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Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
Stephen King
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Award Year: 
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A-Just After SunsetInspired by his experience editing the anthology Best American Short Stories 2007, modern horror master Stephen King returns with his first collection of short stories since Everything’s Eventual (2002).

The Stories: Nothing is quite what it seems in the 13 stories collected here. In "Harvey’s Dream," a couple deals with the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. "Willa" features a group of weary travelers stranded in a lonely Amtrak station, waiting for a train that may never arrive. In the vein of Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft, a psychiatrist, in "N," becomes obsessed with the same ancient evil that stole his patient’s sanity. "A Very Tight Place" follows a dispute between two neighbors, which turns deadly when one traps the other in a portable toilet. Mysterious hitchhikers, psychotic killers, demonic cats, ESP, and a phone call from beyond the grave round out the collection.
Scribner. 384 pages. $28. ISBN: 1416584080

Charlotte Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"In these 13 newly collected stories, we see a master craftsman at the top of his game and clearly enjoying himself. … That joy shows in the bright detail and easy virtuosity of the stories, and in their variety. No formulas, no tired shortcuts." Salem Macknee

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"With ‘The Cat From Hell’ as the lone exception, the stories in this book are representative of King’s current writing powers: those of a natural storyteller whose creative forces have actually strengthened and whose scope has most definitely broadened as he enters the third act of a long and fruitful career." Dorman T. Shindler

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Just After Sunset is a marvelous addition to the library of King’s more concise fictions. … His work here still has the power to freak you out, but for the most part the horrors he has invented for these pages are far more sophisticated than the machinations of his youth." John Mark Eberhart

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Sure, he does a few obligatory Twilight Zone-style tricks of this sort: One person gets wind of his own demise when he figures out that he can’t buy cigarettes, and one tale centers on a dead person’s ability to use the telephone. But those aren’t the good parts. … This collection’s most successful stories start unprepossessingly but then head for unknown territory, off in the far reaches of Mr. King’s imagination." Janet Maslin

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Many of Sunset’s stories have the aura of classic Twilight Zone episodes. … What’s best about these stories is how easily we can step into his characters’ shoes." Carol Memmott

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It doesn’t seem like the short story format is, well, long enough for him anymore. Nearly all the concepts and characters here seem to want to run wild as novels, and King too often feels like a ringmaster wielding a whip and chair—forcing the prose and people into a hasty conclusion for the sake of format, not story arc." Erica Noonan

Hartford Courant 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Some tales don’t twist enough to be mesmerizing; some endings are flat or pat. … But there is plenty of satisfaction to be had here as well." Carole Goldberg

Critical Summary

Critics agreed that Just After Sunset showcases a matured and sophisticated Stephen King, one who eschews vampires and clowns in favor of more refined terrors—unraveling relationships, aging, and the decay of both body and mind. That’s not to say that readers won’t be frightened. With the exception of "The Cat From Hell," written in the 1970s, King composed these stories after his famous brush with death, and many critics touted them as some of his finest. As with most short story collections, a few pieces are uneven, and "A Very Tight Place" is not for the claustrophobic. However, there are some real gems here. "If most Stephen King novels are 800-page sides of beef, this short story collection is the filet mignon," concludes the reviewer from the Charlotte Observer.