I am stunned to admit that, at 25 years old, having been a fan of all things in the horror world for my entire life, I have only just now completed my very first Stephen King novel. I DNFed his books so many times in my teen years because his writing just wasn’t for me. I appreciate his style tremendously more now than I ever did in years past, but won’t say that I loved all of the stories in this collection. As I usually do with anthology reviews, I’ll break it up in pieces.
⇨ Jerusalem’s Lot ★★★★★
“The lamb had not been torn or eaten; it appeared, rather, to have been squeezed until its blood-vessels had forcibly ruptured.”
The first story is told through letters to an unseen recipient, and follows a man who has moved into an inherited family home, in which he learns of a peculiar superstition in a nearly place called Jerusalem’s Lot. Upon exploring the Lot, he finds a twisted, gruesome church. This was probably my favorite story of the collection; the narrative being given through letters was unique and a fun way to frame the events, and the action kept up enough to keep me interested to the end.
⇨ Graveyard Shift ★★★☆☆
When a mill employee agrees to work a bit of overtime cleaning out the factory subbasement, he finds he has bitten off more than he can chew when his colleagues are slowly picked off by massive, mutated rats. Gruesome, morbid, but overall just a bit… “meh”.
⇨ Night Surf ★☆☆☆☆
I honestly don’t know how to sum up the plot for this story other than telling you there is some sort of disease killing people off. Holy hell, the narrator in this story is horrible , though! He spends 90% of the story fat-shaming his girlfriend and threatening to beat her.
⇨ I Am the Doorway ★★★★☆
“Beneath the bandages, my new eyes stared blindly into the darkness the bandages forced on them.
A trip to space results in a bizarre ailment that causes tiny, cruel eyes to form in a disabled former astronaut’s hands. This story made me cringe so hard because it felt super gruesome and disconcerting. King’s wordiness really comes in handy with how clearly he paints the scene in this one.
⇨ The Mangler ★★★★★
When a laundromat machine goes haywire, it starts slowly picking off the staff, almost as though it has a mind of its own. Gory, gruesome, bloody, gross, and downright fantastic. If I had to pick just one favorite from this collection, this would be it.
⇨ The Boogeyman ★★★☆☆
“All I did was kill my kids. One at a time. Killed them all.”
In which a gentleman goes to a therapist to confess how his lack of foresight caused all three of his children to be individually eviscerated by the Boogeyman in the closet. I never quite outgrew my fear of the dark (or closets at night), so this one felt a bit disturbing, but it was hard to enjoy with how positively horrific and cruel the father of the deceased children was. I feel like I would have enjoyed the story more if I’d been able to connect to him in any way, but I’m sensing that the Stephen King of the mid- to late- 70s genuinely enjoyed writing positively horrible characters.
⇨ Gray Matter ★★★★★
When one of the men in town sends his son to pick up his beer, it should be business as usual, but something has scared the poor boy half to death, and he sends the convenience store owner on a mission to investigate. This was such a gross but ultimately delightful story.
⇨ Battleground ★★★☆☆
Life’s hard enough when you’re a high-profile hit man, but it gets a lot stranger when your latest victim’s mother sends a box of toy soldiers to your apartment. Vicious little things. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be scared or amused by Battleground, but I leaned toward the latter.
⇨ Trucks ★★★☆☆
Vehicles don’t need drivers anymore, and without a need for drivers, they don’t really see much of a need to leave humans alive, either. What a helluva ride this story was (get it? Ride? I’ll see myself out). It’s a disconcerting thought, for sure, but I was dying for any sort of backstory to explain why the vehicles were suddenly going on killing sprees, or how it happened.
⇨ Sometimes They Come Back ★★★☆☆
Jim’s lucky to find a steady job as a teacher after his latest breakdown. Life has been hell ever since he watched the school bullies kill his older brother, but when he gets a new student that looks awfully familiar, he starts to worry that his past has come back to finish the job. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with this story, but I did find myself bored more often than not, and it all mostly felt very predictable.
⇨ Strawberry Spring ★☆☆☆☆
What happened in this story? I couldn’t tell you. There was some murdering going on. I was so bored that I ended up skimming the bulk of this one, sorry.
⇨ The Ledge ★★★★☆
Only an idiot would make a wager that he could walk the perimeter of a building, tens of stories up, with nothing but a five-inch ledge beneath his toes, but when your only other option is imminent death or being framed for a crime you didn’t commit, what do you have to lose? I don’t even have acrophobia, and I still suddenly became momentarily terrified of heights while reading The Ledge. I positively adored the ending.
⇨ The Lawnmower Man ★★☆☆☆
This is another short story that I can’t go into much without telling you the entire plot, but let me say that it is super bizarre, super gross, and I will probably never look at lawn clippings the same way again.
⇨ Quitters, Inc. ★★★★☆
How quickly could you overcome an addiction if your loved ones’ very lives depended on it? Quitters, Inc. has a surprisingly unique story – I can’t say I’ve ever read anything quite along the same lines – and was pretty anxiety-inducing, to be fair.
⇨ I Know What You Need ★★★☆☆
Doesn’t everyone’s dream partner know exactly what they need? This one just didn’t strike me as particularly creepy. I really wanted more insight into why Ed was this creepy little dude, but we never got any of that, as was the case with most of the stories in this collection. This story was the point in the anthology where I realized I’d much rather the collection have been 10 stories instead of 20, if it would have included them being fleshed out a bit more.
⇨ Children of the Corn ★★★★★
“Something had happened in 1964. Something to do with religion, and corn… and children.”
Here we are: the very reason I picked up this collection! If you’ve ever seen the film by the same name, this short story is what it was inspired by. I’ve always had a soft spot for horror including children and/or cults, and this creepy little number packs a punch with both of them. It was fun to see where the film came from, and it was a nice refresher course on why I hate corn fields.
⇨ The Last Rung on the Ladder ★★☆☆☆
Yet another story that I am at a loss for how to describe to you without just telling you the entire plot. This short story really has two separate “veins” and they’re obviously connected, but at the same time, I felt like they were very disjointed from one another. Plus, snooze fest.
⇨ The Man Who Loved Flowers ★☆☆☆☆
All you need to know about this one is that the first 85% of it is just about a man buying flowers.
⇨ One for the Road ★★★★☆
In the next-to-last story, we get to revisit Jerusalem’s Lot, only it’s now been renamed… you guessed it, right? Salem’s Lot. I loved how this story circled back to the first one, though it’s set in much more recent times than the first piece of the collection. There’s a bit of insight given to the resulting lore of Salem’s Lot, and it was just a really fun little piece of insight into that piece of the King “universe”.
⇨ The Woman in the Room ★★☆☆☆
In the final piece of the collection, we follow a man whose mother is suffering from terminal cancer, and his internal dilemmas as he considers putting her out of her misery. It didn’t feel like it fit the horror aspect of the book in any way at all, and was really just… sad. I was super bummed that the anthology ended on such a disappointing note.
⇨ AVERAGE RATING
All in all, I was pretty disappointed in my first ever Stephen King read (not counting DNFs, obviously); however, I totally recognize that: 1) this is only one book in his basically endless bibliography, 2) I have read newer short stories from him that I thoroughly enjoyed, and 3) this collection is from the 70s, and many people find his work from that decade to be very polarizing. That in mind, I will totally be trying more of his writing in the near future, but I’ll probably go with a full-length novel or something substantially more recent!
Content warnings: (this is just for the entire collection) ableism, body shaming, partner abuse, parental abuse, suicide, child violence/death, homophobia, sexism, racism, slut shaming, nicotine addiction.