Disgustingly Masculine: Review of Stephen King's "Everything's Eventual"
By: Laurel Reynolds // Written for 1031 Short Stories
Since middle school, we are told that every essay and basically every piece of writing needs to start with an attention-getter, a hook. As cliché as it is, Stephen King, the author of 63 books and countless short stories, needs no introduction; simply put, King himself is an attention-getter. King’s collection of short stories, Everything’s Eventual, plays with many similarities to his novels, with some key differences. Overall, this is a collection of traditional horror stories with aspects like the Devil, supernatural abilities, almost being autopsied alive, and old-fashion murder being present. However, some stories break from this form, like “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away.” All these stories do show that King can pivot from one way of writing to another. In true King fashion, some of these stories involve his classic settings like Castle Rock, Derry, and New England in general. Also, King’s common obsessions appear in the collection as well, most notably how often he mentions sexual acts and homophobic and sexist aspects. And interestingly, many of these stories involve smoking and trying to quit smoking.
The story that highlights the best aspects of this collection is “The Road Virus Heads North.” This story has King’s best staple horror elements -- a slightly-off writer, an inescapable horror, and an ambiguous but most likely murderous ending. The story goes like this: a horror writer finds a painting at a garage sale and purchases it. The painter killed himself and burned all other paintings. From here, the writer tries to get rid of the painting but can’t and the painting brings death in its wake. “Road Virus” uses supernatural elements well by having it linked to this tangible painting and grisly, real-life death. Also, the anticipation in this story is some of King’s best. It builds the plot and suspense well until the very last word and leaves you wondering what else this painting will go on to destroy.
The largest downfall in this collection is that King’s writing is suffocatingly masculine. Yes, it works in some stories due to the protagonist being a man, but overall the collection is difficult to get through. “Autopsy Room Four” is one of the stories that highlight the insufferable maleness of this collection the best. Very briefly put, this is a story of a still alive but paralyzed man about to be autopsied. The man only survives by getting an erection due to the female doctor holding his penis, which shows King’s sexual crassness and sexism. His masculine writing is also glaringly obvious when the narrator is afraid for his life but still feels the need to tell the readers how the female doctor is “more handsome than pretty” and has short nails. Yes, these can be seen as details to build images, but it’s written in a manner that’s so overwhelmingly masculine. Also in this story, King’s homophobic writing is present. During this story, the narrator has a rectal thermometer inserted into his anus. The horror aspect of this leaves from the fear of being cut into while alive and switches to straight men’s fear of anal penetration. And a final example of King’s masculinity is how the narrator compares having a bright light in his eyes to “a kind of rape.” I don’t know a single woman who would compare rape to bright lights. He easily could have written “assault” for the same image. King also has this weird obsession with rape, mentioning it in the second story too. Rape is horrifying, but not in an enjoyable, horror story way. Just like the other issues in this collection; King creates many stomach-churning moments, but not in a good way.
Now this may sound harsh, but I honestly think that King just threw this collection together. I mean, he chose the order of the stories by drawing cards! Beyond the consistent references to smoking, the stories don’t appear to connect in any meaningful way or balance each other out. In my opinion, King just chose his best and/or favorite short stories of his and put them in a book knowing people would buy something with his name on it. It is just so unbalanced -- a random story about bank robbers which is good but doesn’t fit in, “In The Deathroom” which feels as though it should be a full-length novel, and a story connecting to his Dark Tower series which I don’t want to think about if I am not reading that series. Tonal shifts and plot variance are good in a collection of short stories, but this gives me whiplash. And smoking doesn’t appear to have any deeper meaning outside of nicotine withdrawal being horrible. The only good balance this collection has is the amount of supernatural horror versus realistic horror. It’s sad that this collection wasn’t great because I truly believe in one hundred years King will be as iconic and classic as Edgar Allan Poe. However, if you compared this collection to 14 of Poe’s short stories, Everything’s Eventual would not hold a torch against Poe.
Overall, I would only recommend this collection to readers who are familiar with King’s writing. However, general male readers may enjoy this collection because they often do not notice the male gaze as it’s their gaze. But King’s typical downfalls are very obvious in this collection in a way that would likely turn away new readers. Even as a King fan, this collection reminded me of the worst parts of King’s writing. Now, if King had only included half of these stories (stories 3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13), I would recommend this collection to most horror and thriller readers. These stories show the range King has while leaving behind the unsatisfying endings and the worst of his misogyny, unneeded crassness, and homophobia. Editing the collection down would also balance it out -- with only these seven stories, “The Death Of Jack Hamilton” would not feel as out of place and the tonal shifts in “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” and “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French” would be more appreciated and flow better with the rest of the collection.