Stephen King’s latest novel ‘If It Bleeds’ proves his horror writing mastery

Stephen King is the author of more than 60 novels and 200 short stories. "If It Bleeds" is his newest work. Photo by Shane Leonard/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

By Inyeong Kim
BU News Service 

Many artists used their time staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic to put out new work, and master of horror Stephen King is no exception. King published his latest novel, “If It Bleeds,” this summer, where he once again proves that he has earned his reputation as a legendary horror novelist. 

As a beginner who has never read King’s work before, I felt that “If It Bleeds” was the right place for me to start. King’s novels tend to be on the longer side, but “If It Bleeds” consists of four shorter stories, which works as an excellent introduction to King’s writing style. And these shorter stories don’t lose any of the horror elements that make King’s writing terrifyingly unforgettable. 

King enhances his masterful horror writing by experimenting with different writing techniques. One of the stories, “The Life of Chuck,” has been mostly praised by the critics and fans due to its unique structure. 

Consisting of three acts, it starts from the present and works backward: at the beginning of the story, an executive banker, Charles Chuck Krantz, is diagnosed with a brain tumor and is slowly dying in an apocalyptic world. The end of the story takes place during his childhood. 

Stephen King’s “If It Bleeds” is a collection of four new novellas, released April 21, 2020. Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc

The reverse order story structure seems confusing at first, but it is useful. The final chapter that takes place during Chuck’s childhood keeps running through my mind. Even if readers want to stay in the past, they can’t remain there because they know how Chuck’s life comes to an end. 

I felt it was unavoidable to compare the horror of Chuck’s apocalyptic world to our current reality of living through COVID-19. In the story, half of the world is burned, California is underwater, and the internet is gone. No one can predict the fate of humans, and real-life right now seems just as uncertain.

King also provides further development for characters from his previous works, although being a new reader did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. The titular novella centers on Holly Gibney, a private investigator from King’s 2018 novel, “The Outsider” as well as the “Bill Hodges” trilogy.

The growth and development of Gibney’s character is one of the best parts of this story. In her previous appearances, Gibney was more of a supporting character. But King adds dimension to Gibney’s character by having her deal with family issues while also investigating a mysterious creature.  

This book explores how people are interested in following and finding information about tragic events, and King said he was inspired by news reporters who cover tragedies day in and day out. King has a way of turning what appears to be mundane, everyday stories into tension filled horror stories like no one else can.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” is another example of this. It starts with a heartwarming story where Craig, the main character, befriends an older man, Mr. Harrigan, and gifts him a cell phone. After Harrigan dies, Craig calls his phone whenever he misses him. Up to this point, it seems like nothing bloodcurdling. 

The turning point comes when Craig is having trouble in his life and calls Mr. Harrigan again. This time, Mr. Harrigan responds. It is revealed that the phone serves as a totem, connecting the living and the dead. 

By turning an everyday object like a cell phone into a supernatural plot device, King turns the nearly universal experience of losing a loved one into a paranormal story. It creates a narrative that is fictional but still relatable for almost any reader. Who wouldn’t want a way to talk to a departed loved one? “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” is a clear example of how King can connect reality and the supernatural. 

In this new book, King shows that he is genuinely a master of his craft. He breathes new life into commonly used tropes and old patterns from his previous works.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.