5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This is a collection of four different novellas, and I don’t think that they all deserve 5 out of 5 star ratings, but I think that the first, Hope Springs Eternal, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, is worthy of that rating, and makes the entire collection worth buying. Overall, this is a superbly written tome, with different subject matters and storytelling styles… the characters are thoroughly compelling (three of these have been turned into movies, some of which were Oscar-nominated), and the writing is somehow both crisp and evocative.
Four seasons, four novellas is the basic premise of this collection.
Spring: Hope Springs Eternal, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (the basis of the movie The Shawshank Redemption): Easily my favorite in the collection (and one of my favorite movies as well — incidentally, the movie did a wonderful job translating this off the page, with just a couple key creative license-type diversions). We’ve got Andy, the honest man who only becomes a criminal after entering prison; Red (who’s actually Irish in the book, hence the nickname), the guy who knows how to get things; and their gang of friends trying to make it through day after day, year after year. The story has a darker feel (compared to the movie), but unfolds very believably, with an ending that’s just a tiny bit different than the one in the movie…
Summer: Summer of Corruption, Apt Pupil (made into the movie by the same name): a disturbing portrayal of a young boy who’s obsessed with Hitler and the Nazi regime as a whole. It’s actually kind of a horrifying and horrifyingly mesmerizing read, though slow on the action for much of the book — it’s the kind of portrayal that makes you think people are much darker than you might think, and has you questioning that perfect Boy Scout neighbor from next door. From a story perspective, it was spooky, but there was less character development and more just… wow, kind of creepy kid who’s really obsessed with dark, dark themes…
Fall: Fall from Innocence: The Body (made into the movie Stand by Me): Kind of a growing up story about four twelve year-old boys who were trying to find the body of a missing boy. It doesn’t have the same climax as the other stories, but is a well-written coming of age story, with a lot of well-written prose showcasing childhood friendships, all set in the heart of rural America.
Winter: A Winter’s Tale: Breathing Method: I can’t say much about this one. I don’t often read horror, it gives me nightmares, and I did a very loose skim of it, just to say that I had read it. I think it’s probably good, for horror? Since that’s King’s main fare?
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
First, you really, really should not be comparing three out of four of these novellas to to the more mainstream Stephen King novels. I think King’s a talented writer, but there’s a big difference between his horror stories (and even his fantasy) and this particular novel, which I think lives more firmly in the “literary fiction” realm. From a lit fic point of view, I feel like some of the story and setting elements remind me of Richard Russo (who has a lot of stories where the setting/town is almost part of the action), and the coming of age parts remind me of various Tobias Wolff short stories.