Perhaps one of King's best stories ever, this one is almost straight science fiction, one of King's only forays into the genre. An impressive display of King's strongest pointsm, this tale incorporates his knack for characterization, his ability to weave the utterly unbelievable with the real, and is able to conjure such darkness in the most familiar of settings.
This novella begins on an airplane, American Pride Flight 29. Among its passangers are Brian Engle, a pilot whose ex-wife recently died; Nick Hopewell, a "soldier" for the British government; Dinah Bellman, a blind girl on her way to a hopeful operation; and Craig Toomy, a dangerous psychopath intent on getting to Boston at any cost. Something interferes with his plans.
The passangers of Flight 29 come to realize that, while they slept, the airplane seems to have travelled back in time. And the past is not pleasant: they arrive in a static world, devoid of any inhabitants save for themselves. Eventually, they learn that time gets "used up", i.e. each past moment is frozen in time, unable to be relived. But that's not the worst. For Dinah and the others soon begin to hear strange crunching sounds just over the hills...
King uses the theme of pressure here to wonderful lengths. It's interesting when you read "The Langoliers" and think about how pressure puts the survivors of Flight 29 in grave danger, and how the release of same is the only way to save them. "The Langoliers" is a wonderful novella, one of his best tales ever. Recalling stories such as "The Mist," "The Raft," and the novel Rage
, this will stand among King's finest achievements.
Secret Window, Secret Garden
Secret Window, Secret Garden is like having some devil's food cake right before bed, knowing it will give you nightmares but relishing the sweet taste. A story about guilt, redemption, and, yes, pressure, this is one of those you don't dare to forget about.
It concerns a man named Morton Rainey, a mildly successful writer who has had a not-so-successful marriage. One day, while at his summer home, he awakens to a knock at the door. Outside, a man with a Souther drawl and the unlikely name or John Shooter tells Mort: "You stole my story."
And so it begins. Shooter claims Rainey stole a story of his, an original draft of a tale later known as "Sowing Season." Shooter's draft, of course, is called "Secret Window, Secret Garden." Rainey vehemantly denies the charge, and goes about trying to find proof of his innocence. The dog of it is, all shreds of proof are being lost: stolen, burned, or otherwise. Rainey begins to fear for his sanity, and his life, and by the outcome of this layered tale of suspense, we discover he has reason for both.
Adapting a paranoid writing style, this novella shows King at the top of his form. The completion of the "Writing Triumverate" begun with Misery
and continuing through The Dark Half
this dark exploration into the world of writing and writers makes a worthy (and may I say, demented) addition to King's work.
The Library Policeman
A strange tale, and one of King's most disturbing, "The Library Policeman" begins ordinarily enough. Sam Peebles needs to take some books out of the library. Then, when he is done using them, he goes to bring them back, realizing too late that they're missing. There comes a rap upon the door. It's a Library Policeman, one of the more scary childhood boogeymen, come to take full payment for the books (and it ain't money.)
What could have been a ridiculous premise turns into something dark and scary. You see, The Policeman is simply a minion of the librarian, Ardelia Lurtz, a creature not of this earth (but apparently related to It of the novel It
, who can reach into a person's mind and actualize their worst memory. Peebles is forced to relive his worst childhood trauma, in a scene later echoed in the twin volumes Gerald’s Game
and Dolores Claiborne
Haunting and freakish, this one will make sure you return your library books.
The Sun Dog
"The Sun Dog" is the least of the Four Past Midnight novellas, which is strange, because it seems to have all the classic King elements in it: the young hero, both nature and machine against man, and that old King fave, Castle Rock. What's wrong with it? It's too darn long!
It starts out as the story of Kevin Delevan, who, for his 15th birthday, recieved a Sun: an automatic camera. But something is not right with the camera. It seems to be taking pictures of only one thing: a snarling, growling dog. And the dog seems to be getting closer.
A good concept, but it just doesn't play out. Michael Collings mentions in Beahm's Stephen King Companion (revised) that King goes several pages into the act of buying film. Good detail is one thing; too much of a good thing turns sour.
Still, there are some effective scenery peices, and the last scene in the novella is quite scary, so though not a total washout, is a weak ending to a fine collection.