EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL comes as a bit of a surprise. If you weren't paying close attention, you might have expected March 2002 to bring FROM A BUICK 8, a new Steven King novel. Somewhere along the line, publication dates got switched, so what we have here is a collection of previously uncollected stories culled from sources varied and diverse. And since we're on that topic, let me ramble for just a minute on my one gripe about EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL. There's no indicia, no guide for the most part, to tell you where these fine and wonderful stories originally appeared. I know, I know, I don't have enough to do apparently, but I like to know the original source. True, King supplies us, his Constant Reader, with a fine Foreword or Afterword for each story, but doesn't always tell us where each originally appeared. It would be at least part of the fun of this weighty, meaty collection. But enough incipient griping, lest I be accused of complaining while being hung with new rope. On to the stories.
Let's begin with "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe" the main story in EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL. This may well be King's finest work of short fiction. Using the absolute best of his storytelling elements, he combines elements of straight fiction, suspense, and horror. Think of John Cheever meeting Richard Matheson in this story of the parties to a divorce proceeding meeting with an attorney to discuss some preliminary matters --- and the world turns sideways. This story, once it achieves its wider circulation through it's mass publication, may --- should --- supplant "Children of the Corn" as the ultimate example of King's short fiction as an introduction to neophytes. King's account of his inspiration for the story is almost as disturbing as the story itself. It is interesting that the cover artwork for EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL is based on "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe" while at the same time serving as a signpost, a warning, for what lies within. It is also, with Stephen Hunter's novel DIRTY WHITE BOYS, the reason why, when in a restaurant, I want a chair facing the door.
This ringing endorsement, however, is not meant to give short shrift to the other wonders contained in EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL. There are four stories previously issued in various media but seeing print here for only the first time. "Riding the Bullet," one of the first of the so-called e-books, is a classic, archetypical ghost story that contains a particularly memorable scene, which renders it forever and indelibly the work of King. It only takes a sentence or two out of the whole story, but I can't watch anyone smoke without thinking of it. "1408," another story of a different kind of haunt, first saw the light of day as an audiobook entitled "Blood and Smoke" ("Lunch at the Gotham Cafe" is also on there, though not in its first appearance). King, it seems, is creeped out by hotel rooms for the same reasons that all of us are; King forces us to admit to, and confront, these submerged thoughts and fears. This is a great story to read before drifting off to sleep in a strange bed in a strange room in a strange building in a city not your own. You've been warned. "In the Deathroom" is not a supernatural story, not at all. No, this story of interrogation, cat-and-mouse, and winner-takes-all in a South American government building, though it reads like a bad dream, is all too real, except, perhaps, for it's upbeat ending. "The Road Virus Heads North" reads like an adaptation of an episode of "The Twilight Zone" that never saw the light of day. If you're in the habit of stopping at yard sales you'll think twice. And those starving artists' painting sales at abandoned gas stations? Keep driving. "The Road Virus Heads North" first appeared on a bit of software entitled "Stephen King: F13," which in addition to this fine story, included some games of skill and reflex, backgrounds, and screensavers. If you've been able to figure out how to remove the crawling roach backdrop, which seems to have embedded itself for all eternity in my laptop, please let me know.
There are a number of other stories here, a total of 14 in all, some of which will make you feel uncomfortable, some of which will shock you, and some of which will scare the hell out of you. You spin the wheel, you take your chances. Be careful, however, with one. "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" will rock you back on your heels. What seems like a cute little story about the trials and tribulations of investing in four legged things packs a wallop. Reading it is like walking through a manicured garden and stepping into a nest of spiders. "The Little Sisters of Eluria" is from the Dark Tower cycle. King accomplishes an incredible task with this, drawing characters from his most difficult, complex work in progress and crafting a story that stands well and fine upon its own without making prior acquaintance with Roland a necessary part of admission. And yes, these are the same sisters mentioned, however briefly, in BLACK HOUSE. And yes, this story gave me nightmares. The sit up in bed, yelling, wake up the house nightmares. Needless to say, I loved it.
King, well into four decades of writing, retains his ability to shock, delight, frighten and, most importantly, entertain his legion of readers. Fourteen examples of the why, what, and how of this are contained in EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL. Some of the best, from one of our best.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 19, 2002
Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales