Reading the King: Night Shift

Ah, Night Shift. I am pumped to find myself still onboard the #readingtheking train! Right now, I’m only five books in, and it warms my heart that there’s still so much more to read – King released Sleeping Beauties which he wrote with his son Owen King, and Gwendy’s Button Box, a novella he wrote with Richard Chizmar.

I’m not going to say that I’m behind on my timeline; thinking about where I currently am in my life and looking at graduating from my masters in a few months, I should not be imposing more deadlines on myself. I will admit though that I have not been reading as much as I like because of two things: (1) my capstone project is coming together and I just submitted the first draft on Friday, and (2) I recently took a deep dive into Prime Video (free with Amazon Prime Student!) and discovered Elementary! Friends, I am obsessed with this show. Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller, Aidan Quinn, and Jon Michael Hill are delightful. I have been spending much of my hour-and-a-half long commutes catching up – bless the download option on the Prime Video app for enabling my binge-watching! I am now waiting on Mikaius to finish season 2 so we can embark on 3 together.

One major update on the challenge, before we proceed —

  • I can’t watch all of the associated films and/or miniseries. I tried, I really did, but it began to eat into my enjoyment of reading the source material – the media part of the challenge became overwhelming and took over far more of my time than it should. From the task of having to locate said films and/or miniseries, to finding time to watch them, it was too much. Some films were easier to come by via Google Play Store or my own personal collection, but others were simply inaccessible, and sometimes, there were too many. From here on out, the question of whether or not I will be watching the adaptations shall be a case-by-case basis.

And now, let’s talk about Stephen King’s Night Shift!

Published by Doubleday in 1975, this book is his fifth, and the first of his short story collections. It contains twenty short stories, running the gamut from depressing (The Woman in the Room), to spine-tingle-inducing (Strawberry Spring), to downright terrifying (The Lawnmower Man). Because I spent my holidays catching up on sleep and writing and other sundries, I did not have time to watch any of the movies associated with the stories in this collection, although I do own copies of some of them and will likely watch when I’m at a better place timewise.

Not watching any of them, however, gave me time to focus on the reading experience, which I have sorely missed: I spent several hours snuggled into the couch with my Kindle, iced coffee and a warm blanket, sinking into the tales and enjoying the shivers. I was also in for a very pleasant surprise when one of my friends gifted me a copy of the book for our annual Friendsmas, which featured my favourite tale in this collection: I Am The Doorway!

I have such a soft spot for Stephen King sci-fi. One of my absolute favourite of everything that he’s ever written is The Jaunt, which left such an impression on me that whenever somebody says that they haven’t read any Stephen King, I instantly recommend this short story. It’s perfect because it doesn’t require that much of a time commitment (you don’t recommend the damn Tommyknockers as a first King book!), but it gives the reader a taste of how bizarre the King universe can be.

I’ve had the opportunity to read Night Shift when I was much younger, but there were only a few of the twenty stories that left enough of a mark on me that I remember details ten years later. Strawberry Spring is one of them, as was Quitters Inc., but my favourite by far is I Am The Doorway.

Our main character is an astronaut who has been exposed to an alien life force during his mission in space. Alien beings now inhabit his body, and have recently emerged as eyes on the his hands.

It is very heavily implied that the aliens can control his body. One of the little details that I find interesting is that our man indicates that he can tell when the aliens are “awake” in his mind, but he shows us, the readers, no sign that the aliens can understand his thoughts. This makes sense as they don’t seem to understand Earth or humans, and are actually horrified by us – I mean, they see it from the vantage point of palms – and at one point our narrator tells us:

I raised my hands slowly to my face, catching an eerie vision of my living room turned into a horror house.  

I screamed.

 There were eyes peering up at me through splits in the flesh of my fingers. And even as I watched the flesh was dilated, retreating, as they pushed their mindless way up to the surface.

But that was not what made me scream. I had looked into my own face and seen a monster.

Our man is a very unwilling host to these intruders. It is interesting too that they manifested in the form of eyes – indicating that their first instinct upon landing is not yet interference, but initial observation. He attempts to end their stay as he strongly suspects that they may have been using his body as a tool for murder. He does this by waiting until the eyes are sleepy, plunges his hands into gasoline, and sets them on fire instantly. That implications of the scene makes for gnarly imaginaries, and I adore it so much.

When it was burning well I went out back to the kerosene drum and soaked both hands. They came awake immediately, screaming with agony. I almost didn’t make it back to the living room, and to the fire.

But I did make it.

Ah, but it wouldn’t be Stephen King without a twist ending, now, wouldn’t it? And there is! We last see our main character preparing to die, as the aliens have manifested as eyes again, after seven years – this time, in “a perfect circle of twelve golden eyes on my chest.”

Chills. 

As it stands, Night Shift makes for an interesting few hours of reading. There isn’t really a theme, per se, and some of it is more poignantly sad than hair-raisingly terrifying, but I think that this collection shows us, the readers, the scope of writing that King is capable of. And that is a thing of beauty.

Reading the King: Carrie

This is a very exciting reading challenge! Grad school is taking up most of my time, and the next few months up until graduation will be hectic, I can tell you that much. Choosing to read Stephen King is a deliberate choice in self-care because the man has been one of my favourite authors for over a decade now, and doing this feels less like a chore and more about me attempting to schedule some me-time, as well as being just a fun little side-thing.

