Stephen King Overview: Night Shift


Oliver Barnfield, Cool Guy/Entertainment Editor

It’s no secret that Stephen King is making a comeback. His stories have been turned into IT, the massive horror movie hit, and his works have inspired Stranger Things, a show that I’ve written about thrice. So do his novels hold up to a modern reader? Well, let’s dive in and see.

Today’s spotlight book is Night Shift, a 1978 short story collection that packs in a grand total of 20 stories. I will be reviewing each short stories, judging their merits and spotting their cliches.

Jerusalem’s Lot– This is one of my least favorites in the collection. It’s a prequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, a novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. But this story, unlike it’s basis, does not hold up. The prose feels old and musty, like it was written by Stephen King at 90. The entire story is told through correspondence, like letters and through torn pages from a pocketbook, as a homage to the original Dracula novel. I don’t particularly like stories told like this, they feel forced and don’t give the writer room to describe and elaborate things. This is ultimately the stories downfall, a good idea saddled with a multitude of confused concepts.

Graveyard Shift-I’m not afraid of rats. As such, this story feels boring and not creepy.

Night Surf– After reading the first two stories, I was starting to feel uncertain about this collection. This story restored my faith. It’s a tale all about atmosphere, about decadence. It’s in essence about a bunch of teenagers partying on the beach when 99% of the world has been wiped out by a deadly virus. It’s a hedonistic tale on the surface, but beneath it’s cheery veneer is a melancholy center of sadness and a life wasted. It’s one of my favorites in the collection.

I Am The Doorway– A very unusual story unlike anything else in the collection. This is one of King’s more sci-fi influenced stories. I feel like King wrote the idea first, the primary image, and then tried to build a story around it.

The Mangler– A laundry press turning evil is about exactly as scary as you’d think.

The Boogeyman-This is one creepy story. The imagery is dark and gothic, and the story feeds on the primal fears of every one of us. The depictions of children dying is scarily detailed, as is the portrayal of a man being driven to madness. This story had me checking my closet for monsters after I read it.

Gray Matter– A demented public service announcement about alcoholism, featuring dead cats, gray slime, and an abandoned apartment. Basically, if Stephen King had to write an anti-drinking ad, this would be the horrifying result.

Battleground– A weird little story about evil toy soldiers, this is a pretty successful story with a heavy action element, made weirder by the fact that the assailants are pint-sized. Not particularly memorable, but a fun and breezy read anyway.

Trucks– Stephen King’s explanations for the supernatural always feel tacked on, like an afterthought. Take the explanation for Pennywise/IT in the book of the same name; it’s attributed to an extra-dimensional being, which takes you right out of the action. This story didn’t have many merits to begin with (it’s about evil trucks) and King makes it worse by saying that aliens have possessed them. What would have been a mediocre story is made into a bad one as the explanation is revealed.

Sometimes They Come Back– A pretty simple idea that has a psychological bent, much like other stories here. The premise in question is about greasers from a man’s childhood returning to torment him after killing his brother. The twist? They look the same as they always had, and they’re demons. The story builds up to what seems like an electrifying climax, until the story just kind of peters out, with no real ending. The greasers are pretty creepy, and the suspense is great, but I felt let down as it ended. A good beginning saddled with a mediocre ending.

This book is, unfortunately, marred by a series of very bad movie adaptations, one of which is a TV movie version of this that spawned 2 sequels. How this story was extended into 3 full length films escapes me.

Strawberry Spring– A very slight story that is sort of unsatisfying to read. The twist ending is obvious and the story is forgettable.

The Ledge– A just-ok story that excels in its tense action moments, but fails in it dialogue heavy moments.

The Lawnmower Man– This is one weird story. But it has a very endearing quality too it (despite the fact it’s about a naked man who eats grass and cats), probably because it sits between 2 more serious stories. It’s totally off the wall and uncalled for, and it feels so out of place, I can’t help but like it.

Quitters, Inc.-This almost feels like a companion to the earlier story, Grey Matter, due to it’s tackling of an addictive substance in a disturbing way. This one is far more effective, with some truly creepy imagery and an ending that I would argue is the best part of the story.

I Know What You Need– A pretty insubstantial story, pulpy and light. This one doesn’t have much of an ending, it just kind of stops in it’s tracks. What I most enjoyed about the story is the relationship between the main character and her roommate, it reminds me of Barb’s relationship with Nancy in Stranger Things.

Overall, the story is kind of light, not much horror and not much originality. However, I like how King wrote it as though it was an old teen magazine story, he imitates the style better than you’d think.

Children of The Corn– This is arguably more famous in its dismal movie form, which is unfortunate, considering how good this story is. It’s creepy, dark, and it holds your interest the whole way through. Stephen King can write a great creepy kid story, as evidenced in The Shining, Pet Semetary, and this. It’s one of his greatest and most oddly specific strengths as a writer.

The Last Rung on The Ladder– A family-centric, non-supernatural, story that proves King can do a good dramatic story when needed. Overall, it’s a little bit all over the place, and I feel this would be better as a movie. Perhaps an understated drama in New York, or something. I would watch that.

The Man Who Loved Flowers– A disappointing story that reminds me of Strawberry Spring in a way, as both are forgettable and include a dumb twist.

One for the Road– This is a sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, and it succeeds much more than the first in this collection, Jerusalem’s Lot. It’s a pretty creepy story that holds up even if you haven’t read ‘Salem’s Lot, with another spooky kid and a cold, frigid, and hopeless atmosphere. Definitely one of my favorites here.

The Woman in The Room– A depressing story, kind of forgettable, and at its best a decent way to pass the time. Notice I said decent, not fun.

So what do I think of this book as a whole? Well, it’s worst stories are at least a fun and breezy read that, while not necessarily memorable, can still send a little chill down your spine. It’s best stories are quite good, and quite frightening, and they really stand out and linger through your mind after you finish reading. This story has a few common threads, one of them the idea of people transforming into something else, both in supernatural ways and in real life. The man in I Am The Doorway transforms into a strange alien, and the woman in The Last Rung on The Ladder transforms into a depressed lonely woman. The collection was essentially a collection of odds and ends made due to the fact that no King book would be released that year. Most stories were previously published in Cavalier magazine and various other outlets. It was his first short story collection, which he continued to do in intervals through the years, some succesful and wonderful, some ponderous and embarrassing. This remains one of his most underrated books in my opinion.