Just after Sunset share button
Stephen King
Format Mass Market Paperback
Dimensions 4.16 (w) x 7.54 (h) x 1.25 (d)
Pages 576
Publisher Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication Date September 2009
ISBN 9781416586654
Book ISBN 10 1416586652
About Book

Stephen King — who has written more than fifty books, dozens of number one New York Times bestsellers, and many unforgettable movies — delivers an astonishing collection of short stories, his first since Everything's Eventual six years ago. As guest editor of the bestselling Best American Short Stories 2007, King spent over a year reading hundreds of stories. His renewed passion for the form is evident on every page of Just After Sunset. The stories in this collection have appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, Esquire, and other publications.

Who but Stephen King would turn a Port-O-San into a slimy birth canal, or a roadside honky-tonk into a place for endless love? A book salesman with a grievance might pick up a mute hitchhiker, not knowing the silent man in the passenger seat listens altogether too well. Or an exercise routine on a stationary bicycle, begun to reduce bad cholesterol, might take its rider on a captivating — and then terrifying — journey. Set on a remote key in Florida, "The Gingerbread Girl" is a riveting tale featuring a young woman as vulnerable — and resourceful — as Audrey Hepburn's character in Wait Until Dark. In "Ayana," a blind girl works a miracle with a kiss and the touch of her hand. For King, the line between the living and the dead is often blurry, and the seams that hold our reality intact might tear apart at any moment. In one of the longer stories here, "N.," which recently broke new ground when it was adapted as a graphic digital entertainment, a psychiatric patient's irrational thinking might create an apocalyptic threat in the Maine countryside...or keep the world from falling victim to it.

Just After Sunset — call it dusk, call it twilight, it's a time when human intercourse takes on an unnatural cast, when nothing is quite as it appears, when the imagination begins to reach for shadows as they dissipate to darkness and living daylight can be scared right out of you. It's the perfect time for Stephen King.


From the Publisher

"Wonderfully wicked." — Carol Memmott, USA Today

"King is as sharp and versatile as ever." — Erica Noonan, Boston Globe

"Quietly dazzling." — Ted Anthony, Associated Press

"King continues to be dedicated to giving his readers a luxuriant experience, the basic pleasure of getting lost in a book." — Charles Taylor, New York Times Book Review

"King lets the reader put the book down at night after one story, knowing another horrific treat awaits the next day." — Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post Dispatch

"King is as sharp and disgusting as ever... Haunting." — People magazine

"King reminds us again of his power to unhinge with a single line or image. A master of the storytelling craft, he gets his ghastly fingernails right beneath the skin." — John Marks, Salon.com

"In these 13 newly collected stories, we see a master craftsman at the top of his game and clearly enjoying himself.... Each story is a treat not just for King fans but for any fan of good fiction." — Salem Macknee, Charlotte Observer

"A master storyteller... Haunting." — Karen Sandstrom, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Janet Maslin

…[a] succinct, fast-moving collection…This collection's most successful stories start unprepossessingly but then head for unknown territory, off in the far reaches of Mr. King's imagination.
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

King’s latest anthology reminds readers that while his many works contains supernatural elements, his true skill as a writer lies in his ability to tap into the minds of his characters and, more importantly, his readers. The story topics are scattered, but most have that signature King style that blurs the line between fiction and reality. His most effective story, “N,” is a tale about obsession and compulsion that will make even the mellowest listeners a bit paranoid. Part of the beauty of this tale is the use of multiple narrators for different points of view. Using a different narrator for each story works well. (Ron McLarty’s Stationary Bike and Mare Winningham’s The Gingerbread Girl were previously produced and released as solo efforts.) King reads the introduction, one story and the end notes about each story. While not necessarily of the same caliber as his co-narrators (including Jill Eikenberry, Holter Graham, George Guidall, Denis O’Hare and Karen Ziemba), his ability as a narrator has improved significantly over the years. A Scribner hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 1). (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

In King's latest collection of short stories (following 2002's Everything's Eventual ), he presents 14 tales that range from the philosophically themed, to one in which the author gleefully admits to playing with the gross-out factor ("A Very Tight Place"), to "The Cat from Hell," which makes its hardcover debut some 30 years after its original publication as part of a contest in Cavalier , one of the gentleman's magazines that put food on the table in King's early years as a writer. In his introduction, King cites his recent stint as guest editor for the 2007 edition of Best American Short Stories as an impetus to return to the form in his own writing. Several of the works included here were written following that experience. Finally, as King has done previously in his collections, at the end of the volume he provides the reader with brief insights into the inspirations for each tale. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/08.]-Nancy McNicol, Hamden P.L., CT

Kirkus Reviews

King (Duma Key, 2008, etc.) returns with his first volume of short stories in six years. The author explains in his introduction that the opportunity to edit the annual Best American Short Stories anthology reignited his interest in the form, which had supported him when the fledgling novelist submitted stories to men's magazines. His afterword provides contextual comment on each of the 13 selections, including the revelation that "The Cat from Hell"-about a killer feline and the hit man hired to bump it off-dates back 30 years to those pulp-fiction days. Yet most of the rest are recent, allowing King to exorcise demons (the fear of being trapped in a porta-potty in "A Very Tight Space," the ambivalence about interfering in a violent domestic quarrel in "Rest Stop") and dreams (the marital entropy of "Harvey's Dream," the mushroom cloud of "Graduation Afternoon"). Though much of this lacks the literary ambition of King's recent novels, "Stationary Bike" provides a compelling portrait of creative psychosis-how a metaphor suggested by a doctor to describe an artist's high cholesterol inspires a painting that becomes the artist's reality-while the contagious obsessive compulsive disorder in "N." ranks with King's best work (it is also the newest story here). There's also an obligatory 9/11 response ("The Things They Left Behind") and a story that blurs the distinction between the living and the dead (the opening "Willa"). Like episodes from The Twilight Zone, many of the stories hinge upon "a small but noticeable hole in the column of reality." As King writes, "[I]t's how we see the world that keeps the darkness beyond the world at bay." And he tells the reader, "I hope at least one of [thestories] keeps you awake for awhile after the lights are out."An uneven collection, but King has plainly had a ball writing these stories.

