29 January 2009

Ten Best Stephen King Short Stories

A week ago, I finished Just After Sunset, Stephen King's new collection of short fiction. While King isn't as popular as he used to be, and his recent novels have left an unsatisfying taste in many mouths, I've found that his short work is as sharp as ever. In honor of this new collection, I thought it was time to dig deep and find out what the ten best Stephen King short stories were. As always with lists on the Shark Tank, the inclusions and order are my opinion only, and are--as such--unquestionably correct.

#10. "The Reaper's Image" (Skeleton Crew)

This story is all thrills and chills. It concerns an old mirror which has had a storied and urban-legendaryish history. This story is conveyed by a museum curator to an antique collector, who is our primary protagonist. Supposedly, those who have seen the image of the grim reaper in the mirror have not lived to tell the tale. Very creepy story.

#9. "Crouch End" (Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

Speaking of creepy. This is King's attempt (one of two on this list) to write about people who may have unwittingly stumbled into areas of the world H.P. Lovecraft warned us about. Quite possibly the scariest story hes ever written.

#8. "Sorry, Right Number" (Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

This is actually a teleplay for an episode of the old anthology TV show, Tales from the Darkside. It reads well, nonetheless, and packs a nice punch.

#7. "I Know What You Need" (Night Shift)

This is one of the longer stories on the list. It concerns a college girl and the guy she meets who is unhealthily obsessed with her. Yet he seems uncannily able to manipulate her into liking him. How? The answer is horrifying.

#6. "The Last Rung on the Ladder" (Night Shift)

This is the real downer of the crop. I first read this story when I was fourteen years old and it was my first indication that the mass audience had it wrong when they pegged Stephen King as "just a horror writer".

#5. "L.T.'s Theory of Pets" (Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales)

This is Stephen King's dark humor at its finest. A man relates a story about his wife, who packed up and disappeared some time ago.

#4. "Stationary Bike" (Just After Sunset)

For anyone who has ever struggled with weight loss, this is an interesting story. It concerns a man who decides--after getting some advice from his physician--to hop on a stationary bike and lose some weight. What he doesn't take into consideration is how that might affect the guys down below. The guys working for the Lipid Construction Company.

#3. "Quitters, Inc." (Night Shift)

Again, maybe this one just hits close to home because I know how hard it is to try to quit smoking. In this story, a man finds an organization that guarantees he will quit.

#2. "N." (Just After Sunset)

Another tale that flirts with the Cluthos Mythos, and in much the same horrifying fashion as Crouch End. The story is told completely from the point of view of journals and letters, which can be an interesting way to read a tale.

#1. "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" (Skeleton Crew)

Being a writer myself, I've always found King's fiction most compelling when it concerns writers. Thankfully, he has no shortage of fiction that fits this bill. Be it The Dark Half, Misery, or this story, King always has some compelling things to say about what it is that makes us want to create. This one is just about as strange as anything he's ever put to paper, and I love it.


Anonymous said...

King isn't as popular as he used to be? Are you kidding?

Anonymous said...

I've always enjoyed his short fiction more than his meatier novels. I just finished sunset as well and enjoyed it but found the writing to not be as sharp as I think his earlier work was. What remains though is his amazing ability to come up with grandly unique story ideas. The Stationary Bike certainly one of those as well as a wife getting a cell call from her recently deceased husband after a plane crash. That ability amazes but King himself mentions in foreword the dustyness of his pen at short fiction and it showed in the work. Still more than worth the $ though.

... love the list but no Shawshank? really?

Shawn said...

Anon: Shawshank would have been included if I was extending the list to cover his novellas (a form in which he may be even stronger than the short story). Same reasoning goes for The Mist's exclusion, and Secret Window, Secret Garden (even though I know I'm in the minority of loving that story).

Timothy said...

Can't agree with you more about the Ballad of the Flexible Bullet. That story seriously got under my skin. Fornit some fornus.

DaProphet said...

I prefer his short stories as well, though I wouldn't say it to his face. He gets too defensive. But I think Crouch End is the flat out scariest of his stories. I know that's strange since he's riffing on Lovecraft but there you go.

Anonymous said...

I would have to include "The Boogeyman." I have spoken to a few people about this story, noone seems to agree with me that in the story, the Boogeyman does actually exist...!

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the comments and choices--especially "The Last Rung of the Ladder". But I have to say my all time favourite is "Dolan's Cadillac". I forget what collection it's from. Also "Trucks" is great. Can you tell that I am a car enthusiast? Just loved Christine....

Da Prophet said...

By the way, I think you're too weighted to his later stuff. Off the top of my head "I Am the Doorway", "Grey Matter"(ugh), "Survivor Type", "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band", "Children of the Corn", "Battleground"are all amazing stories which probably would have found their way to my top ten list.