In writing, you will often hear talk of “The Voice”. For the uninitiated, The Voice basically means the tone or style of the narration. Is it formal? Is it short and snappy? Is it ponderous? Does it engage you? Does it leave you cold?
You get the idea.
However, whenever I consider Stephen King, I never think in terms of The Voice, I think in terms of The Groove.
Yes, this man’s writing has groove, like a great heavy metal riff that grabs you by the scruff at the start of a song and drags you all the way through to the end whether you like it or not. And you usually do.
If It Bleeds is a collection of four short stories, and it’s groovy, baby! The opener, Mr Harrigan’s Phone, is about a kid hired by a rich and reclusive old man to read to him and perform other assorted household tasks. Right from the off it sounds creepy, but it’s actually quite a touching relationship. But not in THAT way. Stephen King is, of course, a master when it comes to setting a scene, so by the time things turn ACTUALLY creepy, we as readers are fully engaged with the two main characters, which makes the twists and turns as they come all the more shocking.
In The Life of Chuck, King goes cosmic. I haven’t read a cosmic King story in a while so I was ready to embrace it. Judging by other reviews and reactions I’ve read, this story is the most divisive one in the collection, but I loved it.
I actually found the fourth story, Rat, rather delightful. I’m not sure if this was Stephen King’s intention with this, I’m going to go ahead and assume not, but that was the effect it had on me. This tale sees an author, Drew Larson, sick with flu, trapped in a remote cabin as a storm rages outside. He saves the life of a rat who is not quite what it seems and ends up offering him a Faustian pact.
Again, the scene-setting is flawless and I was enjoying spending time with Mr Larson, but I liked this story without being horrified or creeped out by it. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? If it’s enjoyable, does it matter?
Besides, as a cat, the thought of a talking rat really got my juices flowing. By the time I got to the end, I actually felt quite hungry.
But the main draw for me here, as for a lot of other people, judging by all the reviews and reactions I’ve read, is the third one, If It Bleeds, starring the one and only Holly Gibney.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure, Holly Gibney is a recurring character who featured in King’s so-called Bill Hodges trilogy of books (Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch) as well as The Outsider. These are all tremendous reads so check them out. She’s one of his finest creations, and she can give me worm drops anytime.
So anyway, this is Holly’s first time out as the main character, and I revelled in every single second I spent with her, doing what she does best: being Holly Gibney.
I’m not going to give too much of the story away here, because I don’t want to spoil it for all my fellow Holly fans, but I will say that the title comes from the old journalistic mantra, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’, and concerns a TV journalist who arouses our hero’s suspicions.
It feels like a natural successor to The Outsider and is equally intriguing, creepy, exciting and satisfying. Brilliant stuff.
So, all in all, If It Bleeds is a very tasty treat indeed. Even better than a whole box of Whiskers Temptations. Go and sink your teeth into it right now, and tell them Salem sent you.