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Stephen King, Eventually

For the longest time, I wasn’t much of a horror fan. I thought the genre was all blood, guts, and jump scares, and none of those things appealed to me (and they still don’t). So my introduction to the work of Stephen King was not one of his horror novels, but a new (at the time) science fiction book, 11/22/63. Clocking in at over 800 pages, the novel follows a man who is sent back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. King himself admitted he had to do a ton of research in order to accurately depict the late 1950s-early 1960s setting. At the time I read 11/22/63, historical fiction was my preferred genre, so I found King’s deep dive into the period fascinating.

I am a short story fan, and King has written many. I recently read his 2002 collection, Everything’s Eventual. The fourteen stories in the collection show off the author’s genre range. Yes, there are treatments of classic horror themes. “Autopsy Room Four,” for example, is a “buried alive” story, of a sort. “1408,” like King’s novel The Shining, is about supernatural occurrences in a hotel. One of my personal favorites was the second story in the collection, “The Man in the Black Suit.” This story, set in 1914, follows a boy who meets the titular man while out fishing. I won’t spoil it, but the man is not exactly what he seems at first. The research needed to portray this boy’s fishing trip in 1914 was surely nowhere near as much work as that needed for 11/22/63, but King still succeeds at evoking a different time and place. He doesn’t go into exhaustive detail about the setting, instead describing the atmosphere in a paragraph or two, but it is enough to give the reader a sense of where they are, and why the narrator behaves as he does.

The stories in this collection range across different genres. One story ties in with King’s Dark Tower fantasy series, and another is more accurately categorized as true crime than horror. Some have no overt speculative element at all. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” is a character study of a troubled traveling salesman who records bizarre graffiti he finds in truck stop restrooms across America. Each of the stories is compelling in its own right, and the collection as a whole shows King’s skills within the horror genre and beyond.

Fans of King may also be interested in the work of his son, author Joe Hill. Like his father, Hill dabbles in different genres, with an emphasis on horror. Plenty of Hill’s work incorporates fantasy elements, notably several stories in his 2019 collection, Full Throttle. His tales of ghosts, lake monsters, and menacing carnivals are influenced as much by Ray Bradbury as they are by Stephen King.

Rutgers University Libraries have many of King’s books available to borrow–perfect reading for the Halloween season, or any time of year!

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