The Barnes & Noble Review

For starters, let's set aside the irrelevant arguments about Stephen King's place in the canon of American literature: i.e., what's a nice, lowbrow hack like him doing in a swanky establishment like The Paris Review, Esquire or -- gasp! -- The New Yorker? Furthermore, aren't his "literary" novels, like Lisey's Story and Duma Key, merely transparent attempts to earn respectability among highbrow critics (who, truth be told, are probably reading Pet Semetary behind that copy of Ulysses on their subway commute)? For the moment, let's shrug off the truly Needless Things: the natterings about the value of genre literature that have shadowed King ever since the publication of the tales in Different Seasons, his first evident steps out of the puddle of gore toward fiction that had a deeper purpose than the quick, cheap scare.

What it comes down to, Constant Reader, is this: does the fiction of Stephen King provoke, delight, transport, or enlighten? If yes to any of them (bonus points when all four qualities coalesce), then he has succeeded. To frighten readers -- which he does better than any other writer in the past century -- is gravy.

The majority of readers coming to this collection, Just After Sunset, will show up just for the gravy; and, yes, King ladles large helpings of it in these 13 stories. But, to extend the analogy, there is plenty of meat here, too: longing, tenderness, regret, happiness, despair, hope -- the great stew of human emotions about which writers with names like Flaubert, Joyce, Proust, Woolf, and James once spilled gallons of ink. To say King is "just a horror writer" does a disservice to not only the author but the fiction itself. These are more than mere spook stories to tell around the campfire. Like the best of King's novels, they are aiming higher and deeper than tales of demon-possessed cars or viral aliens.

In his introduction to the collection, King describes how writing these stories was a sort of renaissance for him, born out of a stint as a guest editor for The Best American Short Stories in 2006. That job required him to read hundreds of stories -- "some seemed to touch greatness" while others felt "airless...and self-referring." But binge-reading all that short fiction had a catalytic effect on King: he realized "writing short stories is a fragile craft, one that can be forgotten if it isn't used almost constantly....There are lots of things in life that are like riding a bike, but writing short stories isn't one of them. You can forget how."

And so he started flexing the muscle that once earned him rent money writing for men's magazines like Cavalier and Gent. A full dose of that early pulp horror can be found in his first collection, Night Shift; but it's also represented here in Just After Sunset by "The Cat from Hell," the one selection which is gore-for-gore's-sake scary. The story of a hit man hired to kill a cat starts as something out of Poe -- an unnerving tale of paranoia and revenge -- but ends in a traditional King bloodbath. While it's queasily unforgettable, it's not typical of the collection. Nor should it be, since it was first published in 1977 in Cavalier. By including it here, King shows just how far he's come in the intervening years.

Most of the stories in Just After Sunsetwere written, by contrast, in the recent creative spurt King describes in his introduction. While a couple show signs of King wobbling and in need of training wheels after climbing back on the literary bike, others have the potential to move readers to tears while also scaring the bejabbers out of them.

In "Harvey's Dream," the titular husband relates a disturbing nightmare to his wife and says,

"And here comes the scary part. Do you want to hear the scary part?"

No, she thinks from her place by the sink. I don't want to hear the scary part. But at the same time she does want to hear the scary part, everyone wants to hear the scary part, we're all mad here.

Moving away from plots that feature creatures slithering beneath the bed, King homes in on the things that really scare us: divorce, wayward children, terminal illness, random violence, and being trapped in a Porta-Potty ("A Very Tight Place"). The most gut-wrenching of the stories involve ghosts who cannot bear to part with what we would call the real world. A husband and wife find eternal happiness on the dance floor of a honky-tonk in Wyoming; a widow gets a phone call from her husband, who has just been killed in a plane crash; and ordinary objects from office cubicles have a way of returning from the afterlife.

The latter story, "The Things They Left Behind," is King's haunting and poignant attempt to address the national grief over 9/11. A year after the attacks, a man who was playing hooky from his job in the World Trade Center that day suddenly finds tchotchkes from his dead co-workers' desks turning up in his apartment. To exorcise the ghosts, he must return the possessions to the families of the dead.

Say what you will about King's literary cachet, but he has undeniably worked hard at his craft, and over the years, he's drawn ever closer to earning the title of our American Dickens. Sure, the pop-culture references eventually wear thin, and yes, some of his plots are ridiculously absurd; but on the page, he can dance with the best of them. He knows how to make our skin crawl with a simple word like "charred." He's got the sound of vomiting down pat ("yurp"). And, line for line, he is a master at the compact, apt sentence: "His breath was black with the perfume of decomposition;" or, describing an obsessive-compulsive patient as "a man being pecked to pieces by invisible birds." This last line is from "N.," the one previously unpublished story in Just After Sunset. With a breathless stream of prose, King climbs inside the maelstrom of OCD to a place where "[t]here is a world behind this world, filled with monsters."

Behind the thin veneer we call reality -- the layer with all the hurt, the anticipation, the tedium, and the joy -- lies the dark unknown. This is the literary landscape where King still reigns supreme. --David Abrams

David Abrams's stories and essays have appeared in Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, The Greensboro Review, and The Missouri Review. He's currently at work on a novel based in part on his experiences while deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army.