Word count – 5,100
Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2), which is this story’s full title, follows on from the previous story in this collection, Morning Deliveries, but centres around a couple of laundry workers who go out in the middle of the night trying to find a place to inspect their vehicle and deem it roadworthy… all while they are both knocking back the beers.
As with Morning Deliveries, this story has been cobbled together from chapters of an abandoned novel that King was writing called The Milkman, but unlike that first story, Big Wheels meanders and ultimately doesn’t stand on its own. It also includes references which I am sure are intended to allude to other parts of the novel that he hasn’t included here.
So I will have to pass on this one. It may very well work as part of a larger narrative, but snipped out as a story in its own right, it falls a little flat.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 1,600
Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1), to give it its full title, is exactly what you think it is – a very short tale about a milkman who is going about his daily deliveries. Except, of course, he is not just leaving milk on the doorstep. Where would be the horror in that?
We follow Spike as he does his rounds, but it quickly becomes evident that he is not a model employee, or anyone you would want to accept a milkshake from. At random doors, he leaves a surprise in with the breakfast accompaniment – be it a spider, liquid poison, or maybe even a deadly gas, and then he just continues on with his work.
Morning Deliveries is one of the shortest stories in Skeleton Crew, but it’s also one of the better offerings. Another storytelling example of simplicity sometimes being more important than complexity.
Word count – 6,900
Uncle Otto’s Truck is about a old beat-up pick-up that has a bit of an evil streak. After being used as a weapon itself, the vehicle sets out to get his revenge on the murderer. Uncle Otto tries to tell his nephew this, but he is waved off as being crazy.
Stephen King certainly likes writing stories about vehicles that come to life (most famously in Christine)… actually, any kind of inanimate object. In that respect Uncle Otto’s Truck treads familiar territory. I’m sure he would be the first to admit that it’s basic horror, but when it’s done right it can be very effective, and here he is mostly successful.
Although this story starts off quite slowly, once it finds its footing it picks up nicely and is a good read through to the end. Another fine addition to this collection.
Word count – 7,800
Survivor Type is about a medical student called Richard who is smuggling heroin on a cruise ship. When the vessel sinks he is stranded on a tiny island and has to figure out the best way to stay alive. Turns out, eating himself is the way to go.
The story is written in a loose diary form, which serves to convey the passage of time without resorting to awkward and sometimes tedious narrative shifts as day turns to night and back again. Richard also has a shit-ton of the hard stuff to get him through the pain.
Survivor Type is suitably gory in its depiction, and King has stretched a little medical knowledge a long way. It’s the kind of tale that appeals to a more primal level of reader… fortunately, I can dig that.
Word count – 300
For Owen is just pure indulgence. It’s nothing more than an opportunity for King to dedicate something to his (at the time) seven year old son. He’s a proud parent, of course.
For Owen is a sweet poem, and I’m sure little Owen got a kick out of it when his dad read it to him, but it has no real business being in a collection, sandwiched between Nona, a story about murder, and Survivor Type, which is about cannibalism.
That being said, it would be kind of heartless for me to ding such a sweet and thoughtful addition, so I’ll give it a pass.
Word count – 13,800
Nona is about a man behind bars who retells the story of how he met an enigmatic woman when he was in college, who subsequently led him down a dark path and co-erced him into committing evil deeds during their brief time together.
Throughout the course of the story it becomes increasingly clear that all is not what it seems with the tale being relayed to the reader. Nona doesn’t do anything new, and although it is quite long, it’s written confidently and King crafts a good relationship between the protagonist and the mysterious woman that may very well not have been there at all.
After a run of three stories that I couldn’t vibe with, it’s nice to have something that is much more satisfying. One of the better entries in this collection.
Word count – 2,600
The Reaper’s Image is an old King story about a man who visits a museum, with the intention of purchasing an antique mirror… only to be told when he arrives that an image of the Grim Reaper is seen by anyone who stares into it for any length of time.
This is a straightforward horror tale and it doesn’t do anything unexpected, although the writing is a little dry and unmemorable. Again, I will give him some rope as this was an early effort, so this is likely a confidence thing.
With the exception of the couple of poems, The Reaper’s Image is one of the shortest things in Skeleton Crew. It isn’t around for long enough to make a lasting impression, although even then, it mostly outstays its welcome.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 6,300
Beachworld is a science fiction story about two men in the far future who land on another planet, only to find it is completely covered in sand. One of them is hypnotised by the allure of the landscape, while the other spends his time trying to get them out of there.
The best thing about this story is the references to The Beach Boys, scattered throughout, but beyond that I have no connection to the tale.
Of course, it’s no secret that sci-fi and I don’t get along very well. As such, I’m probably guilty of losing focus and concentration while reading this. There’s an element of horror to this story, but regardless, Beachworld doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not something I’ll be going back to.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word Count – 7,500
The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands is a mysterious story about, well… exactly what the title suggests.
This tale intrigues from the start, but unfortunately it never lives up to the promise of the title. It does what it says on the tin – no doubt about that – but when you find out why he doesn’t shake hands, it’s not really all that interesting.
There’s a poker game at the heart of the story, which at least kept me plodding along until the final reveal, but there’s nothing else here of any note. As such, The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands is perhaps – and unfortunately – the poorest entry in the collection so far.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 7,000
Word Processor of the Gods is about a writer who happens upon a word processor, left to him after the death of his brother. He quickly discovers the machine has the ability to add and delete things from his world.
This story spends a long time setting everything up, and – although the background is relevant to the protagonist’s justification – it really doesn’t make the words more enjoyable. In that way it feels unbalanced.
Word Processor of the Gods is a great concept, and the writing itself is competent, but it’s not as good as I wanted it to be. After the initial set-up, it seems to reach a crescendo very quickly and then it just fizzles until the end, but thankfully, there is enough good stuff here to see it across the line.