King is a rite of passage, and he certainly was mine when I first read Pet Sematary at a very impressionable age. However the older I got, the more I enjoy his short stories – they are more delicate than his verbose novels and they give you King at his very, very best. I don’t know what it is about this tale of a salesman who collects graffiti in bathrooms while on his travels – but it grabbed me when I read it in his collection Everything’s Eventual, in 2002. I read it once a year and it’s a beautiful, poignant tale with an almost happy, almost suicidal ending.
First published in The New Yorker, January, 2001. Collected in Everything’s Eventual, Sribner/Simon & Schuster 2012
Other than books assigned by teachers, most of what I read as a teenager was horror (I dabbled ever so slightly in fantasy and sci-fi), and until Stephen King’s collaboration with Peter Straub Black House in 2002, which I just could not get through, I had read every single thing King ever published. The way others can discuss Pynchon for hours making obscure paranoid connections between various characters in Gravity’s Rainbow, I can talk for days about the influence of drugs and alcohol on King’s early novels and the effect that getting sober had on his prose. And as much as some of his novels tend to sag and bloat, his short fiction has always been exemplarily pared down to the bones. David Foster Wallace’s ‘The Soul Is Not a Smithy’ owes a clear debt to King’s shorter fiction (I’m thinking especially of the Bradbury-riff ‘Suffer the Little Children’). But it is this novella that I remember most clearly, perhaps because it has a premise so preposterous that there is no way that it should ever be scary — a man forgets to return a book to the library and suffers the wrath of the supernatural Library Policeman — and yet, this was the first time I stayed up all night, too scared to sleep, terrified of what might be lurking in my closet, or under my bed.
Included in Four Past Midnight, Viking, 1990