And so, we begin this long journey with Carrie, Stephen King’s first published novel, which came out in 1974, marking the beginning of his career. While I’ve personally not read the novel prior to this challenge, Carrie has such a ubiquitous presence that I was basically aware of most of the pivotal moments in the story, even if I didn’t know the details. Already knowing these in advance, though, did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel and the movies! While I don’t think that Carrie will break into my list of Top 5 Favourite King Stories, it was still a fun, quick read. I think I finished it over two days during my lunch breaks at the office.

(For the record, here is my current Top 5, in no particular order: Pet Sematary, The Jaunt, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and 11/22/63. This might change the deeper I get into his work, although I do have a particularly strong fondness for Jaunt.)

Let’s begin! This post will talk about the 1974 novel, and the 1976 and 2013 movie adaptations. I made a deliberate choice to skip the 2002 movie due to time constraints – but also, the trailer was not very interesting.

Carrie, 1974

Ahh, the quintessential Stephen King classic. King presents the story through a variety of means: letters, the book that Sue Snell published, newspaper headlines, and other methods, placing the tragedy firmly at the centre of the narrative. As per his style, he has crafted riveting characters characterised by deep inner conflicts of various forms. In this book, these conflicts are mostly centred around sex and authority (I’m collapsing religion into authority in this context). Carrie also already features that Stephen King hallmark of writing: the stream of consciousness.

Perhaps my favourite character in the novel is Margaret White, a choice which I did not expect. Margaret White read like an eerily accurate exposition into how one of my deeply religious Pentecostal aunts would have become had they been a character in King’s universe. So much of her, even her speech, was hauntingly familiar and had parallels I could observe in my own Pentecostal upbringing: the deep shaming of anything remotely sexual, deep religiosity, the distrust of Carrie.

The build-up to the prom scene, especially the sections showing Carrie getting ready, was reminiscent of my own feelings as a former religious girl, especially this line: “Wearing it gave her a weird, dreamy feeling that was half shame and half defiant excitement.” That intense dichotomy of half-shame/half-defiance was definitive of my own experiences from 16 to 20. This book forced me to think back and confront some of my own (already-wrestled and buried) demons while I was reading it, emotions which I had not anticipated dealing with again, but hey. Stephen King gives me ~feels~.

All in all, I think Carrie is an okay book. Not the one I would recommend to a person just coming to Stephen King’s sizeable body of work, but is a must-read should his writing become a favourite.

Carrie, 1976

Watching this movie was something that I was very much looking forward to! A few years ago, Mikaius had bought me a whole slew of Stephen King movies as part of my Christmas present, and since we both got so busy we hadn’t really had time to watch any of them. We did watch Misery and The Shining, but we’re both wimps and we finished neither. I mean, have you seen Kathy Bates in Misery? Terrifying, my friend.

I finished reading the novel mid-week, and was supposed to hang out with Mikaius at his place the weekend after that since he has the DVD for Carrie and we were supposed to watch it together but I couldn’t wait. I rented the movie on Google Play and saw it alone. Oh lordy, what a fantastic ride this De Palma movie was.

Overall, I feel like the De Palma version is an honest adaptation – the changes that were implemented made sense, and I don’t think that it changed the spirit of the book or altered Carrie in such a way as to render her unrecognizable. I think that this movie will be one of my favourite horror movies, it’s just so fantastically done. The entire time I was watching it I felt so uneasy – like I was being allowed a peek into this girl’s life that I shouldn’t have, but I could not for the life of me look away. The juxtaposition of the almost erotic shower sequence transitioning into the period freakout and being backended by the “plug it up” scene had me on edge from start to finish. I also did not expect that ending with Sue Snell, and I will be honest, I shrieked and just about dropped my mug that was still half-full of Kawartha ice cream.

I now really understand why Sissy Spacek is widely considered iconic in this role. The way she portrayed Carrie was beautifully nuanced: timid at times, trembling and terrified at others, but still with a defiant agency against her mother and her circumstances. While I get why her dress is not red in this movie – “It’s pink, momma!” – it would have been interesting to see Carrie in a red dress crushing an entire prom hall as a subversion of the Lady in Red trope.

The other standout in this film really was Piper Laurie as Margaret White. She gave me all of the heebie-jeebies possible: her intonation, her costumes, even the way she moved her hands when she was stroking her daughter’s hair was terrifying! For me, her interactions with Carrie were some of the best parts of the movie – the way that her fundamentalism seeped into every single part of her life and changed her behavious was too real.

Runner up: I was pleasantly surprised by Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, who I had just seen a couple of weeks ago in Robocop (our local movie theatre screens a lot of old movies)! I think that her portrayal of the spoiled high school senior was aptly disturbing, and she was absolutely fantastic in this role.

Carrie, 2013

The 2013 remake by Kimberly Peirce was charming, but I think that the right word to describe it is adequate. It wasn’t disappointing, but neither did it cross the line to being a really good movie. In this one, we see an update in the time when Carrie was set: we hear the kids talking about 2010s-relevant pop culture references; Carrie’s freakout while covered in blood, pads, and tampons is uploaded to the internet by Chris Hargensen; and Sue Snell receives a text message that sends her frantically driving to the prom. While Chlöe Grace Moretz’s Carrie is sweet and shy, I feel as if she lacks the bite beneath the surface that was evident in Sissy Spacek’s portrayal. She wasn’t horrible, but she wasn’t as good.

To be quite honest, the only times that I was riveted was when Julianne Moore as Margaret White was on-screen, and even her portrayal came nowhere close to how deeply unsettling Piper Laurie was in the 1976 version of the film.

Final words:

Of the two adaptations to Carrie that I saw, the 1976 one is absolutely the winner.