(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

With Everything’s Eventual: Fourteen Dark Tales, author Stephen King returns again to the short-story collection (his last collection, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, was published in 1993). Between 1993 and 2002, King changed publishers, published Bag of Bones (1998) to critical acclaim, survived a bizarre near-fatal car accident (recounted in his 2000 memoir On Writing), and finally established himself as a literary writer with four stories in The New Yorker magazine.

At the same time, however, King had his share of criticism. In a 2002 article in the Internet newspaper Salon, critic Richard Blow suggested that King was starting to repeat himself, churning out one or two mediocre books a year, as if King was past caring about the art of writing. King himself had stated in On Writing that any writer who could not turn out a book a year should not really consider himself a writer. If that is the case, should readers expect King’s work to be consistently interesting each time when King may be publishing material just to meet a self-imposed deadline?

Everything’s Eventual is a solid collection for many reasons, primarily because the stories range from the typical cheap-thrills horror story to something very classical. King’s stories in this collection fall into three categories: the basic horror stories that King is known for, miscellaneous stories that first appeared in places other than the traditional printed page, and literary stories. The four literary stories are those originally published in The New Yorker (“The Man in the Black Suit,” “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” “The Death of Jack Hamilton,” and “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French”). When “The Man in the Black Suit” furthered King’s sudden literary stride by winning an O. Henry Award in 1996, King was seen in a new light.

Ironically, the story for which King won the literary award is actually the weakest of his so-called literary works. “The Man in the Black Suit” is King’s homage to Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) and Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown,” but where it fails is in the simplest level of storytelling. While the story is a tribute to Hawthorne, the tale is not truly original; the setting and the plot (“boy meets the devil”) are secondhand. While King has before been inspired by stories that others have told time and again, his final products typically feel fresher than this award-winning story.

“All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” is both sad and unique. Alfie Zimmer is a depressed traveling salesman in the winter heartland of Lincoln, Nebraska, on the last night of his life before he commits suicide. The only thing that gives him joy is a beat-up notebook full of obscure and obscene graffiti that Zimmer has collected on his travels through the years. The last one he collects—“All that you love will be carried away”—is one that gives him pause. It is one of the few thoughtful pieces he has ever found, and he does not want to leave it for people to find and interpret as nothing more than a curious suicide note. All the unusual pieces King brings together make this one of his best tales ever.

King is always trying new ways to get his stories to his audience, as well as trying to keep himself amused. In 1996 he serialized six books, one book per month (collected as The Green Mile), not giving himself time to ponder or the opportunity to change anything, thereby eliminating his chance to second-guess himself. It was something the literary world had not seen since Charles Dickens’s serialized novels in the nineteenth century, and King did it for exactly that reason. By doing this, he opened the door to other options. He published “1408” and “In the Deathroom” as audio books only, while “Lucky Quarter” appeared in the most mainstream of media, the national newspaper USA Weekend.

Most famously, he first published “Riding the Bullet” as an electronic book (an eBook) as an inspiration to other writers to try publishing methods other than the traditional print. What is the difference between an eBook and a traditional book in terms of story? Nothing, and that was exactly the point King was trying to make. King scared the publishing world by self-publishing “Riding the Bullet”—and later his 2000 eBook series The...

(The entire section is 1810 words.)