October 10, 2019 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
In college I worked in a small restaurant on campus – a glorified kitchen to one side of the main lounge in the student union. I learned a great deal that first year – like how to work what I thought was a grueling 20 hour work week (hah!) and get most of my classwork done, mostly. Also how to make a pizza, cook a passable cheeseburger, and that a pint of Ben and Jerry’s could legitimately count as my dinner break since it cost just under the cash limit we got per dinner. And fall in love, despite myself*. Fun times.
We had a good bit of down-time. When everything was clean, all the zones stocked, and there were no orders up, I could read, and I did. I remember reading Snowcrash, Mrs. Dalloway, Liquid Sky, When Gravity Fails, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, among a number of other book, including my second round of Stephen King* – the short-story collection Night Shift. Today and tomorrow I wanted to talk about two stories from that collection; one that I disliked and one that I enjoyed. Today I’ll go with “disliked”
*I assumed that, since I had a girlfriend and she had a boyfriend, I could will myself not to feel the way I was feeling. Hahahahahahahaha. She transferred the next year and I moved on.
** I had read The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three back in High School.
“Jerusalem’s Lot” was the first story in the collection and man was it a bad bit of Lovecraft pastiche. Now, having read a lot of bad Lovecraft pastiches many years later, I suspect I might appreciate King’s take a bit more, but after having read a bunch of Lovecraft in the past year, I was unimpressed by this piece.
The link above has a pretty reasonable summary of the story – man returns to ancestral home, discovers ancestors were up to no good, realizes “that which is no dead can eternal lie”, tried to burn the place down, dies, gets replaced by another secret cousin who is obviously doomed and starts the Lovecraftian protagonist cycle all over again.
I did not reread the story for this post – I did read a summary which refreshed my memory of the tale – but I am pretty sure it is not one of King’s best. I really felt like a rehash of part of Charles Dexter Ward… but really actually thinking on it now having read Derleth, it reads like a slightly more compelling take on Derleth’s “The Peabody Heritage” honestly, with occultist ancestors and books found hidden away, missing servants, etc. I recall being especially bothered by the narrator visiting the abandoned and overtly blasphemously-kitted church and finding, though no one had been there in two centuries (since great-great-grand-pappy had summoned up something vile with a evil Mythos book (Die Vermis Mysteriis)) that not only is the “Puritan town” intact (1789 is after the Puritan era, sir) but the flippin’ book is too, despite having sat on a lectern for two centuries. By my recollection, that dog-eared copy of Night Shift was only a little more than a decade old and it was already coming apart.
I guess my main problem with the story was that not only did it feel like day-old Lovecraft warmed over, and that there were enough call-backs to other stories that sometimes I felt like King was just trying to cram indirect references through, but that there was almost no tension in the story. The narrator was mostly an enigma. His servant was a cipher. The townspeople were paper-thin exposition machines. It was hard to get involved and, since you knew you were reading a Lovecraft knock-off, you could predict exactly what was going on and what was going to happen. Ultimately it put me off Lovecraft pastiches for many years.
As for a take-away from this story, I guess I learned that Mythos horror is a hard to write, since even Stephen King had some duds. Also, Maine would be a good place to set some Call of Cthulhu scenarios… I wonder how much it would cost to do a gazetteer of King’s mythical Maine towns…