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Just After Sunset by Stephen King

CoverStephen King, I've come to realize over the years, is a bit of an acquired taste. Now, this isn't to say that he doesn't deserve his place in the elite of his generation's canon of popular literature, but there are some kinks that may rub readers the wrong way. King has, on occasion, called himself a "hack" and, while he may not be one the world's greatest writers, he is one of its best storytellers which, for my part, goes a hell of a lot farther.

Certain things can't be argued when it comes to his work. The Dark Tower was his opus and one of the best sagas to come along in recent memory. His work adapts well, better than most, to both screen and the pages of comics. But to me, where he has always really shined, is in his short fiction, where the bounds of the medium force his talent into a rare and often powerful focus. His newest collection, Just Before Sunset, is no exception.

As he states in his introduction, this is his return to the form after too long an absence, and his exuberance over that fact comes through loud and clear. The prose is precise and evocative. It is never wordy, never drags and the subject matter ranges from outright horror to subtle depictions of simple humanity.

From the very first tale, King proves that in a good supernatural story, the otherwordly is woven so subtly into the narrative that it feels more like a piece of the backdrop, allowing the reader to focus on the really important stuff. In those like Willa, a sweet, old-fashioned love story with a twist, and perhaps my favorite of the collection, it becomes a way to add emphasis to the underlying themes.  In the Lovecraftian N., he blurs the line between possibility and reason to a terrifyingly uncomfortable degree.

All in all, there will be sleepless nights, to be sure, and there may likely be a few tears shed for the raw humanity on display. King has grown up as an author and expanded his talent for connecting reader with character to the level of true literature, whether it is looking at the fragile nature of reality, comprehending tragedy, both massive and acutely personal, or just plain wanting to dance with your girl forever, Just Before Sunset manages it all.

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