:
    I was going to ask about the Gaiman story in The Weight of Words, but you shot that down pretty quickly. Oh well, you're forgiven. I haven't read any Owen King yet, any suggestions?
    I'm really looking forward to your post on The Outsider. I've read a couple of reviews and it sounds pretty good. Can't wait for your authoritative take on it.

    1. I'm about halfway done and anticipate finishing tonight, so that review ought to be relatively soon in arriving.

      Owen King -- I'd honestly suggest "Positive Comments" as a good way to sample his work. If you like it, try his novel, "Double Feature." If you like THAT, you're apt to like his collection, "We're All In This Together."

      Can't help with the Gaiman story, but it's a Gaiman story, so I'm guessing it's good. Lots of great authors in that anthology; I look forward to reading the whole thing at some point.

    2. I will definitely give those suggestions a read. Thanks a bunch.

  2. I've been waiting for CD to put out We're All in This Together for a couple years now, I am really looking forward to it. I love hi sense of humor and was disappointed none of that shown through in Sleeping Beauties.

    Nice info about that Joe story, thanks! I had thought that book was just poems and McKean art for some reason. Not sure I will buy it though. I dunno maybe...arrgh.

    I really tried reading every story in the Science Fiction anthology Joe edited but I got stymied halfway through and moved on to other things, I too feel bad when I don't read all the authors stories. I did do that for the tribute to Ray Bradbury anthology and I was very pleased with those stories.

    Looking forward t your review of the outsider. i am totally on the fence about it. Sounds like Dreamcatcher meets Mr. Mercedes.


    1. I';m reluctant to say anything much about "The Outsider" before finishing it, but so far, that's an apt comparison. Except better than both. But I've still got half of it to finish, so who knows?

      Jesus, Cemetery Dance STILL hasn't published that edition of "We're All In This Together"?!? Inexcusable. I wanted to order it, but I hate giving them money with every fiber of my being and will only do so when I feel like I almost literally can't live without one of the books. And since I've already got all of those stories, I can live without that one.

  3. I haven’t read any of these short stories, but I will check them out. Thanks! I finished THE OUTSIDER last night and loved it. It’s my favorite King novel since Revival.

    1. I've got about 140 pages left, and I'm onboard with that assessment.

  4. I've only read a couple of the Owen King ones here ("Home Brew" and "Positive Comments") both of which I loved.

    I've been meaning to reread DOUBLE FEATURE again sometime soon-ish.

    1. I'd like to tread that one my own self. My memory is that it's a little ragged in places, but downright sparking with energy and wit.