Title: If It Bleeds
Author: Stephen King
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
With Stephen King books, the plot is often secondary to the telling, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, while a good storyteller can breathe life into a weak story, a good story will always suffer under a weak storyteller – that makes for an uneven read in If It Bleeds.
The opening novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is the kind of solid character tale that King does so well. It transitions from a nostalgic sort of melancholy in the opening pages, to something more creepy and contemplative by the end. It’s not a perfect tale – the ‘predictions’ about technology and business feel shoehorned into the story, and dislike I how it’s on the reader to decide whether it was all coincidence – but there is a nice final twist and an interesting ending.
The three interconnected shorts that comprise The Life of Chuck are an uneven bunch. The opening apocalyptic tale is beautiful in its matter-of-fact understatement and bizarre in its inexplicable messages; the second is rather peculiar, more a slice-of-life vignette than a story; and the closing ghost story is so perfectly understated, we don’t realize what we’re reading until the very end. Alone, each has its charms, especially the first and last, but the way in which we’re to believe they’re connected just feels somehow false.
The title novella, If It Bleeds, is both the longest and the strongest of the bunch. Coming into this, I wasn’t excited about another Outsider tale, but there was a definite appeal in seeing Holly Gibney step up and take the role of primary protagonist, and the opening scenes of the school bombing more than caught my interest. This one got its hooks into me, as the best King stories do, and the interplay between heroine and villain was a sheer joy to witness. There’s a palatable sense of evil here, a genuine force against which Holly sets herself, which is nicely mirrored by the interplay between Holly and her mother. As for the ending, it was just about perfect.
The final story, Rat, has its moments, but it’s hardly new material. It’s another self-indulgent tale of an author going mad, an excuse to mix genres by sharing his work, with the same reluctance as the first story to declare the supernatural. I enjoyed it, even as I kept shaking my head in exasperation because, as I said earlier, plot is so often secondary to the narration for King.
Looking back, it’s been a long decade since King last knocked my socks off with the one-two-three literary punch of Duma Key, Under the Dome, and 11/22/63, but If It Bleeds proves the man still knows how to write, even if he has strayed from what he used to write.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