|Publisher:||Warner Books/Little Brown|
In 1982 this collection of four novellas was published, and only one of these stories, The Breathing Method, is considered an actual ‘horror’. Though, as King himself proclaims, certain parts of The Body could be considered ‘horrific’. In the collection’s Afterword, King writes about his publisher’s fear of being typecast as a horror writer. This came after the success of his bestselling novels Carrie (1974), The Shining (1977), The Dead Zone (1979), Firestarter (1980) and Salem’s Lot (1975), which were all considered ‘horror books’. In the midst of writing these novels, King had also written a series of novellas or short stories and he was struggling to find a market for them. His idea to publish them altogether under the title Different Seasons was at first not met with overwhelming enthusiasm from his publisher, but for everyone who has ever read this masterpiece of storytelling we are all damn happy that it was eventually released upon the world.
Divided into the four seasons (spring, summer, winter and fall), the collection starts with probably the most well-known tale owing to the film adaptation in 1994, simply titled The Shawshank Redemption. This original story/novella is called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and is coupled with the subtitle Hope Springs Eternal, and that is what this story is mostly about – hope.
If you are familiar with the film you will know that it is about a man named Andy Dufresne who is in jail for murdering his wife and her lover – allegedly. Andy befriends a man called Red, who becomes the narrator of this fantastic tale of prison breaks, the building up of a library and the importance of a man’s character.
In the second, less well-known story but also made into a film, Apt Pupil is the disturbing tale of a young boy Todd Bowden whose early on-set obsession with Nazi death-camps leads him to the home of an elderly gentleman who goes by the name Arthur Denker, but whose real name is Kurt Dussander. Dussander is living in the United States as a fugitive member of the Nazi regime who just so happened to work directly under Adolf Hitler. In a story that has all the ingredients for a sincere ‘coming-of-age’, this dark piece is anything but a literary cave filled with the horrors of the past, and the disturbing notion that perhaps killers are born not made. The subtitle reads, Summer of Corruption, and often times it is unclear as to who is being corrupted by whom. As we read further into the evolution of psychosis it becomes less clear when and how both their reliance and hatred for one another begins and ends.
In The Body which was made into the beautiful film Stand By Me in 1986, and holds the subtitle Fall from Innocence, this is without a doubt one of the most defining stories of a generation in which kids from the 1980’s were pretty much always going on adventures and being forced to realize the harsh realities of life and eventual adulthood. In this story we follow the trail of close friends Gordon, Chris, Teddy and Vern through the woods on the outskirts of Stephen King’s most popular fictional town Castle Rock to find the dead body of a young boy said to be lying in the woods near a train track. Their journey is so much more than their destination, and their destination becomes less and less appealing as the boy’s grasp of death begins to take on a more sombre light. Personally I find this to be King’s best work. I have yet to find another writer who is able to capture the pure simplicity of childhood in such a way that I can almost smell the smoke of the stolen and crumpled cigarettes, and feel the stray black eyes and hear the rock n roll anthems that defined a generation.
In the final tale, The Breathing Method (A Winter’s Tale) is the shortest and the most disturbing of all. The story is a brief foray into the life of David Adley, an elderly lawyer invited to join a sort of ‘gentleman’s club’ that meets every Thursday at a brownstone house at 249 East 35th Street in New York City. At this brownstone men spend hours perusing bookshelves filled with books by authors that cannot seem to be heard of anywhere else, and being served elaborate cocktails and snifters of brandy from the mysterious Stevens who does not appear to age. The real reason for their gathering though is not simply to sit around and discuss the latest news and to play a game of billiards, but rather to share stories. Above the fireplace in the main room is the legend, IT IS THE TALE, NOT HE WHO TELLS IT, and it is clear that these ‘tales’ are the real reason for the club’s existence. The reader is really only given one particular tale to chew, swallow and digest, and with The Breathing Method, the story of a woman about to give birth it is kind of hard to do so. Between this strange tale of birth, and the strange house where the tales are told it is difficult to figure out which idea is more frightening.
Stephen King is brilliant at shocking his readers. He is also a very capable story-teller who is undeniably aware that once you’ve climbed illegally into his train of thoughts you will most likely not let go until the doors open and he kicks you out into the dirt. You get up, dust the grime off your clothes, give your head a little shake, and inevitably cry out: What the fuck just happened? But that’s how he likes it.
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