My mental wanderings this morning lead me to this question: What puts me off so about Stephen King’s Night Shift? By all accounts, and I add my voice to this, King is masterful at his art. I have read the first four short stories in this collection and found in them the sort of I-can’t-put-it-down thrill that oftentimes makes a good and satisfactory read. I want to like and enjoy these stories but there is something in them, often at the climax, which troubles me.
I will endeavor to spoil nothing, but intend to reference some of my impressions regarding the matter within Night Shift. Be ye warned.
What struck me as I breakfasted was how death permeated the stories, and how it was almost glorified. I noticed this pattern: the world is revealed to be a terrible place with a little refuge of camaraderie, the camaraderie is subsequently lost or destroyed, then death. The viewpoint in these stories seems antithetical to the world, a topsy-turvy land where darkness blots out light. Death doesn’t just win here, death becomes the only hope left.
It is horror, and perhaps that is the point. We find ourselves, through the narrator, unconscionably tainted and ultimately devoured by some intrusion into what begins as an everyday sort of day. Perhaps horror just isn’t for me.
I noticed, though, that whatever the monster it is an intrusion into the world. In a since it doesn’t belong; it is alien, not merely to us, but to nature. As such I think these tales are about sin and death. As I ate, an idea grew stronger and stronger in my mind. In Genesis, death comes into creation, this terrible other is revealed, and like the monster that represents it, it is an intrusion, something of a virus, it shouldn’t be here.
But my musing would have to wait, it was Sunday, it was time to head to church. So, at church my pastor gives an award worthy sermon on death finally drawing the dots for me. Paul mocks death, taking from the Old Testament something that was death’s battle cry; what was once a call for death to come and terrorize becomes a jeer:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The phrase is ubiquitous with a mocking of death. Christ de-toothed the invader, light shined through the clouds, life won, but not in Night Shift. This is not a criticism of an Author worlds ahead of me, just an observation by someone who may never get horror.