Book Review: 'Cujo' character returns as one of 12 stories in Stephen King’s ‘You Like It Darker'

In Stephen King’s world, “It” is a loaded word. It’s hard not to picture Pennywise the Clown haunting the sewers of Derry, Maine, of course, but in the horror writer’s newest collection of stories, “You Like It Darker,” “It” ranges from a suspicious stranger on a park bench, to an extraterrestrial being bestowing a gift that helps best friends realize their potential, to telepaths whose sole job is to keep airplanes from falling out of the sky.

Twelve stories makes up the book, with one of the longest (90 pages), “Rattlesnakes,” reintroducing readers to Vic Trenton, who King fans will remember as the father of Tad, the boy killed by the rabid St. Bernard Cujo in King’s 1981 novel of that name. Now 72, Trenton is riding out the pandemic at a friend’s waterfront property in the Florida Keys, where he meets a widow who also lost loved ones in a terrible accident. It’s fairly creepy, featuring long-dead twins trying to haunt their way back to life, but it’s hardly the darkest here.

I’d give that honor to “The Fifth Step,” which in just 10 pages should scare anyone who’s been paying attention to the true crime stories splashed across the screens of this country’s tawdrier news sources. But is it “darker,” really than any of the more than 60 books King has written in his illustrious career? Probably not, but perhaps the afterword quote from the author, also featured on the back of the hardcover — “You like it darker? Fine. So do I.” — helps sell books in today’s extreme world, even for a perennial bestseller like Mr. King.

The best of these stories, as is true with the best of King’s work, feature horror tempered with heart. I really enjoyed “On Slide Inn Road,” featuring a grandfather who’s still pretty accurate with a baseball bat, and “The Answer Man,” which poses the question, “If you could know anything about the future, what would it be?”

I’d like to know how much longer we’ll have to enjoy this uniquely American icon, who at the age of 76 continues to write and publish at a furious pace. This collection’s afterword reads like a recording from King’s therapist’s couch, or a confessional on a reality TV series. He admits “the only two times I ever came close to getting it all were in two prison stories: ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.’” Here’s hoping he keeps trying, because like millions of others around the world, I’ll read every word.


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