If It Bleeds by Stephen King – Review
By Emma Stamp
I feel as if I should start this review by confessing that before I read If It Bleeds I was a Stephen King virgin, having never read any of his other novels. But nevertheless, I had high expectations – would this collection of four novellas be good enough to add me to his legions of fans.
The first story, ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’ explores the connections we have with our phones and our reliance on them – even after death.
The main characters are described in vivid detail, but the storyline lacks punch and appears, frankly, to be aimed at a younger audience. The rather prosaic moral of the story being that those who commit wrongs are punished and kindness is rewarded. So not exactly the edge-of-seat thriller I had expected for my first foray into the world of Mr. King, but at least it makes you wonder what our phones may actually be able to do and whether our dependence on them is, in fact, the true horror.
The second story ‘The Life of Chuck’, is in three parts and retells the life of Chuck Krantz. He inhabits a world in which all systems are failing, California is crumbling and certain parts of the world are ravaged by plague. Amongst all this horror, we also find out that Chuck has died from a brain tumour at 39. The second chapter looks at his life and it’s here I feel I finally come upon Stephen King at his best, as he beautifully describes a spontaneous burst of dancing and how much joy this gives Chuck and how joy can be contagious. In our current lockdown circumstances it feels especially relevant, how we should take joy from such small things.
The last chapter looks at Chuck’s upbringing in a haunted house and attempts to interlink this with the previous chapters. For me, the story required two readings before I understood these links and why, when Chuck dies, the rest of the world goes dark. “We all have a multitude within us”, King reveals.
The third story is the main one within the book, covering nearly 200 pages, ‘If It Bleeds’ is a sequel to Stephen King’s 2018 novel, The Outsider. The story centres around private investigator Holly Gibney who, whilst watching a breaking news headline about a school explosion, notices something slightly off about the reporter, Chet Odowsky.
A little research leads Holly to believe that Chet has been at the scene of a number of horrendous incidents and raises the suspicion that he may be causing the carnage, and in fact may not be human at all but a shape-shifting force who thrives on the pain and misery of others. Would this be the archetypal Stephen King horror-thriller I’d been waiting for? Whilst the author’s exploration of Holly’s complex family situation was thought provoking, a predictable storyline failed to even raise a goosebump.
The last story however, ‘Rat’, is better. It focuses on an English teacher, Drew Larson, who goes alone to his dad’s old cabin in the woods to write a novel. On his way to the cabin he stops off at the local store where the owner starts sneezing and coughing. A few days later Drew finds that not only does he have a cold but delirium has set in. He ends up making a deal with the devil in the form of a rodent and starts spurting ideas uncontrollably which threaten his very being. It is a very good read that raises the question of what price we are willing to pay for personal success.
So a mixed bag for my first venture into the world of Stephen King – but enough glimpses of fine writing and fantasy horror to make me want to investigate further.