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  • Mandy McHugh

If It Bleeds, It Leads: One Constant Reader's Review

I've been a Constant Reader since elementary school when I read my first Stephen King book, a paperback copy of It my father bought me from the market. Those mid-90s mass paperback covers were incredible, btw, but since then, I pretty much read whatever SK puts out. While I haven't loved everything over the last few years, I'll be honest and say I just could not finish Revival, I heard wonderful things about this one.

If It Bleeds is a collection of four short story/novellas, which is where King tends to shine. Desperate Seasons is my all-time favorite book, and this collection gripped me in almost the same way. Mr. Harrigan's Phone was expertly paced, but the voices felt like different versions of other characters (mainly the relationship we see in Hearts in Atlantis) and the final payoff felt a little thin to me. Loved the mystery of the texts and phone calls, but I overall, just liked this one. The Life of Chuck was probably my favorite of the bunch. The first chapter, in my opinion, was absolute perfection, and I wish it had stopped there. Jarring and desolate, it really hit home, especially given our current climate, and if it had ended there, I would be RAVING. As it stands, the story as a whole emphasizes King's ability to command a narrative structure, reversing time in a Benjamin Button kind of way, but I was less interested in how Chuck got to where he was in the first chapter than I was about the profound statement he made in the first few pages. Definitely worth reading for the intro alone; that one will stick with me. If It Bleeds is a Holly Gibney tale, tying in Mr. Mercedes and The Outsider and introducing the idea that there is more than one in the world. Holly struggles with her own inner demons and has a difficult time processing what happened to her and the others in the conclusion of book one (which I won't spoil here, but make sure you read the Mr. Mercedes series before attempting The Outsider or you'll get the whole story in the middle of the book, cough, surprise). There were some interesting parts here, and I loved the investigative pieces as Holly starts connecting the dots, but I didn't care for the voice at the end, and it took me out of the story a bit. Again, King's prose is effortless and I appreciated the way he told the story, I just wanted a stronger villainous tone after having the creature built up for so long. Rat was essentially Secret Window, Secret Garden 2.0, with a dash of The Shining for good measure. It asks the question of what a man will do when alone with his thoughts, but it also flirts with classic short stories we grew up on (O. Henry, The Monkey's Paw) and what you would sacrifice in order to get what you want. You don't know whether he'll emerge from that cabin like Jack Torrence or if he'll even make it out alive, and I liked that part, but the meta aspect of the writer trying to write a good story tends to feel a little indulgent now--especially when a writer who has only ever published short stories gets a 350,000 advance and considers it "okay." Like...I've been on a publishing journey for a while now, and that is nothing to sneeze at, Mr. King. Overall, this collection is like coming home. King proves he is still an amazing storyteller with a knack for the creepy, although I will say that over the years, his style has swayed from outright gore to quiet examination of the horrors people are capable of, and I like the growth. If It Bleeds is a fun, quick read that has a lot of good shit.


 

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