Stephen King again proves that he can mesmerize readers with his
graphic imagination and story-spinning skills. JUST AFTER SUNSET,
which plumbs an astonishing range of genres, gives fans everything
they've come to anticipate from him. As the author explains in his
introduction, he has been away from the short story game for a
while. His last collection, EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL, was published
more than six years ago. In fact, King tells us, he feared he had
lost his knack entirely. But serving as an editor for one of the
annual BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES reinspired him.
King starts us out gently with "Willa." David is surprised
to discover that his fiancée, Willa, left the Amtrak
station where they and a group of fellow travelers are stranded.
When he decides to ignore the others' advice and go look for her,
he finds her where he would most expect to find her --- or at least
that's the way it seems at first. The plot twists in a manner that
both shocks and (on second thought) feels entirely logical.
In "The Gingerbread Girl," Emily begins running compulsively in
an attempt to deal with an unbearable tragedy. She runs from her
husband, landing in her father's "conch shack," a summer cottage on
a Florida Key. She continues to run, run, run, just as fast as she
can. And while she does, she marvels that the area has been taken
over by the wealthy who have built McMansions everywhere. The huge
homes are mostly deserted in the summer since their owners use them
to get away during winter. But when she can't resist taking a peek
behind the gate of one monstrosity, she is stopped in her
A husband recounts a nightmare in "Harvey's Dream" that begins
slowly --- but watch out for that inevitable kicker. In "Rest
Stop," a mild-mannered professor answering a late-night call of
nature interrupts a nasty scene of abuse in a roadside restroom.
Who can he call for help?
Expect to experience vertigo while reading the brilliant
"Stationary Bike." Richard Sifkitz explores a world within a world
that makes him wonder which Russian nesting doll he's really living
in. In the somehow ultimately comforting "The Things They Left
Behind," how can a survivor cope when the possessions of co-workers
killed on 9/11 persistently appear in his home? Definitely less
reassuring is "Graduation Afternoon," in which Janice's worries
about status and her wealthy boyfriend get a whopping dose of
In "N.", therapist Johnny Bonsaint's sister wonders why and how
he died, especially after she reads his disturbing notes on one of
his patients. "The Cat from Hell" is a classic horrorfest,
featuring one particularly unforgettable scene.
King displays his romantic side as well as his fascination with
what comes after death in the quiet "The New York Times at
Special Bargain Rates." A priest has never heard a confession like
the one he listens to in "Mute," while one explanation for miracles
weaves through "Ayana."
Try though they might, readers will never forget the plight of
poor Curtis Johnson, who is trapped in "A Very Tight Place." (I'm
not easily grossed out, but this story has to be the most
disgusting thing I've ever read. [I suspect King will take that as
a compliment, especially since I still could not stop
Readers won't want to skip over the author’s notes at the
end of JUST AFTER SUNSET, in which King explains how each story
came to him. His ingenuity makes for fascinating reading --- a kind
of dessert after devouring a deliciously disturbing 13-course
dinner served up by a master creator.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 22, 2011