Everything’s Eventual

Reviewed: January 30, 2004
By: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
583 pages, $11.99

I have to admit that I’m a little behind on my Stephen King reading. He’s too prolific. Although the man has announced that he plans to retire after five or six more books, I just don’t believe him, and this book is probably the biggest reason why.

This, after all, is a book of short stories, and word for word, kilogram for kilogram, short stories don’t make a writer as much money as spending the time working on a novel would. King admitted as much in the preface to an earlier collection. Short stories, even Stephen King’s short stories, are a tighter, more disciplined type of writing than novels. Novels can be inclined to bloat, to wander off in directions best left unvisited, to grow beyond the ideas behind them and visit tangental realms of rambling. I might even be describing parts of some of Stephen King’s novels in writing that last sentence, though I confess to being a fan, and I really don’t mind if he rambles a bit.

The thing is, people who still write short stories instead of launching their careers with 1200 page trilogies, are getting to be rare. Places to sell short stories are getting to be even more rare. Lots of writers I am aware of don’t even bother with them unless they are actually commissioned to write them for a definite project and know they will get paid.

So, anyone in Stephen King’s position who actually still writes short stories must be doing so for the love of the form.

Not that King has any trouble finding outlets: original theme anthologies;  the remaining science fiction digests: three in the New Yorker, of all places; original audio books; and, oh yes, that terribly daring experiment in on-line publishing, the e-book “Ride the Bullet”.

“It’s not about making more money or even precisely about creating new markets, it’s about trying to see the act, art and craft of writing in different ways, thereby refreshing the process and keeping the resulting artifacts - the stories, in other words - as bright as possible.” (Introduction, p. xi)

Does this sound like the voice of a man who plans to retire from his work any time soon? I rest my case.

King is quick to admit that his output here runs the gamut from “literary stories” to “all out screamers”. He says he likes the creative side of his art, but he also likes the business: “I like to goof widdit, do a little media cross-pollination and envelope-pushing.”

All of which I take to mean that he thinks about his work, tries to keep it interesting for himself, his own first “constant reader”, and will probably die with his laptop (or whatever we’re using by then) balanced on his chest, the way they say Frank Herbert (Dune) did. This is, after all, the fellow who found writing to be the best drug to kill the pain of recovering from a near-fatal hit and run accident a few years back, thus having his life imitate the art of his earlier novel, Misery.

I read most of Everything’s Eventual on a day when I was too sick to go to school and too bothered with aches and pains to do much besides sit and read. In that sense, I have to agree that the work is a great analgesic.

There are ghost stories, vampire stories, tales of almost death and something that might be called a living death. There are melancholy tales about travelling salesmen, about crooks on the run, about really nasty art work, and a hotel room you honestly don’t want to spend any time in. There’s some funny stuff and some other stuff that turns around and bites you when you least expect it.

My favourites are the two longest of the fourteen stories, one a stand-alone tale of Roland, from the Dark Tower saga, and the other the aforementioned “Ride the Bullet”, which improves each time I read it. The only tale I didn’t really enjoy was the title story, which left me somewhat indifferent as to the fate of its protagonist.

In short (a queer phrase to use when speaking of this writer) Everything’s Eventual is vintage King, everything you might expect and then some, eventually.