Thursday, December 11, 2008

'N' -From the new collection of stories by Stephen King: JUST AFTER SUNSET

When King releases a new book, I can honestly admit that I'm right there ready to slap down my money. There's just something about The Master of the Macabre that draws me in each and every time, regardless of the outcome of the previous tome. Yes, there have been some missteps ('Dreamcatcher' was disappointing, 'Duma Key' had one of those endings that was almost too far fetched even for the subject at hand...), but by and large, his books never cease to snatch me, tie me up, and take me along for some of the wildest rides I have ever been on, literary-speaking. Now, I'm even a bigger sucker for King's short story collections. There has not been one of these I have been overly upset with, and over all I have loved each and every one. So, when the new book, 'Just After Sunset' was released last month, I got my ticket punched immediately. As I begun to tackle each individual chunk on its own accord and merit, it became obvious that King has taken the 'female perspective' firmly by the reigns and is leading it, stealthily, where he wants it to go. Even with 'N', the story I'll be focusing on today, is told ultimately through the eyes of a woman. And this, friends, is a damn good thing.

'N' is having some downright debilitating OCD issues; touching things in even multiples, placing items in little even-numbered circles, and making sure that anything and everything he comes in contact with or actions he takes throughout the day are done as far from the use of odd numbers as humanly possible. Dr. John Bonsaint is a psychiatrist who first encounters 'N' after his life has become such a train wreck that any normal functions has since ceased to be. Dr. Bonsaint, after some gentle persuading, finally listens to 'N' as he tells his tale of just how his life has fallen prey to obsessive-compulsive madness. ~ Right about now, a little bit of H.P. Lovecraft and his C'Thulu mythos squats firmly in the passenger seat and prods King's story telling into unhuman and inky-black directions typically unseen by the author. In the back seat, well it's the author-referred Arthur Machen and his Great God, Pan story that slips its directions into the course as well. ~ 'N' has discovered something quite odd in an otherwise normal set of stones looking vaguely like a mini Stonehenge, but why is there a spot for an eighth stone when he sees only seven? Well, a quick look through a camera view finder in hopes of capturing the blasphemous monument on film provides the answer: there are eight, but not to the naked human eye. And thus begins the need to count, list, touch, and create everything into even numbers: protection. 'N' becomes the unwitting gatekeeper for a creature so horrid, so wretched, that to see only its eye and pulsating head is to drive one to utter madness. And 'N' has come to the end of his frayed remnants of sanity.

'N' is by far, and without a doubt, one of King's most powerful and human (yet, at once, inhuman) stories. It hits home so potently for those of us (myself included) with even a minor taste of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and begs the question: is it our actions, however insignificant,that are really maintaining a sort of balance to the Universe, or are we just completely insane? A must read, as is the rest of the book. King is back, and he is in fine, fine form.


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