In honor of today’s release of 11/22/63, Stephen King’s alternate history novel about a man who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK, I’ve decided to list some favorites from his more recent years. I’m picking out of his later projects because everyone knows The Stand, The Shining, It, and ‘salem’s Lot are awesome. Whether I make mention of it or not will make no change in their cult status. That being said, here are some post-Green Mile works that I found to be captivating.
10. Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass- Here King takes a look at the backstory of Roland, the hero of the iconic series, and delivers a story that is every bit as tragic as he hinted in earlier entires. The romance between Roland and Susan is so much larger-than-life that you want to believe that things will end well for them. The Big Coffin Hunters, Marten, and Rhea of the Coos all serve as sinister, memorable villains. It provides great backstory for Roland and serves as a nice break in the quest before the last three novels.
9. Low Men in Yellow Coats- While I didn’t love every story in Hearts in Atlantis, Low Men is classic King. Bobby Garfield’s experiences recall the coming of age elements explored thoroughly in It and Stand by Me, but introduce plenty of new elements. His relationship with his mother is hauntingly real.The titular villains are described with perfect menace, and their methods elicit creepiness about things that are commonplace.
8. On Writing- Full of examples and exercises, it is a worthy addition to the cramped shelves of books about writing. What sets it above is that he makes it personal, telling a story while writing about storytelling. It’s a brilliant move, and is sure to even entertain folks who aren’t reading it as a reference book.
7. Cell- I know I’m in the minority here, but Cell blew my mind. Making use of the now popular cinematic prose, where the book reads like a long movie treatment more than a novel, he crafts a fast-paced wild ride from page one. He spikes his apocalyptic brew with social satire (a bad cell phone signal turns people into zombies!), and it works. Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel, the ‘bear Jew’ in Inglorious Bastards) was once attached to direct a film adaptation, but that sadly fell through.
6. Desperation- Like in The Stand, King sets out to tell a tale of Biblical proportions. Though he uses the will of God as a plot device, it never treads into preachy territory or anything too kooky. The Sheriff, in the throes of demonic possession, is one of King’s coolest villains. It’s also one of his most action-packed books. While the characters never leave the town, there is constant motion as they desperately try to escape.
5. Under the Dome- This is one of those thousand-page books that doesn’t really feel as long as it is. The pace is pedal-to-the-metal all the way through. All of his novels contain he always has human characters who are just as meanspirited as the supernatural threats. In Under the Dome, the supernatural force is almost a neutral entity, and the humans are left to be nasty to each other. It really explores the dark side of the human condition and what particularly disturbed people will do when the opportunity to seize power arises.
4. Full Dark, No Stars – Speaking of the dark, nasty side of human nature… Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four novellas that explore humanity at its most wretched. There isn’t a single spark of hope in these tales, which might make them too unpleasant for some readers. It’s in the craft where they shine though, setting the stories above ‘nastiness for the sake of nastiness.’ For example, the story, “A Good Marriage” follows a pretty basic plot, but the pacing, the language, and credible, realistic characters make it stand tall.
3. Just After Sunset- I know I’m not alone when I say that some of King’s best work is his short stories. Even as far back as Night Shift, he has balanced stories that were illogical and terrifying with ones that were told in a melancholic, literary voice. This collection is no different. From the novella N., where he ties Lovecraftian & Machen-esque elements with OCD, to The Things They Left Behind, a post-9/11 tale, he proves the vast range that his storytelling covers. It’s every bit as good as Night Shift (review) and Skeleton Crew. Just saying…
2. The Green Mile- Come on, can you go wrong? Really?
1. Everything’s Eventual- This collection is the one that even the un-Constant Readers will tout as containing some of his best work. From the funny Autopsy Room Four and the haunting The Man in the Black Suit to the existential That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It is in French and the gripping Riding the Bullet, Everything’s Eventual kicks ass. It is so much more than a horror collection, and everyone who has not experienced it yet absolutely should.