You Like It Darker
Stephen King
Scribner (May 21, 2024)
Reviewed by Carson Buckingham

He’s Baaaaaaaaacckk!

Now this is more like the Uncle Stevie we all know and love.

Aside from his early work, King really shines with his mastery of short story writing. This book is a breath of fresh air, as all his short story volumes are. Not a clinker in the bunch. You Like It Darker is a mixed bag of supernatural, horror, sci-fi, crime drama, and even humor scattered in and about. Something for everybody.

The fact that Stephen King is aging is never more obvious than in his recent works, carrying the themes of impending mortality and what sort of legacy will be left behind. The themes of luck, destiny, and the pliable nature of reality also make appearances. But all are basically about the human condition and the all too human monsters we find along the way. And the human monsters are, by far, the worst kind. His use of plain old ordinary folks makes his stories easy to relate to and be drawn in by too.

And you will be drawn in.

When forced into word economy, King proves that he still more than has it, with:

“Two Talented Bastids” examines talent and where it comes from. Is it DNA? Is it something else? Or maybe both?

“The Fifth Step” in which an odd stranger uses another stranger as a father confessor to complete his fifth AA step: “that one admits to God, to oneself, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” The kicker at the end is pure King!

“Willie the Weirdo” is about a young, death-obsessed boy and his strange grandfather.

“Danny Coughlin’s Bad Dream” explores right and wrong and the axiom that no good deed goes unpunished. But when Danny reports a murder after a first-time, crystal-clear psychic flash about where the body is, why wouldn’t the authorities think he did it?

“Finn” is a young fellow from Ireland who has the worst luck of any human being anywhere, to the point where he is mistakenly kidnapped.

“On Slide Inn Road” is a nod to Flannery O’Connor in its horrifying depiction of mayhem on a back road after the family car breaks down. From this story, we learn that not every man of the house is brave, and not every old person is weak and useless. Wonderful, if brief, studies in character and generational differences in handling crises.

“Red Screen” is a heavenly mental amuse-bouche of sci-fi and humor. Nagging wives beware.

“The Turbulence Expert” is a thinly veiled story about what would happen if the OCD some people are afflicted with was not actually an affliction, but necessary to keep the world in order and in one piece.

“Laurie” is not one of the scarier ones, but a heartwarming story about how a border collie helps a man heal as he drowns in grief.

“Rattlesnakes” is a sequel to Cujo. Forty years after losing his wife and child, our grief-stricken widower, Vic Trenton, has inherited a house on Rattlesnake Bay. It is next door to an eccentric woman whose twins were killed, decades ago, by rattlesnakes, and whom she still pushes around…in an empty pram. It is a deeply unsettling tale of the parents left and how they deal with the lumpy, painful scar tissue that results when a child dies.

“The Dreamers” is about a down-on-his-luck Vietnam vet looking for a job. In responding to a job ad, he discovers that some things are better left alone when the experiment, in which he agreed to take part, goes hideously awry. King said that the story was “so creepy” that he couldn’t think about it at night, and that it was inspired in part by H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”.

“The Answer Man” is a wonderful story with which to end the collection. The subject is the age-old argument as to whether prescience is a good thing or a bad thing. When the Answer Man pops into existence at various stressful times in an attorney’s life, you may judge the results for yourself.

My favorites are: “The Fifth Step”, “The Answer Man”, “Red Screen”, “On Slide Inn Road”, and “Rattlesnakes”.

So, if you find yourself in the dark, King has returned to being good company.

5 out of 5 stars.

About Carson Buckingham

Professionally, Carson Buckingham has made her way in life doing all manner of things, most of which involve arson. She is currently employed as a freelance writer on a work release program. In her spare time, she studies forensics, in hopes of applying her new knowledge to eluding the authorities more effectively the next time. She is originally from Connecticut, but now resides in Kentucky—and Connecticut is glad to be rid of her.