Picks and Pans Review: Skeleton Crew

updated 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stephen King

"Here's some more short stories, if you want them." In this offhand, not to mention ungrammatical, way, King introduces his second collection of short stories. There are 20 of them—with a couple of poems thrown in—spanning 17 years of King's career. The oldest was written the summer before the author went to college; not surprisingly the results are mixed. While the supernatural subject matter he thrives on has changed little, his earlier stories are unpolished and predictable, the more recent ones much slicker. The best are: The Mist, a novella-length tale of a spectacular summer storm in Maine and its eerie aftermath; The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands, about a man with a dreadful curse and the tragically ingenious method he ultimately uses to deal with it; and Mrs. Todd's Shortcut, a delightful blend of mystery and whimsy that recalls Caretakers, the second novel written by King's wife, Tabitha. Finally, however, there is a stultifying sameness to the stories. Reading too many of them in one sitting might leave one feeling slightly nauseous, particularly if that sitting happens to include Survivor Type, a look at cannibalism that goes far beyond the macabre into a realm that approaches the downright disgusting. In the introduction King contrasts reading novels and short stories: A novel, he says, is like "a long, satisfying affair," while the short story is like "a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger." How much any given reader is likely to enjoy this collection depends on how many strangers he would want to kiss in the dark in the same evening. (Putnam, $18.95)

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