I should probably put this out there for those that don’t know: I absolutely love Stephen King’s works. So, if there’s any bias concerning this review then I’ve covered my bases by telling you that ahead of time. Having said that, I wholeheartedly recommend purchasing and reading his new collection of short stories, If It Bleeds.
There, I’ve given my review, now go out to the nearest local bookstore and find it. Or open up the e-reader app on your (insert electronic device) and start reading.
If you’re still here, then you’re expecting me to elaborate on why I believe this collection is such a magnificent read. Okay, fine, here you go.
The collection is comprised of four stories including Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, If It Bleeds, and Rat. These four stories are a mixture of horror and supernatural fiction. Even if you’re not a fan of the horror genre, I think you would still enjoy the book.
The first story is titled Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, a story about a boy, Craig, and his encounter with a rich eccentric old man named Mr. Harrigan. Craig is employed by Mr. Harrigan to read to him due to his poor eyesight. The two develop something of a friendship and Craig decides to gift Mr. Harrigan with an iPhone. This story does take place when the iPhones were first coming out, by the way. At first, the old man doesn’t care for the device, but after Craig proves to him that the phone has a myriad of uses, Mr. Harrigan falls in love with it.
This story is amazing because things don’t really move past the character development of the two main characters until about halfway through it. King allows the readers time to fall in love with the characters before one of them dies. The rest of the story is about the other character mourning for the deceased and living his own life. The real supernatural part of the story doesn’t come until later on. It’s more of an oddity and never really confirmed if it’s actually supernatural or not. I enjoyed this story because it made me stop and think about the ending before progressing to the next.
The second story, The Life of Chuck, had me crying at the end. It was a shorter story, about 60 pages in the first edition hardback, but it had such an emotional impact. This was my favorite story in the collection. I’ve seen others say it was their least favorite because it was weird, but that’s why it’s my favorite.
There are three acts to the story. And, obviously, it’s about the life of Chuck. However, the acts run backwards so Act III is really the youngest point in Chuck’s life. I can’t particularly summarize the story because to do so would spoil the plot. It’s a fascinating and odd tale and if you like strange narrative styles then The Life of Chuck is right up your alley.
The third story is the namesake of the collection, If It Bleeds. This story stars Holly Gibney, a character from King’s Mr. Mercedes Trilogy and The Outsider. I won’t say that you absolutely need to read these four books before you read If It Bleeds, but if you haven’t, I suggest you do so. Gibney, according to King, wasn’t supposed to be so prominent in his stories, but he turned out to like her so he developed the character. In this short story, Holly is contacted by a person with information about an Outsider, a supernatural creature. The narrative goes from there with Holly combatting the creature.
While I liked the story, I’m not quite a fan of Holly Gibney. She’s okay as a supporting character, but I’m not sure if she has the traction to become a main character. King was correct to only write a short story rather than a novel around her.
This story easily took up half of the total book. I’m glad King wrote it because I like the concept of the Outsiders and I’m glad the lore behind them was explored, but I could have done without reading it.
The last story in the collection is Rat and focuses around one of King’s favorite character types: authors. Specifically, authors that close themselves up in confined places in an attempt to write something. In this case, we find Drew Larson trying to complete his life’s goal of writing a novel. He attempted one but suffered writer’s block which led to a mental breakdown.
Larson has an idea for another novel and decides to take a sabbatical from work to write it. Deciding to go all out, he also heads to his family’s cabin in Maine so that he can cut out all the interference from the outside world. This wouldn’t be a Stephen King book if the author in the story didn’t suffer some strange occurrence. Larson encounters a rat that offers him an interesting deal.
These four stories are quite different in terms of plot, but they all share a similar theme. The theme is normal, but damaged humans dealing with real world problems while facing some sort of supernatural element. The supernatural obstacle is mainly there to act as a physical representation of the inner struggle of the character. That can be seen in these four stories and it’s highly effective.
So, in closing, I would suggest picking up this book if you like seeing everyday people tackle their inner and outer demons. Here’s the rankings of which stories I liked from best to worst: The Life of Chuck, Rat, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, and then If It Bleed.