Stephen King has a way of getting into the darkest reaches of the human mind and this book is the darkest. King noted that this collection of four short (for him) stories is the deepest he has gone into that dark world. Of everything I have read by him, I would agree. This book is about the separate parts of ourselves - the "normal" and the "darker" parts.
In 1922, King shares the story of Wilfred Leland James as he tries to save the family farm from his wife. She inherits 100 acres and wants to sell them and their farm to move to the city. Wilfred wants to stay and farm. He kills her with the help of their 14 year old son and everything goes downhill from there. It's not only the story of murder but how desperation makes a terrible bedfellow. Their world may not have been perfect and life may still have been a struggle but the dark cloud that hovered over them left them just as dead as his wife - they were just waiting to fall. There were so many rats in this story that I was sure they would haunt my dreams just like Wilfred's but thankfully my mind did not incorporate that nightmare into my nightly journeys.
Big Driver was one of my favorite stories in this book. The main character, Tess, seemed like such a every day sort of gal and one I could really relate to. Tess is a writer who writes cozy mysteries and makes enough money to live off of. She gets an offer to speak at a neighboring library and takes it up. Everything is going great; the event went well and the nice librarian shows her a short cut home that will get her home to her cat before dinner. There's something that comes to mind in reading this and it's "Have we learned nothing from Red Riding Hood!!!!" I can't imagine 10 minutes is worth all the heart ache. As you can guess, her shortcut ends badly. She finds herself on the side of the road with a flat tire due to nail riddled boards on the road. The man who stops to help her does unspeakable things to her and leaves her for dead. She doesn't die and what happens from there is a wonderful story of redemption and salvation. Makes me wish I had her strength when it comes to those who have wronged me (not that there is many).
Fair Extension was my least favorite. It was the shortest story in the book and maybe that had something to do with my dislike. There wasn't enough in the story to make me care and I really didn't like what happened. Dave Streeter is dying from cancer and makes a deal with the "devil" to get an extension on his life. As all deals with the devil, there is a down side. He must choose someone to take his place. He chooses his best friend who has always had better luck than he has. It's just a really sad tale of what jealousy does to people and made me really hate Dave (very early one). I am sure that was the point but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.
Which is why I was so grateful that the book ended with A Good Marriage. This was my absolute favorite. Darcy and her husband have been married for 27 blissful years. It's a comfortable, average marriage for two average people. It's a nice little tale until Darcy discovers her husband has a horrible secret. To tell you what it was would ruin the surprise but I wondered myself what would I do in her shoes. The secret haunts her and there is nothing she can really do about it without destroying her family in the process. But she does do something and it wasn't what I thought she would do. I almost wish there was more to her story because she was such a great character but there was nothing more to tell that wouldn't ruin her.
I recommend this book for stronger readers. Stephen King is not an overly difficult writer to read when it comes to the actual words but sometimes picturing the scene can be difficult and sometimes you really don't want to because it's too scary. Because the stories are shorter this may work for those in middle grades but some of the scenes are quite graphic so you may want to save it for a more mature reader.