My Year of King, #11: Different Seasons

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I'm not a huge fan of short stories, as a general rule. I like reading short stories in the context of English classes, or one at a time in magazines, but something about a whole book of short stories just doesn't really do it for me. Unless the author of said collection is Stephen King (or Neil Gaiman, but this isn't a post about him, so...)

Different Seasons is King's second short story collection, and it is clearly his best. Containing four
short (well, that term is relative in this case) stories themed around the seasons, it demonstrates King's mastery of the form. It proves that when pressed, King can, in fact, create amazing fictional worlds with well-developed characters and intricate plots without 1000 pages to work with. Whether you've read Different Seasons or not, you definitely know at least two of the stories in a different form. This is the collection that includes "Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption", which was shortened to just The Shawshank Redemption when they turned it into an amazing movie starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. It also includes the story "The Body", which was turned into the very popular movie Stand By Me, starring a young Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, and the gone-too-soon River Phoenix. "Apt Pupil", another story in the collection, is about a teenage boy who uncovers a Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight in his suburban neighborhood and blackmails him into detailing all of the atrocities he perpetrated. The final story, "The Breathing Method", takes place in a gentleman's club (the old-fashioned kind, not the adult entertainment kind), where an elderly doctor tells a chilling tale of a woman giving birth under gruesome circumstances.

Every story in this collection is a masterpiece of the genre. Emotionally gripping, well-paced, by turns terrifying and heart-warming, together these stories represent the very best of Stephen King. As always, his characters ring true. This is not the first instance of King using children as sympathetic heroes, but "The Body" is the first time he explores the bonds of childhood friendship that he revisits so masterfully in It. Like many of his most terrifying stories, none of the monsters are supernatural, but real people doing terrible things. The only truly supernatural occurrence in the whole book is in "The Breathing Method". Truthfully, King doesn't need the supernatural stuff to create his spectres; his insight into the evil that human beings can do to each other in their greed or lust or fear is enough.

King has several more story collections in his catalog, and I remember some of them being quite good, but none of them rise to the level of Different Seasons. It almost seems a shame that he hit his high point in this genre so early in his career, but I don't care when this collection falls in the timeline of his works; it is a gift to the world that it exists.

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