By Stephen King, A (mostly) delightfully creepy collection of novellas
Stephen King’s If it Bleeds is a collection of four novellas that was released in April 2020. I’ve been getting really into watching Stephen King adaptations now that I’m spending all my time sheltered-at-home, so it’s turning me into more and more of a Stephen King fan.
Not all of his stuff is to my tastes, but I was eager to check out these novellas, especially since one of them (If It Bleeds) relates to The Outsider which I previously read and liked.
See the Full Plot Synopsis & Summary for If It Bleeds (spoilers). For the spoiler-free version:
If it Bleeds is a collection of four unrelated novellas. The first two, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone and The Life of Chuck, both deal with characters approaching the end of their lives.
The third story, the titular If It Bleeds, is basically a mini-sequel to The Outsider with Holly Gibney as the main character. The last one, Rat, is about a writer who strikes a Faustian bargain in order to write a novel.
See If It Bleeds on Amazon.
I thought the three shorter novellas were great. The first two stories, especially, are fantastic. They both deal with characters that are approaching the end of life (Alzheimer’s and car accidents also crop up a lot in all these stories). They are imaginative, but thoughtful, while retaining King’s trademark creepiness. They were exactly what I was hoping for when I picked up this book. The first one, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is about a boy who calls his recently deceased employer’s cell phone to hear the man’s voice (on his voicemail message) for comfort. To the boy’s shock and horror, the boy receives a response.
The second one, The Life of Chuck, is kind of a weird mix of genres. There’s three Acts and even though they are technically part of the same story, they each sort of serve as separate stories too and fall into different genres. Act I (Thanks Chuck!) is basically a sci-fi story. Act II (Buskers) is a slice-of-life story. And Act II (I Contain Multitudes) is basically a horror/ghost story. I think it’ll seem a bit all over the place to some people, but I really loved it.
The last one (Rat) is also solid and worth a read. It’s about a writer who strikes a Faustian bargain in order to write a novel. It’s one where I would have loved to have someone to mull it over with after I read it.
However, the third one, If it Bleeds, was easily the weakest story for me. I did not like it at all. It’s too meandering, reads like a more boring version of The Outsider, and has too many plot holes. It accounts for about half of this book, and it feels like a short story that got really, really stretched out. (To be fair, plenty of other reviewers liked it, but I did not.)
It seems like King was trying to write a sequel to The Outsider, but there wasn’t enough material so he gave up and turned it into a novella. I didn’t find it creepy or interesting. The last half of it is especially boring and nonsensical, as Holly Gibney, the main character, cooks up a very poorly conceived plan to deal with the villain of the story. Also, this story is probably better if you have already read The Outsider.
It didn’t help that I listened to the audiobook and the narrator is a man, despite the story being from Holly’s perspective. All of Holly’s dialogue is in the same annoying, high-pitched, strained voice. Why not just have a woman narrate?
Read it or Skip it?
I loved the first two stories, loathed the third one (If It Bleeds) for all the reasons stated above, and really enjoyed the last one. Does that count as me recommending this?
Despite strongly disliking If it Bleeds, I liked the other stories enough that I think most King fans will still enjoy this collection.
As a sidenote, I have no clue why there is a cat on the cover of this book since there are zero cats in any of the novellas. Can someone else explain this? I know there’s a rat on its nose which makes sense, obviously, but what’s with the cat? I’m perplexed.
See If It Bleeds on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
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