Stephen King returns with his strongest work in years with If It Bleeds, a collection of four novellas.
King kicks it off with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, a story featuring a student and mentor dynamic between two unlikely parties. Mr. Harrigan, a retired business magnate, settles into Maine to live out his golden years. Craig, a student living in the same town, befriends the old man as the two bond over the arrival of the new iPhone. Upon Mr. Harrigan’s passing, Craig places the phone inside the breast pocket of Mr. Harrigan’s suit coat prior to his burial. During the grieving process, Craig calls Mr. Harrigan only to find his phone still accepts incoming calls. What happens next falls firmly within King’s territory. I thought this was a solid choice to start off the collection but I thought it wasn’t quite as scary as it could have been.
The second novella, Life of Chuck, I felt had the most potential but sort of lost steam as it went on. The opening act had this completely bewildering setup where I had no idea what was going on but I loved it. Once that ends, King then takes the time to explain everything by working his way backward. It’s not a bad story, but I felt like King somehow got muddled in what he wanted to say with this one.
It’s no secret around these parts that I am not a fan of King’s 2018 novel, The Outsider. While I haven’t watched the HBO series yet (I heard it improved on the story), I found the novel clunky, boring and too coincidental in its storytelling. In the title story, If It Bleeds, King yet again brings back the divisive Holly Gibney, the proprietor of the fledgling detective agency Finders Keepers. Holly, with the help of an eagle eyed senior, uncovers another Outsider – the same demon that haunted her in the novel of the same name. In this outing, I found Holly much more palatable and relatable; almost endearing. The plot itself is much more interesting than its predecessor. I honestly had planned to skip this one when I picked up the book, but I’m glad I stuck it out as it was the best of the bunch.
The final story, Rat, felt the most like early King. Rat follows Drew Larson, a struggling author who journeys to upstate Maine in an attempt to write his breakthrough work; a western novel that came to him in a moment of seemingly divine inspiration. This isn’t like his last attempt however, there’s no torture here, in fact “it’s like taking dictation” as Drew assures his worried wife at home. The best laid plans often go awry though and when things go off the rails, King hits Larson with a choice that could have deadly consequences.
I really enjoyed this collection and would go so far to say it’s the best thing King has done in years. If It Bleeds even has me curious to go back and check out those other two Mercedes books. Maybe I was wrong about Holly, although I wouldn’t bet on it.