Stephen King, Skeleton Crew (1985)

skeleton-crew-coverKing’s sprawling odds & ends collection, spanning the period from his earliest days as a struggling writer publishing in men’s magazines through the peak of his mid-Eighties success, features 19 short stories, a novella, and two poems. Including such classics as “The Mist,” “The Raft,” and “Survivor Type,” Skeleton Crew is essential King, showcasing the author at the height of his powers.

“Ladyfingers they taste just like ladyfingers.”

There are works of popular culture that you really had to have been there at the time in order to fully appreciate. From the 80s, I’d submit Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. and Stephen King’s early- to mid-Eighties output as prime examples. If you read Skeleton Crew in 1985 or 1986 — ideally, as an impressionable teenager — certain lines will, without requiring any context whatsoever, send a shiver up your spine.

I washed it thoroughly before I ate it.

Longer than you think, Dad!

Something in the fog!

Nowadays, horror fiction routinely offers up imagery that makes the idea of a guy cannibalizing himself limb by limb seem positively tame. The other day I read a story that ended with a mom feeding her hungry children bloody chunks of the flesh of their still-screaming father. (“Heh,” I said.) But man, back in the day, “Survivor Type” creeped me out like nothing I’d read before. After that one, I had to put the book down for a little while and quietly stare off into the distance.

ladyfingers they taste just like ladyfingers

Brr.

Now, I don’t love Skeleton Crew as a whole the way I love, for instance, his novella collection Different Seasons, which for me is tied for first place in my heart — with, at any given moment, a rotating series of titles including The Stand, Drawing of the Three, and The Long Walk. It’s too uneven, too much of a hodge podge. It’s like if R.E.M. had released Lifes Rich Pageant and Dead Letter Office as a double album. It has “The Mist,” which is all-time great, but it also has the forgettable (albeit very early) “The Reaper’s Image.” It has two poems, one of which is rather long and contains the phrase “addictive laxatives.” It has an epigraph by K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

But man, “Survivor Type.” “The Mist,” which has held its own in the realm of apocalyptic terror against unending waves of zombie hordes. “The Raft,” which, when I re-read it the other day, grossed me out more acutely than the entirety of the last Edward Lee collection I read. And brief little chillers like “The Jaunt” and “Word Processor of the Gods” that maybe aren’t aging very well, but still deliver the goods.

Longer than you think–