Though some of the short stories in Stephen King’s first collection were familiar to me, I’m amazed I haven’t read this book before. Some (like ‘Strawberry Spring’), were first published in the late Sixties, but most appeared between 1971 and 1978. Only four, including ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ and ‘Quitters Inc’ were previously unpublished.
While I’d always say King is a highly talented novelist, his flair for the short story is almost unsurpassed. My favourite is ‘Children of the Corn’, where a bizarre road accident prompts an argumentative couple to seek help. When they begin to explore a strange town, a rather disturbing lack of adults leads them into a sinister ritual. King’s own experience of working in an industrial laundry inspired the ‘The Mangler’, where a laundry press develops a taste for human flesh. ‘The Lawnmower Man’ is a simple story that revolves around an original, if somewhat bloody, slant on grass-cutting techniques. Not all the stories are quite so gory though – in ‘The Man Who Loved Flowers’, a handsome young man grabs the attention of passersby, whereas ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ and ‘One for the Road’, both follow on from King’s 1975 novel ‘Salem’s Lot’.
All the stories are wonderfully creepy, with well-observed characters that shine through with an originality that gives credence to their various fates (though of course, they don’t all die!) While this may not be the best of Stephen King, it clearly shows how, even though barely into his Twenties, he was developing a way of telling stories that most writers can only dream about.