Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review: Night Shift

Night Shift
Written by Stephen King

Published: 1976

Synopsis: A collection of 20 short stories written by the king of horror. Includes some of his extremely well known stories like Children of the Corn and Jerusalem's Lot.

This was my first trip into Stephen King's short stories and I absolutely loved it. I thought that the mix between the stories in terms of genre and structure was fantastic, it slipped so seamlessly from Lovecraft-esque horror to sci-fi, to heart-wrenching tales of regret. I think people tend to forget that King is not simply a horror writer because that is generally what he's famed for but this collection really showcased his storytelling talents in my opinion.

One aspect that really interested me with this novel was the insight into where some of the full length books and films started out, the seeds that lead to their making. In that sense it was almost like a sneak peek into his workshop or diary, even though they were published as stand alone stories perhaps with no intention to ever extend upon them. I've mentioned in other posts how much I love The Stand so I found the short story Night Surf extremely interesting. Rather than looking at the overarching tale of good and evil, this short story took place at the time that Captain Trips (the virus that eliminates 99% of the population) was raging through the public. The story captures the fear and desperation that would abound if we were all on the run from an invisible enemy but juxtaposes it against a group of young people who are struggling to maintain their outward appearance of 'who gives a shit' attitude as they witness the world falling apart.

As with most anthologies of short stories some stories are better than others. At times I felt like a story was a little too childish or rushed or incomplete, but for the most part I found the stories to be of a high quality. The one exception that I really didn't like was Battleground. The story takes place in Renshaw's (paid assassin) apartment when a mysterious package arrives. When he decides to open it a battalion of tiny soldiers pour out and attack Renshaw with a barrage of weapons, guns, cannons, aircraft and nuclear weapons (all teeny tiny).  I think perhaps the crux of my indifference for this story was due to the character of Renshaw. I found him a little flat, development wise. I felt like he was too much the archetype of the suave, intelligent killer, and I always find that character extremely annoying and boring. I just didn't care what happened with him, I didn't care if the tiny soldiers killed him and I didn't where they came from. I completely lacked any emotional ties with the guy and since the story was about what was happening to him I just couldn't get into it.

That was the only story out of all 20 that I had to force myself to read, the rest flowed easily and quickly and before long the entire book was finished.  Since there are such a great number of stories in this book I thought I'd list a couple that were my absolute favourites...
*Jerusalem's Lot (very Lovecraftian in feel)
*I am the Doorway (a standout sci-fi)
*Sometimes they come back (a haunting tale of fears returning)
*The last Rung on the Ladder (a beautiful tale of a brother's regret)
*One for the Road (a great bookend for 'Salem's Lot)

I probably wouldn't recommend this to people who haven't read King before, however if you have and you enjoy his work then I think this book will reinforce that love and provide amazing insight into how long some of his stories have been tinkling around in his head. Similarly if you've only read his horror then this book will open up a whole new world of King for you, while still providing the area of his that you're comfortable with to help you through.

Rating: 4/5


  1. It's been years since I have read these short stories. I only vaguely remember some of them. I do remember enjoying the ones linked to my favourite books such as The Stand and 'Salem's Lot. I think King's writing in general is dismissed too easily because he is a genre writer. Thankfully I think that snobbery has changed in recent years. Loved your review.

  2. Thanks Karen! One of my greatest struggles at uni is trying to make the snobby literary obsessed students understand that genre writers or writers who are bestsellers aren't sell-outs or worse writers than those who concentrate on writing 'literary' fiction.



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