In reviewing the collection of short stories entitled Night Shift, it is important to note that as with most collections, there will be three levels of stories contained within – the ordinary, the average and the brilliant. That goes with the territory of such a conglomerate of stories, and categorising them in those three levels will make it easier to know whether you need to return to them in the future. Fortunately for all, there are far more in the higher categories than the lower here.
(Ratings out of 5 are in brackets after the story title)
JERUSALEM’S LOT (2) is probably not the starting point I was looking for. Having enjoyed “‘Salem’s Lot” so much, this ‘prequel’ short story, written as being comprised of letters written back in the 1850’s, doesn’t do it for me. Rather than enhancing the book that had already been written, to me it detracts from the set up that was given in that story. On re-reading it again my opinion hasn’t changed. Vice versa, GRAVEYARD SHIFT (4) tickles my fancy, because no one likes rats, and thought of not only a massive infestation of rats, but a plague of rats that had evolved into other things even more shuddering is something that really gets you squirming. Terrifically ridiculous. NIGHT SURF (3) has obvious story line relations to The Stand, which was released six months after this collection in 1978, but the story itself was published back in 1969 so its history in regards to that epic post-apocalyptic novel has some interest, though in the long run it isn’t a hugely interesting piece.
I AM THE DOORWAY (4) is a thought provoking piece about the possibility of alien life forms using our own bodies as vehicle to not only spy on us but to perform deeds through us. I love the way the protagonist Arthur describes how the eyes feel as they try to reach out through his clothing shields, and how he himself looks to them through their/his eyes. A terrific short. THE MANGLER (4) is a typical kind of King short story, taking an inanimate object and allowing it to run riot of its own accord killing as it sees fit. The typically ambiguous ending allows you to fill in the pieces for yourself as well. Even more so with THE BOOGEYMAN (3) where everyone’s night fears are brought to vivid life in this short tale. It’s a beauty, with nothing left to the imagination by King in its telling.
GREY MATTER (5) is one of those perfect, creepy tales that King does so well, telling the tale through the mouths and ideas of a group of the ‘table of knowledge’ of a man who drank a bad beer, and appears to be morphing into something not human. The ending is perfect Stephen King, again leaving you the chance to fill in the blanks. BATTLEGROUND (4) is another of those excellent bad-guy-gets-his-comeuppance stories, where a set of armed forces miniature toys takes on a professional hitman in a battle to its well written conclusion. This is followed by TRUCKS (4), another one-scene story of machine vs. man where the believability of the scenario is told in such a matter-of-fact way that it is completely believable. These three stories in the heart of the collection are all excellent tales that hold your interest throughout.
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (3) is a morbid story that, for me, doesn’t quite come up to the standard of the earlier stories. The idea is sound, of those who killed the lead characters brother returning from the dead to commit more mayhem, but in the end it doesn’t fit together well enough to be completely enjoyable. STRAWBERRY SPRING (5) is much better, telling the tale from first person perspective of “Springheel Jack” who got away with several murders while under mist and fog. King keeps this story fresh and alive without giving away the culprit until the end. THE LEDGE (5) is one of the best stories here, combining some obvious conclusions along with surprises and twists that make the story riveting until the very end.
THE LAWNMOWER MAN (2) is one of those King pieces that is so far offbeat that you will either love it or loathe it. To be honest it has never done very much for me, but it is enjoyable enough if you take it in the right frame of mind. QUITTERS, INC. (5) is one of the best thought-out stories here, and makes all the sense in the world if you have been a smoker. A real thought provoking story as to what YOU would do in the scenario put forward. I KNOW WHAT YOU NEED (3) is an interesting enough tale but without a really likeable character to grab your interest in deep enough.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (3) has sprouted a number of films and utilises the oft-used theory of a society killing off adults when they reach a certain age, and also the Stephen King classic of getting lost by taking back roads, and regretting it fully once they get to said destination. THE LAST RUNG ON THE LADDER (3) is a sad tale told in reverse, one that isn’t in the horror genre that King normally writes in, but shows he can delve into other genres of writing. THE MAN WHO LOVED FLOWERS (3) is a more typical King short story in that the protagonist appears like a normal person to all those around him, but in reality has his dark secret that drives his actions.
ONE FOR THE ROAD (4) is a much better story connected with “’Salem’s Lot” that the opening tale of this collection, as it occurs just a couple of years after the events described in that novel. It is nice to catch up with those events again down the track, and that the vampires are still active despite the blaze. The book concludes with THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM (3).
I love Stephen King’s novels of all lengths, and I also do enjoy his collected works of short stories. Not all of them are great, something he admits himself often, but as a short burst to read before going to sleep at night they are enjoyable. And sometimes sleep depriving.
Rating: Overall a terrific read, of the great and the average. 4/5