Stephen King promises this to be the last we hear of Castle Rock, Maine, the final story of Four Past Midnight being the prologue to Needful Things. And then the town shows up promptly in the next book, Gerald’s Game and in Dreamcatcher. How’d that work out for you, Stevie?
But that’s okay, because the bulk of the book is not about Castle Rock, Maine. It is four separate novellas, two of which have made it to film. The first, The Langoliers, became a two-part television movie featuring an overwrought performance by Bronsan Pinchot as the screaming Mr. Twomey. The printed version is an interesting Twilight Zone piece showing what happens to the world after time passes it by. What happens to all the inanimate objects left behind when we move on with time? Well, the langoliers eat everything. It’s more an absurd fairy tale than a horror novel, but it’s brevity (about 230 pages, a paperback novel of old) keeps the pacing tight.
More familiar is the second story, Secret Window, Secret Garden, which became the Johnny Depp movie Secret Garden. This one is sort of a real world version of The Dark Half turned inside out. Novelist Mort Rainey, yet another literary resident of Castle Rock (Hmm… Thad Beaumont and Mort Rainey? Were I an author in a King novel, I’d move the hell to New York!) is accused of plagiarism. The story in question is one Rainey swears was published in Ellery Queen two years before his accuser, John Shooter, claims it was stolen. Rainey has to deal with two problems: First, Shooter does not seem to exist. Second, that doesn’t stop him from violently retaliating against Rainey. Creepy. And with a real-world ending.
Speaking of real world, the monster in Library Policeman is not the real frightener in this one. Oh, she’s dangerous and scary and evil, but the real monster is a man from protagonist Sam Peebles’ past. When Ardelia Lortz appears thirty years after killing two children, a sheriff’s deputy, and herself, Peebles is suddenly helped by a pair of local recovering alcoholics, one of whom was driven into the bottle by Ardelia. And like any good supernatural menace, she is able to invoke the very real Library Policeman from Peebles’ past to frighten him into submission.
The collection ends with The Sun Dog, about a Polaroid camera with a problem. It only takes pictures of a dog, no matter who you point it at. The dog seems to be charging the would-be photographer with each and every picture. And it wants the camera’s owner, Kevin Delevan. However, Castle Rock’s resident tinkerer, pawn shop owner, and shylock, Pop Merrill, has taken the camera and tries to foist it off on some unsuspecting psychic aficianados, none of whom take it. Much to Pop’s chagrin, he and Kevin are forced into a show-down with the dog in the camera, which doesn’t want to stay in the photograph. Pop’s shop is the site of Leland Gaunt’s place in Needful Things.
This is one of the Freeway Guide series, short audiobooks meant to be listened to over one or two days commuting. I like the format. The author, using sound effects and additional voice actors, is able to make the material more memorable. Plus it does make a commute go by a lot faster.
That said, I was disappointed in the content. Steward decries eating meat, but stops short of recommending going vegan (plus I have a cousin, once a dedicated vegan, who would beg to differ with her assertions about getting protein from meat. She is now a bacon convert.) While some of the principles are sound – Eat more plant material than meat or processed food – she tends toward the conspiracy theory model many infomercials use to discredit detractors. So with that, I had to write this one off.
My first time through this book was the illustrated edition. This time, I did the audio version. Only it’s read not by Hawking (That would be fun, though) but by British radio personality Michael Jackson (No relation to the singer.) Jackson does a great job bringing Hawking’s prose to life. His upper class Received Pronunciation and dry delivery, with some well-placed “um’s” and snicks (Those things they try to beat out of you in Toastmasters) drives home that this is a college professor trying to explain the more esoteric aspects of the universe. And Hawking’s humor really comes through, which is not surprising. Hawking was that nerdy kid everyone picked on in a class at St. Albans that included National Lampoon cofounder Tony Hendra. It was a class that produced a lot of smart-asses, none smarter than Hawking.