"JUST AFTER SUNSET," by Stephen King, Simon & Schuster, $28
Stephen King has been called master of the macabre, but in "Just After Sunset," his latest collection of short stories, he is master of the mundane.
In telling the story of a woman runner (running to or running from?) in "Gingerbread Girl," or a penny encased in a Lucite cube in "The Things They Left Behind," it is the mundane, everyday peripheral view that builds the tension and dread associated with King's writing.
This quirky and uneven collection came about as a result of King spending more than a year guest editing "Best American Short Stories 2007."
His interest in the form was renewed, and this collection is the result. Several stories are decades old and have appeared in various publications. Some are newer and have not been published previously.
For fans of King, some of these earlier stories may be predictable. But King's love of the everyman's voice shines throughout the collection and makes it well worth reading. Whether reading the tale of a psychiatric patient with obsessive-compulsive disorder slowly losing his grip on his perception of reality in "N.," or the story of a book salesman who may or may not have aided his wife's difficulties in "Mute," it is the sense of finding part of oneself in the characters that makes King's writing masterful and deceptively simple.
Who hasn't created fantasies or alternate landscapes for themselves while exercising on a hated, mind-numbing piece of equipment as in "Stationary Bike"?
King knows the dark anticipation in his readers' minds about bad things held at bay and always delights in poking it with a stick. His characters' fates hinge on the little details dropped like an aside that later become all-important.
It is mining the mundane that keeps the reader thinking about a story afterward and shivering a little in the dark.