Different Seasons is a collection of four novellas slightly related by a seasonal motif, only one of which—“The Breathing Method”—can be loosely termed a “supernatural horror story.” This foray into realistic or “mainstream” fiction has lured some critics into suggesting that Different Seasons represents King’s bid for “wider recognition,” an attempt to shed his title as “King of the Horror Writers,” but King claims he is quite content to be “typed” as a horror story writer. The three “non-horror” entries in Different Seasons are different simply because his creative imagination happened to take him—temporarily—out of his usual territory.
The four novellas which make up Different Seasons were composed at different times, each following the completion of a novel: “The Body” was written after Salem’s Lot (1975), “Apt Pupil” after The Shining (1977), “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” after The Dead Zone (1979), and “The Breathing Method” after Firestarter (1980), although the novellas bear little resemblance to the longer works that preceded them.
As the title indicates, the book is organized around the seasons, with each section bearing an appropriate subtitle. Thus, the first novella, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” is subtitled “Hope Springs Eternal,” and it is indeed the most hopeful narrative in the book or, for that matter, in all of King’s work. The story chronicles the career and ultimate escape of Andy Dufresne, a convict falsely imprisoned for life, as told by Red, a not-so-innocent inmate and friend. Andy’s history is that of a self-possessed man whose courage and tenacity enable him to deal with adverse circumstances, to insist on his humanity under even the most dehumanizing of conditions, and, ultimately, to emerge victorious from his ordeal.
A mild-mannered banker in his pre-prison days, Dufresne seems an unlikely candidate for heroism, but his courage and shrewdness gradually earn him the narrator’s admiration and trust. Dufresne fights off homosexual attacks by the prison “sisters,” although beaten in the process, but his more characteristic strategy is to manipulate both his captors and his fellow prisoners through a judicious use of his small “cash store” and, more important, by his shrewd insights into the minds and needs of those around him. He parlays a chance opportunity to give a guard some tax advice into a series of “services” for the staff that he trades for favors, protection, a more comfortable lifestyle, and a private cell where he can, uncharacteristically, gaze at the lifesize poster of Rita Hayworth (and, subsequently, of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Hazel Court, Raquel Welch, and Linda Ronstadt) that adorns the wall of his cell. Dufresne’s manipulations backfire, however, and his chance for vindication and freedom is squelched by the prison warden because he has simply become too valuable to lose. Thwarted by the institution he has manipulated, Dufresne finally makes good on an escape that has been years in preparation.
Escape, rather than rescue or parole, is the appropriate fate for Andy Dufresne. To conclude the story on a fully hopeful note, Dufresne arranges for the final “redemption” of his friend Red. “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is a cleverly executed, moving narrative that stimulates and excites the reader without a hint of the weird. If it has a fault, it is that, having given his readers an uncharacteristically happy ending, King savors it too much, carrying it out too long and in too much detail.
No such criticism can be made of the second tale, “Apt Pupil,” subtitled “The Summer of Corruption,” the bleakest and the least effective of the four novellas. The failure of this story is doubly unfortunate because the idea behind it is most original and provocative. Todd Bowden, “the total all-American kid,” a typical California teenager, confronts Alfred Denker, an aged Geman recluse, with his discovery of Denker’s true identity. In reality, Denker is Kurt Dussander, a Nazi war criminal in hiding, once the Unterkommandant of the Patin death camp. Bowden threatens Dussander with exposure, demanding not money, but a detailed, firsthand account of the German atrocities and Dussander’s part in them. To Todd, Dussander is not a villain, but a kind of exotic hero. Dussander is irritated, even horrified, by Todd’s request (“You are a monster,” he tells the boy), but he has no choice: the oral history commences.
The first half of “Apt Pupil” is an engrossing study in progressive corruption, as the relationship between the boy, fascinated by evil-as-fun, and the old survivor, long numb to his own decadence, grows and changes both of them. The boy’s power over the man gradually gives way, as he is infected by the depravity he has released; the old man’s defenses slowly disintegrate and he rediscovers his taste for evil. In the end, the old man dominates the boy, but neither can control the corruption the boy’s curiosity and perverse make-believe have set in motion. As a study in depravity, “Apt Pupil” is very provocative, but as a story it fails because King cannot resolve the conflict on the...
(The entire section is 2185 words.)