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Stephen King’s Night Shift has all the makings of a page-turner. You get one twisted tale after the next. It’s great horror. I have no idea why it took me more than a year to finish but it did. I picked it back up the other day when I was stumped on a uh… work pickle: Are intestines a strong enough to hang someone by or would they stretch? snap? tear? My guess is not strong enough. But it’s just a guess. One must be sure.

I’m not a gory assassin. Purely hypothetical.

nightshift

Horror cravings are relentless. If you’re a fan and struggle to find more of the good stuff, Night Shift is wise to keep within reach. This is one of the few books I own not via street find or gifted. Bought a copy for myself at one of the best places on Earth, Strand. That’s a rare thing. I’m not a re-reader and the library feeds my hunger. When I do buy, 99% of the time it’s as a gift for one of my little buddies.

Night Shift is mine. I took my time with it because I could.

This is a collection of 20 short stories, many of which were adapted to the screen in the 80s and 90s. There’s ‘Night Surf’ (related to The Stand), ‘The Lawnmower Man’, Quitters, Inc. (a segment in Cat’s Eye), The Graveyard Shift and an obscure story of moody kids called ‘Children of the Corn’. I tried to re-watch Children of the Corn the other day, but my boyfriend lost patience with it. The story is tense, chilling and classic in that it escalates from a series of oblivious mistakes one couples makes. Oh, let’s explore this dusty, creepy abandoned town on the premise of finding help for a boy we hit with our car after he stumbled from the corn field stabbed.

I haven’t read many short story collections. Often single author ones are a mixed bag with one or two memorables. Night Shift is a different sort of mixed bag. Some are silly and predictable and have the whiff of commercial stories written for quick money, but they’re also entertaining. Jerusalem’s Lot was the only one I didn’t like and that only because it’s written in letters. It’s all over the place, but that’s probably because I stopped paying attention. This snoozer was an odd way for “A Master Storyteller” to begin a collection, but he makes up for it.

Many featured abusive male jerks whom I didn’t mind bad things happening to, but my favorites were the weird ones like Lawnmower Man and Trucks. The Mangler is silly candy. Picture an industrial laundry pressing machine turning demonic after tasting yummy virgin blood. An odd series of incidents feed the machine more blood thereby inadvertently summoning evil. The logic is sound. Quitters Inc. takes you to the dark side of quitting smoking. It’s about a company that effectively gets its clients to quit smoking cold turkey by …. Hypnosis worked on my lifelong-smoking dad and I thought that was extreme.

There’s also a few stories in here that took be by surprise because they ventured into terror, which is more psychologically disturbing and not what I expect from King. To me, The Purge movies are terror because they’re rooted in realism. The Last Rung on the Ladder hits you in the gut with the suicide of a sibling. The collection ends with The Woman in the Room about a man’s tormented decision to euthanize his terminally ill, suffering mother. It’s challenging to read but holds you in its grip and demonstrates the fullness of King’s range.

When Stephen King is good, he’s really really good. The best. One of the things I love most about his stories is that it’s all about the story. The writing, plot, characters, atmosphere, moments – they’re all one smooth ride. It’s like reading a movie. Sometimes horror loses the story, or skimps on character development or the plot making sense as it gets carried away with gory frills.

With the exception of Doctor Sleep (loved) and Under the Dome, which I couldn’t get through 50 pages of, I’ve mostly read King’s early works. I have a lot more to go, but I’m trying to fill in the gaps in chronological order.  Published in 1978, Night Shift is the product of a wild imagination and some of the stories are actually scary. If I had read this as a kid, they would’ve made me think twice about working on a corn farm. Good times.

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