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After the Sunset by Stephen King book review

After the Sunset is an old man’s book filled with stories about medical problems and aging couples passively resenting each other as they grow old. It’s not just the subject matter either, After the Sunset’s stories lack vitality. Comparing the later stories, with an earlier King story about a cat from hell, reminds you that while King was never that good of a short story writer, he knew how to fire on all cylinders.

But After the Sunset is more set in the sunset years. Chock full of melancholy tales, regrets and worries. The horror comes less from scary things and more from angst and neurosis. There’s even a Lovecraftian tale focused on OCD. Then there’s two stories about the afterlife. One story about medical miracle cures (complete with magic black people). Several about physical ailments. Doctors show up here more than monsters do.

In his intro, King admits that he’s fallen out of the habit of writing short stories. But his cure of editing a literary fiction collection was the wrong approach. The first story, Willa, suffers most obviously from awkward literary stylizations. But many of the rest suffer from a shrinkage of the imagination. From too many bodily functions and doctor’s offices. Even his one “monsters from the beyond” story is retold as a doctor’s case file.

The only standout here is The Gingerbread Girl, but King was always good at novellas. With the Gingerbread Girl, King tosses away some of the bad habits he picked up from The Best American Short Stories 2007 and goes back to his roots. The prolonged action that almost takes place underwater, the slow ominous buildup and a character who is on the run all the time, is almost enough to redeem the entire collection. But not quite.

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