Night Shift is the first collection of stories that Stephen King published, way back in 1978, and after reading it over the last six months I come away quite happy with the content. There are no blow-you-away fantastic stories here – although several are very good – but more importantly, there are none that really shit the bed either.
I recommended sixteen of the twenty short stories in Night Shift, and of the four that I gave a red arrow to, the only one I really struggled to get through was the first story in the collection – Jerusalem’s Lot. Others may get into this one more, but I just couldn’t stomach the language for the length of time King asked me to do so.
Although I recommended 80% of these stories, they are not all of the same high quality. The Last Rung on the Ladder is hands down the best story here – simple in execution, with a haunting and perfectly played pay-off. Just below it on the totem pole are Battleground and the serial killer tale, Strawberry Spring. Just below those I’d put vertigo-inducing The Ledge and The Man Who Loved Flowers. They are the five stories here that I would recommend to any fan of Stephen King.
Night Shift is a good collection, and crucially, most of the best stories in this anthology – with the exception of Battleground – are not in any way supernatural or out-of-this-world, whereas the stories I liked the least were not grounded in reality at all. Subjective, sure… but it is worth mentioning.
Although Graveyard Shift certainly feels like an early King story it does have several touchstones that would go on to become hallmarks of his longer and more lauded works – the quick, back and forth dialogue, the grisly descriptions, and the creatures hiding in the darkness.
Not only that, but the style and production of the writing here instantly makes this a more successful excursion than Jerusalem’s Lot, the story that began Night Shift. It’s much shorter as well. Here, King tells the story and gets out… something he does not do as often as he probably should.
Yes, Graveyard Shift is little more than a basic tale of mutated killer rats surviving in the depths of a textile mill – there really isn’t any more to it than that – but when this was originally published King was barely twenty-three years old, so I’ll cut him some slack for the crudity of the writing and the under-developed characters, because I know that he will go on to improve greatly on both of these things.
A much better entry to the collection, and one that I am happy to give the thumbs up to.
Jerusalem’s Lot is the fairly lengthy short story that kicks off Stephen King’s first collection of short stories, Night Shift, and I’ll say it right now – it’s not one of his best.
It’s designed as a prequel to his second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, which I barely remember reading all those years ago, but as such this piece suffers because I can’t help but feel as though I’m not getting the whole story here. It’s like going to a restaurant, having a starter, and then walking out before the main course arrives.
Having said that, if ‘Salem’s Lot was written in the same manner as this (and it isn’t), I’d probably not want the entire meal anyway, because Jerusalem’s Lot is told in an epistolary format (as a series of letters). This certainly can be interesting and suspenseful if done correctly and in the right hands, and if King had more experience under his belt when he wrote it, this would have been a lot better, but as it is, this story drags, making you feel every word written on the page.
If you’re coming to this collection looking for King’s strengths, you best dig a little deeper into the book, because you won’t find it here.