Review: If It Bleeds

4 stars
Holly Gibney goes it alone, and three other stories

If It Bleeds by Stephen King advertises itself as containing “four new novellas”, but I would really characterize it as one novella supported by three stories.

The heart of the book is “If It Bleeds” itself, which stars Holly Gibney, an important character from several of King’s most recent books (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch, and The Outsider). After the events of The Outsider, Holly Gibney faces an evil force of a similar nature—but this time, she tries to go it alone. It’s an engaging tale that never overstays its welcome, but I would recommend reading The Outsider first (reviews).

The other stories in the book would make good Twilight Zone episodes. The first one, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”, would fit better in Jordan Peele’s reboot than in Rod Serling’s original. It’s about a boy’s friendship with a wealthy old man, a friendship that ultimately takes on a supernatural character. King uses the story to offer his own social commentary on the effects of smartphones, disguised in the words of a cynical old man. Overall I found it the weakest story in the volume.

The second story, “The Life of Chuck”, is told in three acts (ordered in reverse) and describes the impact of a seemingly ordinary man named Charles Krantz on the world around him—starting at a time when the whole world seems to be ending in a series of apocalyptic catastrophes.

The third story, “Rat”, is about a writer who has been struggling for his whole life to finish a novel. When inspiration strikes, he seeks out the isolation of a “basic no-frills cabin in the Maine woods” he inherited from his father, to focus on the novel without the distractions of family and social demands. Soon the isolation, coupled with an illness, starts to play tricks on his mind—or does it?

King’s constant readers can’t go wrong with If It Bleeds; those new to his work looking for recent horror novellas that pack a punch should consider picking up King’s Full Dark, No Stars (2010) instead.