I have to say, as a self-proclaimed horror writer, reviewing a book of Stephen King’s is intimidating. He’s one of, if not the most, prolific horror writers of our time. Since his debut novel, “Carrie,” in 1974, King has released hit after hit, leading up to his most recent book, “If It Bleeds.”
“If It Bleeds” is not a novel, but a collection of short stories published on April 21, 2020. I haven’t been as faithful to his short stories as I have been to his novels. This one was my first of King’s collections and now I feel obligated to read more.
“If It Bleeds” consists of four short stories: “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” “The Life of Chuck,” “If It Bleeds” and “Rat.”
I have to admit,” Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” is a slow start. I enjoyed it, but it’s no “Carrie.”
The story deals with Craig, a boy who spends time with an old man named Mr. Harrigan. When Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig calls his phone to hear his voicemail for comfort. However, the voicemails the boy leaves can have disastrous consequences.
“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” is a slow burn. A lot of the story focuses on the relationship between Craig and Mr. Harrigan, as well as Craig’s life after the old man’s death. This isn’t a bad thing, but when you are looking forward to a scare, it’s strange to get a character-driven tale.
With that being said, when the scare came, it resonated.
When I was 14, my great grandma (GG) died. I was upset, so I tried calling her phone to hear her voicemail. The line was picked up.
Although I love horror, I don’t think my GG’s ghost sat by her phone awaiting my call. It was most likely my Aunt Eileen, GG’s daughter, who answered it. You can imagine that hardly mattered to me and I was terrified.
That made the story and its similar scare resonate with me. This story isn’t my favorite, but it’s a compelling read.
The next tale is “The Life of Chuck.” This one is confusing, but rewarding when you understand.
The story tells of Charles Krantz and his 39 great years. I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s really powerful and touching. It’s about one containing multitudes.
If that confuses you, good. Read it.
The next story is the longest. It’s also a continuation of the Bill Hodges trilogy, as well as King’s novel, “The Outsider.” You don’t need to read these books to understand it, but I imagine it would help.
This story is more of the classic scare that you might look for from King. It’s about catching someone, or something, that bombed a middle school.
“If It Bleeds” is a slow burn, but in a different way than “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.” It’s a modern-day detective story with some nice twists and scares.
My favorite story of the collection is “Rat” because it speaks to me on a personal level. It’s about an author who struggles to write his first novel.
This may sound boring at first, but “Rat” is full of Faustian bargains and irony.
“If It Bleeds” overall is a very entertaining book. It has its slow bits, but even those are full of characters that are hard to dislike.
I would rank the stories from my favorite to least favorite: “Rat,” “If It Bleeds,” “The Life of Chuck” and “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.” It seems unfair putting these stories at the end, as I didn’t not like them, but the former two sparked my interest more.
The stories in this collection focus less on the scares and more on the heart. Characters and their relationships with others are what drives the stories as well as the scares.
I give “If It Bleeds” a 7/10.