These days Stephen King releases books with such a regularity that it’s a rare opportunity to be able to invest the time in reading one of his older works. As I write, his latest books Everything’s Eventual and From a Buick 8 are sitting on the shelf waiting. And no doubt he’ll have another on the market before I get those finished.
I would hazard a guess that a few lesser known facts about Stephen King are that the films Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and Apt Pupil are all based on novellas written by the “master of the macabre” himself. And lo and behold, those three novellas are to be found here in Different Seasons, along with a fourth, The Breathing Method – one for each season of the year.
The book kicks off with The Shawshank Redemption (more fully titled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption). It’s always a pain when you’ve seen the movie before reading the book, but Shawshank happens to be one of my favourite all-time films. The novella covers pretty much the same ground as the film, with some elements omitted. In fact, this is one the extremely rare occasions when I would dare to say that the film excels the book. Still, a great prison break story from Stevie.
Apt Pupil comes next and was for me the highlight of the collection. It’s a story about a teenage boy blackmailing a Nazi war criminal who’s living incognito in modern-day America. Uniquely, there are no especially likeable characters in the tale, not even the teenager, but it works wonderfully because we can all relate to the boy; we all know something about being corrupted by bad things and how hard it can be to free ourselves. This is the story of one boy who goes too far.
The Body is the original title of Stand by Me. I get the feeling that this is a very personal tale by Stephen King, and it pains me to have to say it’s my least favourite. It’s essentially a nostalgia trip to childhood. Four eleven-year-old boys journey through the woods to locate a dead body – the unwary victim of a passing train. And whilst there’s a lot of fun and laughter along the way, the inital premise just isn’t interesting enough to carry the story. Worse still, there a terrible sadness running through the core of the tale that I found hard to bear. We learn about damaged family relationships and abusive parents, about how friends can hold you back, about feeling trapped in a dead-end town. It’s all stated very matter-of-factly without any hope of change. This novella depressed me.
The Breathing Method is the shortest novella in the volume and is the story of an unmarried pregnant woman determined to give birth despite the most immsense of obstacles. A little heavy on background info and short on action, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable read. Interestingly, the story finishes with what could be interpreted as a reference to King’s The Dark Tower fantasy series. Whilst King has made reference to this series in many novels, I think this is the earliest one I have ever encountered, and I believe The Breathing Method was written long before much of The Dark Tower. Isn’t that strange?