In his introduction to the collection Just After Sunset, Stephen King lays out his track record with short stories. As with many authors of his generation, he got his start publishing short stories in genre magazines. And then he started writing novels, and the stories fell to the side. According to King, this collection represents his re-entry into the genre. And re-enter he does! The collection hits the mark in every single story. There were no duds for me. Each one has nuance, finesse, and captured me in the plot.
The notes King includes at the end of the book are a special treat. Often a short story collection leaves me wondering, “How did the author think of this? And why?” King answers some of those questions in his notes, and lets us stand in his shoes briefly.
I’ll give you a quick, spoiler-free clue to each story.
Willa: Explores the thin veil between worlds.
The Gingerbread Girl: Strong female MC in a scary situation.
Harvey’s Dream: What’s real—dreams or waking?
Rest Stop: A horror millions of women face every day.
Stationary Bike: Exercise takes the MC somewhere he never expected.
The Things They Left Behind: Connected to Manhattan on 9/11.
Graduation Afternoon: Highlights class divisions.
N.: Is obsession from within or without?
The Cat From Hell: Funny and gory.
The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates: Poignant story about loss.
Mute: Scarier than the others.
Ayana: Miracles without much explanation.
A Very Tight Place: You never know how strong you truly are.
It’s hard for me to choose a favorite story from Just After Sunset. I honestly liked them all. I savored the book, taking weeks to finish it rather than my typical number of days. That’s the thing with short stories, but I’d never fail to finish this collection. It’s just too good.
Okay, so I’m avoiding naming that favorite. I’ll say The Gingerbread Girl was the most unputdownable. I was rooting for the MC throughout. The end was so satisfying. But for true favorite, favorite? I’m picking The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates. There are a few people I’d give my left thumb to talk to just one more time. Even though no thumbs were harmed in this story. Just go read it!