Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Review of "In the Tall Grass" Part 2 of 2 (by Stephen King and Joe Hill)

hor-ror (hôr’Ər, hor’-), n1. an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear  2. anything that causes such a feeling  3. such a feeling as a quality or condition  4. a strong aversion; abhorrence  5. something considered to be in bad or poor taste

I felt the need to consult a dictionary and confirm my suspicion that part two of "In the Tall Grass" qualified as horror.

Boy, does it.

Previously, in my review of part one of "In the Tall Grass," I had this to say: "...without knowing how it turns out, I don't know how to feel about the story.  Did I enjoy reading Part 1?  Absolutely.  Do I anticipate that Part 2 will reward my patience?  I do."

So, having now read part two, the verdict is in on the subject of whether it rewarded my patience.  It certainly did: this is one of the better short stories King has published recently, and it fits in quite well with Hill's run of excellent stories, too.

Since it is a brand-new story, I'm not going to delve into the specifics of what happens.  What I'll say is that part one was about a pair of twins, Becky and Cal DeMuth, who are driving cross-country, and who, while stopped near a creepy old church, hear a child shouting for help from inside a big field of tall grass.  They try to help.  Things get weird.

I part two, things get even weirder, and if you read part one and were unsure as to whether "In the Tall Grass" was an actual horror story or not, part two puts any uncertainty about that to rest.  Given its authorship, this is no surprise, exactly, but over the past decade-plus, King has been just as prone to publish non-horror as horror, especially when it comes to short stories.  Well, together with one of his sons, he's back in the saddle here big-time: "In the Tall Grass" is, as far as short stories go, contains probably the purest expressions of pure horror that we've seen from Uncle Steve in quite some time.  Consulting my list of King stories, there are a few titles that stand as as being possibles, but the last one I feel certain compares horror-wise is "Rainy Season," which came out way back in 1989.  As for Hill, his short story output has been relatively meager of late, but if you've read his awesome "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead," this fits quite well alongside that.

So, yeah, this is that kind of story.

I've only read it once, but my immediate reaction is to want to call it a winner.  It's a bit reminiscent of "Children of the Corn," but mixed with "Mile 81," not as iconic as the former but decidedly better than the latter (which I found to be sloppy and dull, though with interesting ideas).  "In the Tall Grass" isn't perfect; the end scene seems tacked on and unnecessary, although I'll admit that a second reading might change my opinion on that.  However, with the exception of that coda, part two is thoroughly awful, and I mean that in the best possible way; Esquire warns you right up front that you may never want to eat a sardine again, and Esquire is 100% correct in that assessment.

As was the case with their previous collaboration, "Throttle," King's and Hill's styles -- which are really nothing alike at all -- mesh extremely well, and as a result it doesn't really sound like either of them.  And yet, it sounds like both of them.  (How's that for insightful critical analysis?  Sheesh...)  Based on their two short collaborations thus far, which are excellent and feel completely successful from a standpoint of meshing styles, it would be my guess that King and Hill find it quite easy to collaborate.  I'm basing that on nothing except for gut instinct, but I feel like I'm on solid ground in saying it.

I predict the two collaborate on a novel at some point within the next decade.  When it happens, remember: you read it here first.

Sorry for the lack of substance in this review, but really, there's not much to say without getting into discussions about specific plot points.  It's a good (possibly even a great) story; you should read it.  What more is there than that, really?

The conclusion appears in the August issue of Esquire, currently on sale.  The magazine also has an articles about (amongst other things) Jeremy Renner, who I like even more now than I did before reading this piece; Sarah Silverman, who is about as awesome as comedians get; Ashley Greene, who does well when posing for cheesecake photos; and Morgan Freeman, who sounds like a complete asshole.  There are also some political articles, which looked interesting; I skipped 'em, though, because life is too short for me to be reading about that fucked-up mess.

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