Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King
Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.
News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.
Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.
Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.
The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.
Review: Quarantine has been hard, but books have been helping me get through. And I’m very thankful that Stephen King happened to have his new book “If It Bleeds” arrive right when I was most needing a helping of my favorite author. True, short stories collections are things that I tend to be wary of, but King hasn’t failed me yet, so I jumped into this collection of four novellas without much trepidation. For me, King’s works and adaptations are like pancakes. Even when they aren’t as good, they’re still pretty enjoyable.
“If It Bleeds” is a collection of thriller and horror tales, the tried and true genres that King does best. I’m going to talk about all four, and then try to pull it all back together at the end. Bear with me, as this may get long.
“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”: We start off with an age old story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the wholesome bond between a young man and an elder in the community. Mr. Harrigan is an isolated rich man living in a small town, and he asks a boy named Craig to come read to him every week. Their friendship builds, and eventually Craig gets Mr. Harrigan connected to the Internet world with an iPhone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig will call his phone to hear his voice again, and leave a message when he’s feeling down. But then Craig starts to wonder if he’s getting through to Mr. Harrigan beyond the grave… and what the consequences of that may be. This felt the most like an old school and straight forward Stephen King tale, with ambiguity, a bit of humor, and a coming of age tale laced with a bit of malice. It wasn’t really reinventing the wheel, and it also felt a lot like King’s story “Obits”, but it was a fun enough read.
“The Life of Chuck”: I had to go back and reread this one, as it’s definitely the most experimental of the stories within this collection. It’s not horror, and it’s not thriller. It’s more of a meditation on life, death, and the unknown impacts that our lives, and deaths, have. It was also a difficult one to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the big themes was about the end of the world. People are dealing with the end of the world, as a man named Chuck is dying in a hospital. We see Chuck’s life in reverse, starting with his death, and ending near the beginning. After reading it a second time I fully grasped what King was doing, and this story was neither scary, nor was it a thriller. It was a very quiet, meditative tale, one that added a more tender edge to this collection.
“If It Bleeds”: This was the story I was most looking forward to, as it brings us back to Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and the world of the “Mr. Mercedes” Trilogy and “The Outsider”. Holly has been a top tier King character of mine ever since her debut in “Mr. Mercedes”, and seeing how she has grown and flourished through other tales has really been rewarding. So it’s probably no surprise that I greatly enjoyed “If It Bleeds”. After a middle school is bombed in a supposed terrorist attack, Holly starts to fixate on a good samaritan on the scene. This leans more towards “The Outsider” than the Bill Hodges Trilogy in terms of genre, but it still reads like a thriller at the heart of it, even Holly is once again after something supernatural. I was admittedly a little nervous that Holly may have a harder time carrying a story on her shoulders, since she does sometimes edge a bit towards King’s idea of a quirky savant. But Holly really has grown and edged out since her first adventure, and seeing her on her own tracking down something malevolent was suspenseful, poignant, and fun. And along with that, both Jerome and Barbara Robinson are back and are given some good things to do. King could keep coming back to all of these characters and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.
“Rat”: This felt the most like an old school Stephen King short story, as it has everything I’ve come to expect of that. A troubled writer, a secluded cabin, danger, and a potentially talking rat that can grant a wish at a great cost. Drew is an author who think that he is on the brink of another great novel, and since it’s been awhile since his last hit, he’s desperate to make something of it. He isolates himself in a remote cabin, and begins his work. But when a storm comes through and Drew is felled by illness and isolation, he turns to a talking rat who says that it can guarantee his book will be a hit… if he makes a sacrifice. It’s your usual Faustian deal, but it’s what led up to it that was the most interesting. As a storm rages and illness messes with Drew’s perceptions of reality, you get the suspense and questions as to how sound his mind is in that moment, and if he’s going to ultimately sacrifice everything for his craft. I also liked how King brought in how a marriage can suffer when one person is more dedicated to their own dream and ego than they are to those that care about them.
Overall, “If It Bleeds” was a solid collection from King. None of the stories blew me out of the water, but they all connected with me on one level or another. And right now, I just liked having the familiarity of my favorite author to help me get through.
Rating 8: A well done and comfortable collection of thriller stories, and a new story for a favorite character.