(This is going to be a super professional review. Because that’s me – super professional – in a nutshell.)
Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…
Aliens scare the piss out of me. This is not news. I don’t exactly know why. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with watching Alien at far too young of an age. Or my early exposure to The X-Files. Whichever. Clearly I should not have been allowed near a television because my fear of lawnmowers – and my general avoidance of yard work – can be directly attributed to the ghastly Lawnmower Man.
Or maybe, just maybe, the blame can be placed squarely on that one terrifying television show that masqueraded as children’s programming. Children of the ’90s, you know what I am talking about: Are You Afraid of the Dark?* In what I can only determine was the lazy parent’s approach to bedtime stories, Nickelodeon petrified children of the ’90s with this allegedly-made-for-kids series (myself included, of course). I know this show was supposed to scare us, but was it trying to traumatize us, too? I honestly think so. Does anyone else remember Zeebo the Clown or the Ghastly Grinner? Holy shit. I may have slept with the lights on for an indeterminable amount of time.
I’m now 200 words in, and while I’ve yet to head toward any discernible direction, please bear with me. There’s a point. I promise. The episode that stuck with me – from 1994, no less (20 years is a long time) – was The Tale of the Dream Girl. The episode tells the story of Johnny and Donna. (Spoiler alert!) Johnny believes he is being haunted by his dream girl, who was killed in a train accident several years earlier. As it turns out, Johnny was killed as well. He and Donna are destined to be together eternally, Johnny just has to realize the truth. Fun fact: The Sixth Sense was inspired by this episode as well.
While it’s up for debate whether Stephen King (via IT) or Are You Afraid of the Dark? is responsible for my fear of clowns, what is clear is that I love both dearly. So when Stephen King’s Just After Sunset opened with “Willa”, I was pleased. It was like my childhood fears and my literary sensibilities collided. “Willa” is the story of a young man waiting at a train station when he realizes his dream girl fiancé isn’t with him. He decides to go look for her, despite warnings of danger from fellow passengers, and finds her at a local bar. As he sits with her, he realizes what the two of them have known all along – they are actually ghosts who were killed in a train accident several years earlier. While this story is certainly not King’s best work, there is something very touching and subtle about it. It’s both haunting and romantic.
While overall this is not a collection to get excited about, there are a few stand outs – “Willa” being one of them. “The Cat from Hell”- where a hitman accepts a contract of a cat – feels like classic King. I loved it. I also enjoyed “Mute” the story of a man explaining his troubled marriage to a deaf-mute hitchhiker. “N” is the Lovecraftian highlight and was made into a wonderful graphic novel (illustrated by your favorite and mine – Alex Maleev). The last story is very…visceral. It’s the sole reason this book is not accompanied by a recipe. It’s that gross. The most basic way to describe it is the idea of a port-o-potty as a birth canal. Admittedly, I kind of liked it. As a whole, I’d give the collection a 3/5, with a few notable standouts. I’d recommend it for Stephen Kings fans, everyone else should pick up Skeleton Crew instead.
Tell me: Did you watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? Do you remember the insane list of future famous people who appeared on the show (Jewel Staite, Jay Baruchel, Ryan Gosling, Melissa Joan Hart, Elisha Cuthbert, Tia and Tamera Mowry, Tatyana Ali, Gilbert Gottfried, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and more)?