Word count – 2,300
The Man Who Loved Flowers follows a smiling young man as he walks the streets of New York carrying a bunch of flowers, and it focuses primarily on the reactions of those around him as he passes by.
This is a simple tale of misinterpretation, and how things are not always as they seem on the surface. The story does take a darker turn in the final third – putting this into more familiar King territory – but to say anything further would be to spoil it for those who have not read it.
Because The Man Who Loved Flowers is fairly brief, King doesn’t have the time to dilute it with his usual shenanigans – a trait he is unfortunately guilty of on many occasions – and this is one of the best things on offer in this collection.
Word count – 4,800
This is Stephen King doing what he does best – urban horror, without any supernatural or demonic bent. There are no monsters under the bed, and nothing in the closet. This is just… stuff that can happen.
It’s a simple story about the relationship between a brother and a sister, how it ebbs and flows over the course of their lives, and about one particular incident that has defined them. It’s emotional and engaging in its simplicity.
King is prone to both falling down and rambling when he tries to wrap up a story, but this is impactful and stops before he finds something else less meaningful to say. The Last Rung on the Ladder is just damn good storytelling, and without a doubt, the first great story in the collection.
Word count – 11,100
Children of the Corn has spawned about a thousand movies, which is strange considering the source material is this short story, which seems to run out of steam before the end.
A couple find themselves in one of those rural towns that King is so fond of writing about, only to discover that all the adults have been killed and the community is being run by a bunch of teenagers who worship a corn-God known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
It’s difficult to put Children of the Corn amongst the top tier of stories, because this deep into the anthology there have been several that are much better. This is too long and suffers from the pay-off not being worthy of the build-up. I can recommend it, but only just.
Word count – 8,200 words
For the most part, I Know What You Need plays like a very creepy stalker story – the kind of thing that is a lot more prevalent now than it was when this was written in the early 1970s.
This mostly works, but the tale loses a little of its flavour for me in the final act, when King decides to throw some pseudo-voodoo in there to make sense of the narrative. I get it, but it just feels like he put a bow on the story when there really was no need.
I would have preferred that the story dissolved without a firm resolution, but it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise very good short piece that sits along with the best in the anthology thus far.
Word count – 6,600 words
Quitters Inc tells the familiar tale of one man’s desire to stop smoking, and the lengths he goes to in order to do just that. On the recommendation of a friend he speaks to a very shady man who promises he can ensure he never smokes again, although his methods are a little… questionable, to say the least.
There is a campy quality here which is a little reminiscent in execution to The Ledge, from earlier in the anthology, which is certainly not a bad thing, although this has not been afforded quite the same level of skill and care.
Quitters Inc has a good story at its core, and although it is not as polished as some of the other entries in Night Shift there is enough good stuff in here to be counted as one of the better entries in the collection.
Word count – 3,400
The Lawnmower Man tells the simple tale of Harold in his quest (and subsequent hiring) of someone to cut his grass. That’s it. It doesn’t get much more mundane than that, does it?
It’s not a classic set-up for a horror story, but it’s one that will stick with you long after you read it, for reasons that become clear quite quickly, as Harold’s new employee has a decidely strange way of performing his job.
The Lawnmower Man is a very odd tale, but a perversely enjoyable one. It’s a horror story in the very unfiltered way that King presented in the early part of his career. Gory, gruesome, and totally bonkers, this is the author before his journey through life sanitised him and his words.
Starring: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon
In the slasher horror genre, the Friday the 13th series is about as seminal as it gets, and many of those that you can see today owe a debt to the ninety minutes on display here.
There are countless better horror movies out there – ones that have more creative kills; ones that are more professionally made; ones with a tighter script and finer acting – but this little gem is worth seeing just for the history.
There’s not too much that’s good here, and nothing I would say that’s great, but if you’re interested in the genre at all this movie is required reading.
Recommended (just) ⇑
Word count – 7,000
An industrial laundry press is possessed and kills anyone who gets too close to it. Yes, the premise of The Mangler is very silly, which is not to say that silly ideas can’t work, but it does mean the story is already fighting an uphill battle even before we turn the first page.
This would not have been so bad had it been well written, but unfortunately I can see the immaturity and inexperience of the author in the words. Actually, King does name-drop the titular model of laundry press as a Hadley-Watson Model-6 Speed Ironer and Folder, so there is something approaching research in here, and an attempt to ground the story in the real world – as much as such a ridiculous idea can be – but the dialogue is painful in places and some of the narration is equally awkward.
Such is the absurdity of the story, The Mangler would have been much more acceptable as a spoof. If I thought that King was trying to make us laugh, this would at least have some merit, but I don’t think he is in on the joke.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 4,900
I Am the Doorway is the first science fiction tale in Night Shift, which is usually not a genre that does much for me, and for the first third of this story I wasn’t really into this one. But once I found out the central character has a collection of alien eyes staring at him from his fingers… I started to pay more attention. I mean, it’s a grabber, right?
Although I Am the Doorway is set in an undisclosed year in the future and it uses deep-space exploration as a background, it is all very high level stuff and never feels too distracting to the movement of the story. There are only two characters in play here and their interactions could just as easily be taking place across a dining room table.
The climax of the story is a winner too, so despite a slow beginning I am happy to recommend this as (so far) the most interesting and dynamic piece in Night Shift.
Word count – 3,200
Night Surf is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and centres around a few young characters who have made a life for themselves on a beach. I know, the post-apocalyptic landscape is one of those genre tropes that every horror writer has to go through at some point. Yes, even me.
We find out that most of the global population has been wiped out by a particularly aggressive strain of flu, and we meet a handful of the teenagers who are left behind as a result of their immunity to the virus. And we don’t really get much else, but that’s all right.
This is an easy read, at least partly because it doesn’t try to do anything outside its wheelhouse. As with many of King’s earlier stories, it is very thin on plot and depth, but in a strange way it is refreshing to read something from him that is this… sparse. It’s short, so there is simply no space to get crazy with any extraneous details.
This is another one I can say yes to, and the best story in Night Shift so far.