This review covers the stories five and six in the audiobook edition of "Nightmares & Dreamscapes" by Stephen King.
In listening to these two stories back to back I understood two things:
- I prefer King's stories to be up close and personal rather than being heavily dependent on the authorial voice.
- The skill of the narrator counts for a lot. Stephen King reads his own work well. His Maine country accents are perfect. But... you hear him pausing for breath and you get, or at least I thought I got, a sense of "I know the ending to this one and it's a doozie"complicity in his tone that I found distracting. Kathy Bates's performance is simply flawless. You almost don't notice what she's doing because she does it so well, using just the right amount of emphasis, keeping a beat-perfect rhythm and producing voices for characters that are distinct but not melodramatically different.
"It Grows On You", narrated by Stephen King himself, was a rare experience for me: a Stephen King short story that I walked away from halfway through.
It wasn't that the story was badly written. Almost the opposite. It was that this story is a nasty, mean-spirited, malicious story, filled with vulgar, unpleasant but hard-to-forget images.
This story is told from a sort of Town's-Eye-View, mixing malicious gossip with layer after layer of local history that place an impenetrable varnish over events. The descriptions of the people and what happens to them are the kind of thing you should be ashamed to think, never mind say out loud.
I know this is Castlerock and I know Castlerock is not a nice place but this time I found myself being invited to be a voyeur, sitting next to other voyeurs, judging and salivating in equal measure.
I decided to leave and take a shower rather than stay and see what the punchline was.
"Chattery Teeth", narrated perfectly by Kathy Bates, is one of those horror short stories that they ought to hold up in Creative Writing courses and say "This is how it's done."
You start with a travelling man, stopping for gas and finding himself caught up in the blighted lives of the couple running the place.
You stay long enough for everything to feel deeply rooted in reality and to get a feel for the travelling man as warily open-minded, missing his family and still nurturing memories and impulses from his childhood.
Then you add:
- a dash of weird: broken but exceptionally large Chattery Teeth, made of steel and designed to walk on their two spat-wearing feet.
- a wildcard: a teenage hitchhiker with a wide-eyed smile that sometimes becomes a jackal's grin.
- a desert sandstorm in miles and miles of empty road.
What follows is masterful storytelling, illuminated by lightning bolts of weird that help etch the tale onto the back of your eyes. This is Stephen King at his best.