Unabridged on 13 CD’s (15 hours)
Warning. This review is going to be long. There are a lot of stories in this collection and I took notes on all of them for once in my life. None though, except for The Cat from Hell, are what I’d consider pure horror but most have some sort of haunting, chilling or suspenseful survival elements. All have King’s swell characterization and because of the short format none venture too far into long-winded territory). The narrators all do a fantastic job of breathing life into the characters and highly recommend listening to this as an audio. I didn’t rate them individually but if you must know, most rate a nice solid four (or higher) with only a few minor duds.
Willa read by Holter Graham
Willa and David are stranded at a train station with a bunch of other folks while they await the next train. Willa, apparently bored and sick of the whining people around her, wanders away (who can blame her?). When David realizes she’s gone, he ponders waiting for her to come back or taking a chance on missing the train and trekking out to find her despite the warning that there are “wolves” in the area. David eventually puts on his Big Boy Pants and heads out to find her but soon discovers that wolves are the least of his worries.
This is a morose story about folks who refuse to see the truth when it’s right in front of them but it’s also about two people who make the best of a terrible situation. I liked it a lot, especially the end. The narrator was very good at getting the right tone that was perfect for the mood of the story.
The Gingerbread Girl read by Mare Winningham
Emily is having a very difficult time coming to terms with the unexpected crib death of her baby girl. Instead of working through her grief, she runs. She runs until her body gives out. Her behavior has ruined her relationship with her husband who doesn’t understand why she can’t grieve like a normal person. She realizes it’s over when he accuses her of being obsessed and instead of being upset, she can only think:
“Given his rather long face, it was like having a sheep in the house. I married a Dorset gray, she thought, and now it's just baa-baa-baa, all day long. But she tried one more time to be reasonable about something she knew in her heart had no reasonable core.”
Haha, I love King’s knack for funny descriptions even in the darkest of times. Needless to say she runs far from him soon after and relocates to her dad’s summer place where she stumbles across something horrifying. The story switches gears here and turns into a tense survival tale. It was a wee bit meandering before picking up but I enjoyed all of the character background and strong, resourceful Emily.
Mare Winningham changes her tone from that of a depressed woman to a desperate one without a hitch.
Harvey’s Dream read by Stephen King
Janet and Harvey have been married for ages. Now in their early 60’s, their children are grown and Janet is whining to herself about how routine and boring their lives have become. She’s dreading Harvey’s impending retirement and pictures him sitting around, man-boobs on full display, demanding his breakfast every day for the rest of her life. But Janet soon regrets her mean thoughts when Harvey begins to recount a dream that woke him the previous night.
Harvey’s Dream is about a mundane world rocked by impending dread. I saw where it was going right along with Janet (I was supposed to) but poor Harvey remained clueless until the very end.
Stephen King reads this piece and he does a good job, nasally voice and all.
Rest Stop read by Denis O’Hare
This story just didn’t grab me. It’s about an English Professor with who makes his real money writing murder mysteries under a pen name. His identities start getting a little mixed up when he stops at a rest stop and stumbles upon a domestic violence scene in action. Should he help or sit on his thumbs until the wife and her unborn child are beaten to death? Will the other personality take over and take of business?
This is a story that I feel like I’ve read million times before, many of them probably penned by King himself. It’s about an author who begins to confuse his “identities” but it’s a bit of a dud and I didn’t like the protagonist much at all. It wasn’t scary or even very interesting but looking on the bright side, it was over quickly and read skillfully.
Stationary Bike read by Ron McLarty
Richard’s long overdue physical finds him getting a talking-to by his doctor. He needs to change his lifestyle or he’ll suffer some ugly side effects from his poor diet and lazy habits. He purchaes a stationary bike and puts it in the basement facing a blank wall. Exercising this way is boring as hell so he paints a scene on the wall. Eventually his sanity starts to crack as he spends long hours on the bike without realizing it, travelling paths only in his mind. Or are they?
