The first collection of stories Stephen King has published since Nightmares & Dreamscapes nine years ago, Everything's Eventual includes one O. Henry Prize winner, two other award winners, four stories published by The New Yorker, and "Riding the Bullet," King's original e-book, which attracted over half a million online readers and became the most famous short story of the decade.
"Riding the Bullet," published here on paper for the first time, is the story of Alan Parker, who's hitchhiking to see his dying mother but takes the wrong ride, farther than he ever intended. In "Lunch at the Gotham Café," a sparring couple's contentious lunch turns very, very bloody when the maître d' gets out of sorts. "1408," the audio story in print for the first time, is about a successful writer whose specialty is "Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Graveyards" or "Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses," and though Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel doesn't kill him, he won't be writing about ghosts anymore. And in "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French," terror is déjà vu at 16,000 feet.
Whether writing about encounters with the dead, the near dead, or about the mundane dreads of life, from quitting smoking to yard sales, Stephen King is at the top of his form in the fourteen dark tales assembled in Everything's Eventual. Intense, eerie, and instantly com-pelling, they announce the stunningly fertile imagination of perhaps the greatest storyteller of our time.
Eyebrows arched in literary circles when, in 1995, the New Yorker published Stephen King's "The Man in the Black Suit," a scorchingly atmospheric tale of a boy's encounter with the Devil in backwoods Maine. The story went on to win the 1996 O. Henry Award for Best Short Story, confirming what King fans have known for years that the author is not only immensely popular but immensely talented, a modern-day counterpart to Twain, Hawthorne, Dickens. "The Man in the Black Suit" appears in this hefty collection, King's first since Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993), along with three other extraordinary New Yorker tales: "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," an intensely moving story of a suicidal traveling salesman who collects graffiti; "The Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French," about a woman caught in a fatal loop of dj vu; and "The Death of Jack Hamilton," a gritty, witty tale of Dillinger's gang on the lam. Together, they make up what King, in one of many author asides, calls his "literary stories," which he contrasts to the "all-out screamers" though most of the stories here seem a mix of the two, with the distinction as real as a line on a map. "Autopsy Room Four," a black-humor horror about a man who wakes up paralyzed in a morgue and about to be autopsied, displays a mastery of craft, and "1408," a haunted hotel-room story that first surfaced on the audio book Blood and Smoke, engenders a sense of profound unease, of dread, as surely as do the elegant work of Blackwood or Machen or, if one prefers, Baudelaire or Sartre. King's talent doesn't always burn at peak, of course, and there are lesser tales here, too, but none that most writers wouldn't be proud to claim, like the slight but affecting "Luckey," about a poor cleaning woman given a "luckey" coin as a tip, or "L.T.'s Theory of Pets," which King cites as his favorite of the collection, but whose shift from humor to horror comes off as arbitrary, at least on the page (the story first appeared in audiobook form). Then there's "Riding the Bullet," the novella that put King on the cover of Time and rattled the publishing community not for its content a suspenseful encounter with the dead but for its mode of delivery, as an e-book, and "The Little Sisters of Eleuria," another resonant entry in King's self-proclaimed "magnus opus" about Roland the Gunslinger (Roland will return, King lets on, in a now-finished 900-page Dark Tower novel, Wolves of the Calla). Fourteen stories, most of them gems, featuring an array of literary approaches, plus an opinionated intro from King about the "(Almost) Lost Art" of the short story: this will be the biggest selling story collection of the year, and why not No one does it better. (On sale Mar. 19) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 30, 2002
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Excerpt from Everything's Eventual by Stephen King
Lunch at the Gotham Cafe
One day when I was in New York, I walked past a very nice-looking restaurant. Inside, the maitre d' was showing a couple to their table. The couple was arguing. The maitre d' caught my eye and tipped me what may have been the most cynical wink in the universe. I went back to my hotel and wrote this story. For the three days it was in work, I was totally possessed by it. For me what makes it go isn't the crazy maitre d' but the spooky relationship between the divorcing couple. In their own way, they're crazier than he is. By far.
One day I came home from the brokerage house where I worked and found a letter -- more of a note, actually -- from my wife on the dining room table. It said she was leaving me, that she was pursuing a divorce, that I would hear from her lawyer. I sat on the chair at the kitchen end of the table, reading this communication over and over again, not able to believe it. After awhile I got up, went into the bedroom, and looked in the closet. All her clothes were gone except for one pair of sweatpants and a joke sweatshirt someone had given her, with the words rich blonde printed on the front in spangly stuff.
I went back to the dining room table (which was actually at one end of the living room; it was only a four-room apartment) and read the six sentences over again. It was the same, but looking into the half-empty bedroom closet had started me on the way to believing what it said. It was a chilly piece of work, that note. There was no "Love" or "Good luck" or even "Best" at the bottom of it. "Take care of yourself" was as warm as it got. Just below that she had scratched her name, Diane.
I walked into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of orange juice, then knocked it onto the floor when I tried to pick it up. The juice sprayed onto the lower cabinets and the glass broke. I knew I would cut myself if I tried to pick up the glass -- my hands were shaking -- but I picked it up anyway, and I cut myself. Two places, neither deep. I kept thinking that it was a joke, then realizing it wasn't. Diane wasn't much of a joker. But the thing was, I didn't see it coming. I didn't have a clue. I didn't know if that made me stupid or insensitive. As the days passed and I thought about the last six or eight months of our two-year marriage, I realized I had been both.
That night I called her folks in Pound Ridge and asked if Diane was there. "She is, and she doesn't want to talk to you," her mother said. "Don't call back." The phone went dead in my ear.
Two days later I got a call at work from Diane's lawyer, who introduced himself as William Humboldt, and, after ascertaining that he was indeed speaking to Steven Davis, began calling me Steve. I suppose that's a little hard to believe, but it's what happened. Lawyers are so bizarre.
Humboldt told me I would be receiving "preliminary paperwork" early the following week, and suggested I prepare "an account overview prefatory to dissolving your domestic corporation." He also advised me not to make any "sudden fiduciary movements" and suggested that I keep all receipts for items purchased, even the smallest, during this "financially difficult passage." Last of all, he suggested that I find myself a lawyer.
"Listen a minute, would you?" I asked. I was sitting at my desk with my head down and my left hand curled around my forehead. My eyes were shut so I wouldn't have to look into the bright gray socket of my computer screen. I'd been crying a lot, and my eyes felt like they were full of sand.
"Of course," he said. "Happy to listen, Steve."
"I've got two things for you. First, you mean 'preparatory to ending your marriage,' not 'prefatory to dissolving your domestic corporation'...and if Diane thinks I'm going to try and cheat her out of what's hers, she's wrong."
"Yes," Humboldt said, not indicating agreement but that he understood my point.