In 1982, Stephen King's four-novella collection, Different Seasons, was introduced to the world. Two of the four stories, "The Body" and "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," went on to become two of King's most beloved stories as well as two notable movie adaptations (Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption). A third story, "Apt Pupil" was also adapted but did not receive as much acclaim as the other two.
In 1990, King put out another four-novella collection called Four Past Midnight. Two of those stories, "The Langoliers" and "Secret Window, Secret Garden" were also made into films.
In 2010, King once again went to the four-novella format with Full Dark, No Stars. Three of those stories were adapted into films, including "1922" which was released as a Netflix original.
Here we are, nearly forty years after Different Seasons, with King's fourth four-novella collection, If It Bleeds. It will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I rate this book highly, four-and-a-half stars overall. Here are my reviews of each story:
"Mr. Harrigan's Phone"
While many horror writers shy away from the use of technology in stories, Stephen King has a history of using it as a centerpiece to some of his writing. His novella "Ur" is about an e-reader that can access stories from other worlds. His novel Cell used mobile phones to trigger a zombie apocalypse. There's Christine, Word Processor of the Gods, and From a Buick 8.
In Mr. Harrigan's Phone, King revisits the use of a cell phone to create a very interesting horror story. Craig has been reading and doing odd jobs for Mr. Harrigan, a multi-millionaire, for several years. Craig had been the one to introduce Mr. Harrigan to the wonders of the iPhone. When Harrigan dies, Craig slips the phone into Harrigan's pocket to be buried with him. One night, missing his friend, Craig calls Harrigan's number. The next day he receives a text message in response.
The story is tight and King works his coming-of-age magic as Craig grows from nine-year-old bot to high school teenager. It's a slow burn, but does not disappoint in living up to its place as a horror story.
"The Life of Chuck"
This story is almost impossible to describe without a spoiler. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and has a "story within the story" that is a chilling haunted room tale. It is my favorite story in the collection, and contains one of the most wonderful scenes King has ever written. You'll know it when you read it.
"If It Bleeds"
The "title track" of the collection gives Holly Gibney her first starring role. We first met Holly as a character in Mr. Mercedes and she has since grown to be one of King's favorite protagonists. This story is tied more closely to The Outsider than any of the Hodges books. Holly Gibney seems to be a very polarizing character, though I struggle to understand the dislike for her. She is one of King's most three-dimensional characters who doesn't fall into one of his go-to personas (such as the struggling writer, see below).
The story itself is even creepier than The Outsider, and Holly's character development is exceptional. I would have preferred if this had been a standalone novel, but it's an excellent story and places second in the collection for me (if you're keeping score at home). There is no doubt we'll be seeing Holly again, hopefully soon.
There you have it.for me, was the weakest. While many of King's finest stories include a writer (often a struggling writer) as protagonist, "Rat" doesn't really bring anything new to the trope. Drew Larson, a decent short-story writer, has never been able to finish writing a novel. His third attempt triggered a mental breakdown. When a perfect idea pops into his head, Drew convinces his wife to let him go to his father's empty cabin in northern Maine and work on the book. Everything starts out great, the words are flying onto the page...until they aren't. Then the rat shows up. It's an effective story, just one that's been done before.
There you have it. Now go get If It Bleeds and read for yourself.