We really shouldn't expect surprises from Stephen King. After all, he's the man who's shocked readers with his early works of modern horror, like The Shining and Carrie, and overwhelmed them with more subtle psychological terrors in The Stand and It. However, it's going to catch some people unaware that King -- the seller of countless airplane paperbacks and pop-culture monarch of the macabre -- is a very good writer. More than just effective and well beyond simply entertaining, King's writing has become something crafted, even artistic.
As he mentions in the introduction to this collection of 14 short stories, he's someone who, despite the immense success of his novels, can't help but work regularly on stories. And perhaps it's because the form is short enough to allow for regular experimentation that King has found a style he can be confident with. It's not innovative writing like Donald Barthelme's and David Foster Wallace's, and it lacks the toneful resonance of writers like Alice Munro and David Leavitt. But King certainly has earned a place in their company.
Fortunately for literary snobs, his regular publication in the tony New Yorker, and the bestowal of an O.Henry Award have made it okay to admit that King has talent and to start enjoying his writing. Also to start being scared -- because that's what King does consistently, to us, even when he's aiming for seemingly loftier goals.
Everything's Eventual will please both the die-hard King fans looking for a quick thrill and the crowd of want-to-seem-with-it aesthetes who can no longer ignore him. Even as his characters fragment into madness and drench their worlds in blood, King presents us with a master's control of pace and a virtuoso's agility with characterization. Even when the subjects become more of a game than a natural tale -- such as the story of a man paralyzed and witnessing his own autopsy -- King fascinates us with his storytelling as much the scenario itself.
Of course there are a few misses here -- the comedic tone of "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" never seems to emerge naturally, and a story from his Dark Tower series seems more executed than written. But some of the pieces in Everything's Eventual, like the tainted-innocence tale "The Man in the Black Suit" and the acidic "Lunch at the Gotham Caf & eacute;," can happily take their place next to any author in any section of the bookstore.