King's Highway pt. 9: Short Fiction, pt. 2

That title looks a little funny, doesn't it? It's got a bit of a Rambo, First Blood pt. 2/ Rambo III vibe, i.e. is a bit needlessly confusing. First up, my personal favorite of his short story collections:

As aforementioned, a few of these will be covered in my eventual-blog for Nightmares and Dreamscapes. For now we will focus only on "1408."

What is it with SK and hotel rooms and ledges, anyway? Another recurring motif.
The movie re-arranges but doesn’t wholly-ditch most of the details from the story. Oh, and adds a new ending/ many characters. And while that normally spells disaster, it doesn’t here; the story the filmmakers create and the background / context invented for main character Mike Enslin work pretty well. In spots, it has that whiff of focus groups and/or test audiences (particularly the twists in the third act), but it also bucks the trend of a lot of horror films over the past ten years – I’m looking at you, Pulse, Shutter, The Ring, Saw(s), Identity, so many others – and succeeds in making sense. Everything added has a cohesion that actually plausibly fleshes out the story…

Don't mind me, just going to jump out the ol' window. You carry on having a breakdown.
…Unlike, say, Children of the Corn. But I don’t think I could ever truly say I hate that movie. Like Joe Hill (one of King’s sons) said, even the bad movies are good. Sometimes, bad movies are even better. I call this The Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage corollary. No one would mistake it as superior to the source material, but it has its own lunacy and momentum and I wouldn’t change a thing.

We have your wo-man, Outlanderrrrr.... (yes, I know that's not the same dude, but come on.)
Anyway, “1408” the story is more about faith, I think, and, well, evil. (It’s an evil fucking room, says Olin.) It’s a great read, and as King says in his notes on it, every writer should try their hand at “the haunted room” story at least once. The film adds layers of family and loss and deepens the Mike Enslin character. Not unsuccessfully, I might add. This might be the only story outside of The Shining where the alterations to the original story really add a dimension not-glimpsed in the original. (I suppose the Bollywood No Smoking would belong to this category, as well; it’s practically its own creation). I’m not saying it’s better, just different in an equally-cool way. The movie can be read as a man descending into the madness of his own self-punishment and regret, or of alcoholism.

(A lot of King’s work can, actually. Them’s the brakes and them’s the gears and there’s the steering wheel and hit the gas.)

One final note: it does appear, briefly, at the very end of the film, but the telephone operator’s bizarre dialogue is more of a motif in the story: Five. This is five. Ignore the sirens. Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room. Eight. This is eight. We have killed your friends. Every friend is now dead. Creepy. Makes me wonder if SK has heard the Conet Project.

Some very touching bits at the end, too. King has gone on record saying the thing that scares him the most is something happening to his children. You can really see this fear throughout his work, I think.


Not the cover to the book I have, but a pretty good design, I think. I also like the "THE NUMBER ONE BESTSELLING WRITER" but. Oh! The number one bestselling writer! Not the Stephen King who works down at the 7-11, a different one.
“The Cat from Hell” (filmed in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie) This is a fun enough story. Not very complex, but certainly a fun read. I don’t remember a damn thing about the Tales from the Darkside movie, though, unfortunately. I have failed you...


“Mute” - I just wanted to mention this one, which King refers to as a sort of Alfred Hitchcock Presents tale, as this line really cracked me up: “Of course he’s a panty-man, he grew up jerking off to Playboy, he’s fucking sixty!” I had never put together that the fetishes a man of that age might be the result of a Playboy subscription, and I wondered what kind of effect my own Playboy subscriptions (since elapsed, thank you; after all, “I’m fucking thirty-seven”) had on me. Oddly – and I’m sure this is the sort of thing one expects one would say in print/ for all the world to see – I think the lingering effects have nothing to do with the nekkid girls, lovely as they all are. Playboy was where I first read interviews with Oliver Stone, Malcolm X, Stanley Kubrick, Allen Ginsberg (so many others – thank you, Bonnet’s Bookstore in Dayton, OH/ My-friend's-Dad's-collection. I always wondered how he was able to keep those; my Mom never would have gone for such a thing) not to mention hordes of short stories and articles (The Playboy Forum actually seems upset about the ongoing War on Civil Liberties Masquerading Under Different Nomenclature instead of just apologizing for it, as every other magazine / publication seems to be). Anyway – all that aside, this story was published in Playboy, so a bit of coincidence that appeals to me.

“Lunch at the Gotham Café” – This story is really something. The hostility and discomfort between the husband and wife is palpable (I always wonder what Tabitha King thinks when she reads these things. So many couples fight in King’s stories, and as mentioned below, so many women get belted in the face. I don’t mean to suggest any of these characters are stand-ins for her or their marriage; far from it, I bet. It’s more satisfying, I think, to write about couples who can’t communicate than it is to write about your own couples-miscommunication) and the word salad/ homicidal-snapping of the maître-d is just wild. Highly recommended. It was made into a movie, but I’ve never been able to track it down.

“That Feeling, You Can Only Say What it Is Is in French” – This is another one that, like the haunted room story, should be attempted by every writer, I think. The wandering-round-the-afterlife-having-the-same-experience-endlessly-repeated idea. Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman is a shining example of this particular trope, but good examples abound. The Twilight Zone alone has four or five of them. (The wiki for this story mentions “Judgment Night,” but the one that came to mind to me was “Stopover in a Quiet Town.”)

Let me get this straight...
“The Man in the Black Suit” won the O. Henry Award - just thought I'd mention that. Chapeau, monsieur.

OTHER THOUGHTS: Some things I’ve noticed: When you read a lot of King stuff all at once, you’ll notice there’s a lot about suicide. (See, as just one example, “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away.”) A lot of confessionals. (See “Mute,” but so many others.) A lot of one character recounting a long story. (“The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet,” among many others) Someone will always have quit or will be quitting smoking. Often – perhaps too often – a woman will get hit. I don’t mean to suggest he uses any of these things unexaminedly, just that these are some of the elements of his toolbox I’ve identified.

Oh, also, someone will refer to “Shit on a shingle” or say “I don’t give Shit One.”

In his books, perhaps there’s a bit too much of kids with psychic powers, or sudden abilities that manifest only in the third act. (See Pet Sematary or Duma Key.) But I came here to praise! A toolbox is not the same thing as a bag o’tricks. The difference between these things and, say, John Woo’s endless doppelgangers-confronting-themselves-shooting-in-slow-motion-while-sliding-down-bannisters is about fifty miles wide.

Seen it, dude. Come on, now.
“That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French,” “The Road Virus Heads North,” and “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” are great short-story names, aren't they?

SOME FUN LINES: Just a couple from Just After Sunset, I’m afraid, as like I mentioned in my Duma Key write-up, it took me a few books before I started writing down lines that struck me. Stupid of me; like any great writer, there’s a lot of language that is really polished that gets lost in the sweep of the Big Narrative, and it’s all worth looking at. It sometimes can be a pain to stop and write down a passage that strikes you, but I think it’s a good habit for the aspiring writer to get into.

-          From “The Things They Left Behind:” Obliqueness is the curse of the reading class.
-          From “Ayanna:” The medical definition of ‘miracle’ is misdiagnosis.
-          From “Sunset Notes” (his “author’s afterword”) My best hope is that love survives even death (I’m a romantic so f**king sue me). And Reality is thin, but not always dark.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. LOL at the captions under the pictures!