October Country: Revisiting Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
I haven't read much Stephen King since middle school. So when Colleen proposed a celebration of our return to October Country, it occurred to me that it might be fun to revisit him. And what with his recent essay on short stories, I decided to go with Skeleton Crew, which I read no less than one billion times during my seventh-grade year*.
It was. Fun, I mean. So much so that I'm probably going to go back and re-read a couple of his novels.
For one thing, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy his introductions. He's so chatty. Chatty and self-deprecating and good-natured. He sounds like he really enjoys what he does. I realize that I'm from Maine, and so I'm not all that objective (regardless of how people feel about his writing, most people here seem to have some amount of regard for him, if only because of how much he does for our state), so I feel that I should mention, yet again, that I have a real soft spot for the guy.
In the intro, he says:
Writing short stories hasn't gotten easier for me over the years; it's gotten harder. The time to do them has shrunk, for one thing. They keep wanting to bloat, for another (I have a real problem with bloat--I write like fat ladies diet).
I laughed when I read that -- I've always preferred his short stories for exactly that reason -- they feel like he reins himself in a bit. Maybe JKR should try writing a few.
His intro also convinced me to finally read The Thorn Birds. Maybe. (His favorite part -- of course -- "was when the wicked old lady rotted and sprouted maggots in about sixteen hours.")
As for the actual stories... I remembered about half of them very clearly. I remembered "The Mist", "The Raft" (yick), and "The Monkey", of course. While "The Monkey" seems to be a real favorite among fans of the book, and while I remember it really getting to me** when I was younger, it didn't do a whole lot for me this time around. Don't get me wrong -- the image of that damned little monkey clanging its cymbals is a creepy one, but the story itself felt pretty cliched.
"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" was another one that I remembered really well. I loved it in seventh-grade, and I'm happy to say that I still love it. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the spooky romance, and I like it when someone writes about small town life in Maine and gets it right:
Summer people like the Todds are nowhere near as interesting to the year-round residents of small Maine towns as they themselves believe. Year-round folk prefer their own love stories and hate stories and scandals and rumors of scandal. When that textile fellow from Amesbury shot himself, Estonia Corbridge found that after a week or so she couldn't even get invited to lunch on her story of how she found him with the pistol still in one stiffening hand. But folks are still not done talking about Joe Camber, who got killed by his own dog.
"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" also reminded me that he's yet another author who I can imagine playing his own (creepy) version of Harriet M. Welsch's Town.
I was happy to discover that I still love "The Word Processor of the Gods" -- the plot of that one made me think a bit of Roald Dahl's adult short stories. It would also work as a Twilight Zone episode, as would "Uncle Otto's Truck".
I'd totally forgotten about "Here There Be Tygers", about a boy who encounters a tiger in the bathroom. Loved it. That one was somewhat Dahl-ish as well.
"The Jaunt" surprised me -- not the twist ending, but the Fredric Brown-i-ness of it. I'd forgotten that there were a few sci-fi stories in here.
It takes a lot to make me gag, but "Survivor Type" did it. I'd forgotten all about it, but after reading the first few lines, it all came back. Then I wasn't even sure if I wanted to finish it, because, eeewWW, but I did. The end of "Beachworld" made me feel a bit ill, too, even though it wasn't the least bit gory.
One of them, "Gramma", I didn't remember at ALL. But at the moment, it's my favorite. It scared the bejebus out of me, and I read it in broad daylight and everything! Does that make me a huge wimp? Possibly.
Overall, it's an uneven collection. But it still made me ridiculously happy to re-read it.
*I was introduced to it by an older student who insisted on calling me Darlene, as in Darlene-from-Roseanne. Yes, I was perpetually cranky -- it was middle school, for Pete's sake! Alright, alright. I also had huge frizzy hair. Let's move on, shall we?
**The one that got me the worst, though, was "The Boogeyman", from Night Shift. GAH!!