I really enjoyed this story because Richard is such sympathetic character. He’s 38, has lost his wife to cancer and has gained too much weight. He lives a solitary life and begins to spend far too much time in his own head. He’s a decent guy whose good deeds, be they imaginary or not, backfire as his reality unravels. And the ending? It was perfect. I find Ron McLarty’s voice hypnotizing, as always.
Graduation Afternoon read by Jill Eickenberry
I don’t know what to think about this super short story about a high school student who witnesses New York City go up in flames. It was too brief to have any real impact but it was read with emotion.
*Note: King says later in his “Sunset Notes” that this story came to him in a dream years before the 9/11 attacks. This is a bit terrifying!
The Things They Left Behind read by Ben Shenkman
This story takes place post 9/11 and has damn fine narration. Scott is a survivor of the attack on the Twin Towers and is suffering from untreated survivor guilt. When belongings of his deceased co-workers start to appear in his apartment they bring with them a rush of painful memories. The items haunt him and he can’t seem to get rid of them until a neighbor makes a suggestion that sets him on a mission.
This is a sad story, especially since so much of it is clearly based on real events, but leave it to King to throw in some of his corny dialogue to lighten up the tone.
“His father put an egg in his shoe and beat it.”
Hardy har har. King you are a silly devil.
“N” read by several narrators
This is story about a circle of stones that must be maintained by a keeper in order to keep terrible monsters at bay that would threaten the world. I enjoyed this tale of order and OCD and how madness slowly infects each “keeper” of the beasties.
The NY Times at Special Discount Rates read by Jill Eickenberry
This is another brief tale about a widow who receives a call from her deceased husband. He gives her some advice and she’d be wise to take it . . . Despite its brevity this is one that lingered with me . It gives a little glimpse into the afterlife and I thought it was a very sweet tale of kindness extended from beyond the grave.
Mute read by Skipp Sudduth
A travelling salesman, whose life is falling apart, throws caution to the wind and picks up a mute hitchhiker whom he spills all of his woes. Who better than a guy who can’t respond in any way, right? Wrong!
I found this story incredibly interesting and the dark ending was perfection.
I think King may have even been poking a little fun at himself (or his critics) at one point because a character says, “I’m finding your story interesting but wondering if we could move it along.” I didn’t have that feeling here but I’d be a liar if I said he never rambled on in some of these tales.
The Cat from Hell read by Holter Graham
I had a little feeling of déjà vu while reading this story about a cat from hell and the hit man hired to kill it and bring back its tail. I could’ve sworn I had seen a horror movie that contained one very unforgettable scene from this fun and nasty piece of work. Turns out I was right. King states in his “Sunset Notes” that this story was adapted to film for the 1990 horror anthology movie version of “Tales From the Darkside”. Now I’ll have to look it up and view it again because this story was great.
Ayana read by George Guidall
This is a lovely story that explores the reason why some people die and others are brought back from the brink of death to live out their lives. It’s haunting, a little sad and was one of my favorites in this collection. George Guidall’s voice is perfectly matched to the words.
A Very Tight Place read by Ron McLarty
If poopy fiction makes you squirm you might want to skip this one. I’m not kidding when I say it is gross-nasty. King takes great joy in flinging poo on his unlucky protagonist. Read it at your own peril.
Curtis is still reeling and unable to find joy after the death of his best friend. He (rightfully) blames the nasty, homophobic, Mother F-er next door for the death. Curtis has been in a battle with him over some property that they both believe they own and the MoFo, having recently suffered a series of setbacks, is now completely off his nut and blames all of his troubles on Curtis. Extreme nastiness ensues. Poo flies, the flies buzz and a well fed roach shows up to top off this craptastic extravaganza.
This story was fascinating despite the gleeful grossness the author revels in. I felt terribly for poor Curtis and was a wee bit disappointed with the way his revenge was eventually meted out. I was hoping things would get much nastier but I’m mean like that.
Sunset Notes read by Stephen King
King pops in at the end of the audio to add his thoughts about his writing process for each story. I loved getting that insight. He says he put them at the end because people like to complain about spoilers and usually those who complain the loudest about the spoilers are those who are spoiled. For some reason that made me laugh out loud.