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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Everything's Eventual

By Stephen King
Scribner, 459 pp, 2002

Thank goodness Stephen King still believes in the short story, since it seems to be a dying form these days, especially in the horror field. Horror magazines are going belly-up left and right, just as writers such as myself try to break into them. It's a sad situation, and let's hope the trend reverses itself, and short horror fiction makes a comeback.

Perhaps this fine collection of short stories will help. King has written several short story collections, such as Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, and Nightmares and Dreamscapes, including a few collections of short novels. Everything's Eventual shows that King has not lost the touch when writing the short horror story.

I won't comment on every story, just most of them.

The first story, Autopsy Room Four, gets the book off on the right track. It's a fun jaunt through one man's adventure as doctors are about to perform an autopsy on what they think is a dead man. But is Howard Cottrell of Derry (one of my favorite fictional towns) really dead? He doesn't thinks so, but he can't move or speak to let the doctors know. Will they find out before they crack open his chest? 

This story is also fun because King uses irony very effectively. I usually do not try to get too deep into the literary analysis thing, because it's impossible to glean an author's intentions from the story alone. Did King intend to use irony in this story? Who knows? Regardless, it's still ironic. I can't give too much away, but let's say that a certain orderly who has some fun with what he thinks is a dead body informs the doctors that Howard is alive... or dead. 

The next story, The Man in the Black Suit, is King's "homage" to Hawthorne's classic Young Goodman Brown. The protagonist writes of an encounter he had with the Devil in the woods of his boyhood home. It's very exciting and suspenseful, maybe the best story in the book.

In The Deathroom is one American's struggle against a totalitarian foreign government, as captured in an interrogation scene deep in the bowels of some government building. I found this exciting because I love stories of oppressed people rising up against their oppressors (that sentence sounds left wing, but it's not). The protagonist shows an American ingenuity in his attempts to escape the interrogation. King also shows that sometimes, it's okay to hate something that's deserving of it, another lesson we've seem to forgotten in these politically correct times.

The Road Virus Heads North is pure supernatural terror at its best. So many times, writers feel they need to explain why an otherworldly or supernatural event occurs. In my mind, this often taints the story and makes it less scary - why does there have to be a reason? A danger that threatens for no reason with no obvious escape is scary. That's what King does with this story, involving a macabre painting our protagonist purchases on a whim at a garage sale. It's taut, it's weird, it's terrifying, and best of all, it's unexplainable. Vies with The Man in the Black Suit for best story.

A few other highlights include 1408, the haunted hotel room yarn taken up a notch (as Emeril might say - my wife watches him, okay!), and for us Dark Tower fans, a treat with Roland the Gunslinger taking on vampire nurses. Riding the Bullet, originally published on the Internet, is also included for those readers with no access to cyberspace (are there any?). Lunch at the Gotham Cafe is probably the bloodiest story but effective because it shares the same charming trait with The Road Virus Heads North - there's no reason for a maitre d' in a posh New York restaurant to scream about imaginary barking dogs while slicing up diners with a butcher knife. But that's what happens. And it's great fun.

So buy the book. The link's at the top.

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