[Night Shift] Books That Shine: A Chronological Reread of Stephen King
When I got my first copy of Night Shift I thought I was buying another novel and was immediately disappointed to find I hadn’t. I’ve talked before about how King made me a reader, as such, I never had any exposure to short stories before. It’s only now I’ve come to realize that reading short story collections requires a certain type of mindset. Each individual story in any collection can be completely different in every single way from the last one. I didn’t know that then so when I attempted to read Night Shift for the first time, I quickly found it wasn’t to my taste, especially with Jerusalem’s Lot as the opener. It’s an 80-page ode to Lovecraft told entirely through diary entries, completely different from the style of King’s books I was reading at the time.
I now love collections for the diversity in the story, characters, and settings they offer. And Night Shift is one of my favorites. So, let’s jump in.
4 Stars – As I’ve already mentioned this is a Lovecraft-inspired tale set in an area of Maine that would later become Salem’s Lot. And hey! Wouldn’t you know it, some vampires make an appearance, though that’s not all there is. Heavy on atmosphere this comes across exactly as it is, King, mimicking someone else. You can tell when reading it that he’s not fully able to embrace the time period in the language of the story. Still, it’s creepy.
3 Stars – Sometimes you just want to read a nasty story about some nasty characters and this is it. Set during the summer in a factory in Maine, the story focuses on a group of men who volunteer to work extra to clean the building’s basement. Its grim work is made grimmer by the discovery that the men aren’t the lords of the basement realm. That title belongs to the rats.
I Am The Doorway
5 Stars – This is one of my favourite short horror stories of all time. I should say that horror fiction rarely scares me, but this freaks me out. It’s the story of a former astronaut who’s been exposed on his last mission to an alien mutagen. King doesn’t do body horror often, yet when he does it’s always excellent and this story contains some of his best as this story’s protagonist begins to transform. It’s also unique in King’s canon for its science fiction vibes as King comes across as a perverse Ray Bradbury.
5 Stars – An excellently executed tale about a not-so-nice guy that has one creepy ending.
3.5 Stars – The story about a contaminated beer! Yes, this is pulpy as anything but King makes it more by touching on abusive fathers and children that are trapped by their love for someone who’s become a monster.
5 Stars – This one has a Jack the Ripper vibe to me. I loved the writing in this story. Like Jerusalem’s Lot, it’s different from King’s usually style in a trippy LSD type of way.
4 Stars- King shows his love of wise guys, gangsters, and hard-boiled stories. He also shows his flair for describing torturous scenes as this story’s protagonist attempts to walk around the ledge of a Manhattan skyscraper.
Children of the Corn
5 Stars – There’s a reason why this short story spawned 7 films. It’s a shame that none of them have come close to the power of this tale. It’s another nasty tale about nasty people.
The Last Rung on the Ladder
5 Stars – This is not a horror story, but a story of heartache and sorrow. It showcases King’s range and works as a nice prelude for his novella collection Different Seasons.
One For The Road
5 Stars – King returns to Salem’s Lot again and in some ways, this is even better than his fantastic novel because in its short length it contains everything a reader wants on a horror tale about vampires in winter.
As you can probably guess the above mentioned are not the only ones contained within the collection, but rather than spoil them all I thought I’d only mention my favourites. To this day Night Shift is considered King’s best horror collection and I wonder if the reason behind that is that it contains tales with pulpy premises populated mostly by nasty characters, a lot of which are on the low-income side of American society. As time goes on and King’s finances improved these types of stories and characters feature less and less as protagonists, and even when included don’t ring as true as they do here. I believe this is down to simply King here is writing what he knows, he worked cleaning out factory basements in Graveyard Shift or in laundry’s like the one in The Mangler. What I’m trying to get out as Night Shift is a collection to be relished as King would never write like this again.
Tier: Books That Shine
Companion Book: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Cry nepotism if you want but Joe Hill’s stellar collection of tales really feels like a sequel to Night Shift. The stories have pulpy premises, yet each one is refined by the passage of time to feature a lot of deeper issues much like what can be found in Grey Matter. Stories like You Will Hear The Locust Sing or Pop Art, which deal with repressed individuals. There’s also the brilliantly heartfelt 20th Century Ghost that echoes the tenderness found in King’s The Last Rung on the Ladder. If you haven’t read it then you are missing out on one of the best collection of stories ever written.
Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel. He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror. He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team. He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis.
He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.
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