Recently I have read a few longer novels by Stephen King (The Outsider and Rage), sometimes it feels like a bit of a slog to get through a book with just one story, so for a change, I decided to start reading Just After Sunset as it was a book full of short stories (although the last one was > 100 pages, so what I have come to think as a long short story), easy enough to get through a couple over my lunch break.
I think the best way to break this review down is to give a brief overview of each story and then add my thoughts after, so here goes:-
Story 1 – Willa
After a train derails leaving its passengers stranded, David Sanderson’s wife wanders away from the station and he goes looking for her.
In the authors notes at the back of the book, Stephen states that “this probably isn’t the best story in the book”, however I would have to disagree as I personally thought it was one of the strongest and one of my personal favourite ones in the book.
I can’t really go into any detail about the story, over what I have already written as it would give away too much and ruin the story (I did not click on the ‘twist’ until right near the end.)
Story 2 – The Gingerbread Girl
After leaving her husband, Emily takes up running on the beach. Her life is turning around until she runs afoul of killer!
Another strong story here, one I enjoyed almost as much as the first one (I was starting to think “surely they can’t all be this good!”), this is a story about how one persons intrigue takes a potentially deadly turn, with the overall moral being “you should not always go and investigate that strange shape just off the beaten path”.
Story 3 – Harvey’s Dream
A woman in a boring marriage is surprised when her husband wants to share a dream of his with her.
Down to earth with a bang with this one sadly, after two cracking opening stories, I just did not gel with this one for some reason, the characters and the story were believable, but there was just something I did not quite like here, maybe it’s just not my sort of story, it has been compared to a Twilight Zone episode, which is a program I have never watched (or wanted to watch if I am honest).
Story 4 – Rest Stop
A writer on the way home stops at a rest area to pee and interrupts a man beating his wife.
Sadly the ‘meh’ stories continue here, the idea behind the story was OK (what would you do if you interrupted a man apparently beating on his partner), but the actions the protagonist takes against the man who was beating his wife seems a little far fetched based on how his character was initially described, still it did make me wonder what I would do in that situation and I guess that was the main point of the story.
Story 5 – Stationary Bike
An overweight commercial artist gets a stationary bike. Twilight Zone style weirdness ensues.
A few years ago I went through a stage of trying to ride a stationary bike as much as I could, to be honest this did not last long as I found it so tedious sitting in the same place seeing the same stuff everytime just didn’t cut it for me.
So, although I did find this story a little on the long side for what was actually happening, I did find myself (once again) thinking it would have been cool for a similar set of events to happen to me (guy paints a scene of a road surrounded by trees and sets himself a target of travelling x-miles per day and tracks it on a real map, as he is ‘travelling’ along the road, things start to appear and dissapear) – it certainly would have helped me keep up with the riding!
Story 6 – The Things They Left Behind
Mysterious objects appear in a 9/11 survivor’s apartment, objects belonging to his deceased co-workers.
Back on track here once again, I loved this story, it was kind of a story about survivors guilt, as the protagonist was supposed to be in his office in the world trade centre when the planes hit on 9/11, but he had a premonition beforehand to give the office a miss that day. After that event, random objects started to appear in his flat, objects his work colleagues used to have in and around their office cubicles. He was not sure of the meaning at first, he tried hiding them, or giving them away, but he soon came to realise what it was he needed to do and the story had quite a happy ending.
Story 7 – Graduation Afternoon
A young woman knows she’s attending one of her boyfriend’s family’s gatherings for the last time. It turns out being the last in more ways than one.
This one obviously had no impact on me what so ever, I could not remember what the story was actually about, I even re-read the authors notes to try to jog my memory, which did help to ring a (very small) bell in my head, but still nothing concrete, so I guess you will just have to have a read of it for yourself!
Story 8 – N
A psychiatrist commits suicide and his sister reads the file on his last patient, an OCD man named N.
I enjoyed this story so much, I actually found myself checking how many pages were left and wishing that it could go on for much longer, although the story itself was a little weak (a set of 8 stones, which are used to keep some ‘force’ from taking over the world) the characters and the way they were written was very strong. I often wondered about the term ‘a real page turner’, this was sure that sort of story for me.
Story 9 – The Cat From Hell
A pharmaceutical millionaire hires a hitman to kill… a cat?
I hate cats, I find them such arrogant beasts (do you have food…no…then go away then, come back when you do or you have something to entertain me with)…give me a dog anyday!
I hate cats even more after this story and I do believe that any cat has the ability to do exactly what happened in this story.
Story 10 – The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates
A woman gets an unexpected phone call from her dead husband.
It took me a while, but I suddenly realised that this book seems to be very influenced by 9/11, death and plane crashes – not all the stories were written post 9/11, but I suspect he chose from his back catalogue specially here to keep the theme going.
As the intro states really, a woman starts to receive phone calls from her husband, only problem is he has been dead for days (then weeks and months as the story progresses), she may be a bit unnerved by the phone calls initially, but by the end she sure is glad they were happening.
Story 11 – Mute
After finding out his wife has been having an affair, a man picks up a deaf-mute hitchhiker and bares his soul. But was the man really deaf?
Another really entertaining read (dare I say again, a real page turner?), jilted husband, deaf-mute hitchhiker, a priest, underwear, lottery, a randy cowboy…could this all fit together to form a good story, I certainly thought so!
Story 12 – Ayana
A man recounts his father’s battle with pancreatic cancer in 1982, culminating in the intervention of a blind seven-year-old girl named Ayana. After being kissed by the mysterious child (similar to John Coffey in the Green Mile), “Doc” Gentry makes a miraculous recovery from the edge of death
Another death / getting over death themed story here and sadly back to ‘uninteresting’ territory for me, although the story was not very long, it just did not grab my attention, especially after the previous fantastic story.
Not much more I can add to the description sadly – it is a Miss for me.
Story 13 – A Very Tight Place
A guy gets trapped inside a Johnny-On-The-Spot by his vindictive neighbour.
I saw how long this story was (100+ pages) and was initially concerned this one was going to drag on (we all know how Stephen sometimes says in 1000 words what could be said in 100), but I was pleasantly surprised here.
I have only finished reading this last story today, not long ago and I still fail to see how he has made the description of escaping from a porta-loo last for so many pages, but still be a riveting read making you fell like you were actually there in person.
Now, looking back at what I have written about each story and considering how many stories I marked as great vs the ones I marked as meh or Miss, I have to conclude that this book is a really strong collection of short stories, so much so I am now on the look out for his other short story collections as there appear to be a good few to choose from.
My rating is a good 4 out of 5.