As much as Stephen King is known for his books so big they could kill a man, I always feel like his short work is his best work. If It Bleeds is just the latest example of this.
A collection of four novellas, If It Bleeds was easy to pick up and hard to put down. I’ll be honest, I originally got this book for the cover story, which is a loose follow-up to The Outsider. I was half tempted to skip right to that story. Having managed to avoid that, I highly recommend you don’t skip them either.
Let’s start first with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.
Craig is just nine years old when he gets a job from a wealthy old man named Mr. Harrigan. It’s just watering plants and reading to the old man. But when Craig gets a scratch-off from Mr. Harrigan for his birthday, he finds himself with a great deal of money. Feeling grateful, Craig buys Mr. Harrigan a smartphone. When the old man passes, Craig slips the smartphone into his jacket pocket. When he calls the phone, thinking to just hear Mr. Harrigan’s voicemail, he’s shocked to get a response.
Some other people get shocked too.
This story was predictable. I have to admit that. I saw almost every twist coming. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying. The characters, especially Craig, were likable. I appreciated it when people who did him wrong got what they deserved. I was happy to see a good kid, who turns into a good man as the story goes on, get lucky on more than one occasion. It was an enjoyable story with a satisfying ending.
Story two was called The Life of Chuck. I wasn’t expecting this, but it’s three short stories that blend to tell a novella in reverse. And it was honestly one of the more unique stories I’ve ever read. It starts with a lonely teacher at the end of the world. His world is literally crumbling around him. And as it goes, he sees the same message all over. On billboards, on the tv, even in windows of homes that surround him, is a retirement message for a man named Charles Krantz. 39 Great Years! Thanks, Chuck!
It’s hard to explain this story further than that without giving it all away. Suffice to say, King is stepping up his game with this story and it’s well worth your time.
Now we come to the title story If It Bleeds. This is the story of a school bombing, and what came of it. Holly knows that there’s something deeper going on here than just a sick man destroying the lives of hundreds of families. As if that wasn’t horrifying enough.
I love Holly. I will read any story that includes her. She’s so sweet, so clever. I love everything about her.
Finally, we come to the final story, Rat. I thought this was going to be skippable. But I’m above all else a completionist, and I couldn’t let myself put a book down that I was almost finished with anyway.
And I loved this story. It’s about Drew, a short story author and professor who’s always wanted to write a novel. He’s tried before, but he had a bit of a nervous breakdown and almost set his house on fire. As an author myself, I can relate. But he has a new idea now, and he’s decided to spend a few months at the family cabin to write it. As you can imagine, horror ensues.
I did like this story, but I also felt it was the weakest of the four. Several plotlines just seemed to fizzle and go nowhere. There was also a lot of fluff. A lot of extra information and characters that the story just didn’t need. If Rat had been half as long, it would have been twice as good.
That being said, whatever weaknesses Rat has, they’re surpassed by the merits of the other three stories. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s well worth your time.