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edge staff writer


You should read ‘Later’ sooner

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Ghost stories are universal. One could argue that in some way, all stories are ghost stories. It’s all in the telling – and no one does that telling better than Stephen King.

His latest novel is “Later” (Hard Case Crime, $14.95), the author’s third release with the Hard Case imprint. It’s the story of a young man whose childhood is marked by an eerie ability to see the dead, an ability that leads him to help others in ways both honorable and ethically questionable.

What King has given us is a book that is part coming-of-age tale, part hard-boiled crime thriller and part paranormal ghost story. It’s an ambitious blend, to be sure, but one that King has long since shown capable of pulling off beautifully. His clear love of noir fiction joins forces with his horror bona fides and his still-strong ability to capture the fundamental truths about being a child, resulting in a lean and propulsive read.

Jamie Conklin is just a kid. He lives with his mother, a literary agent and single woman struggling to raise him on her own. He’s pretty typical … except for one thing.

Jamie can talk to the dead.

Sometimes – not all the time – a shadow will remain briefly behind after a person passes away. When that happens, Jamie can see them … and when he sees them, they know. He can also speak to them if he wishes; they will answer any question honestly and dispassionately. No one other than his mother knows about Jamie’s gift – a gift in which she herself only half-believes – and she urges him to keep it quiet.

But even if he isn’t talking about them, they’re there.

As Jamie grows up, these incursions into his awareness ebb and flow. He grows from a child to a teen, with all the requisite changes therein (re: girls). Again, it’s all pretty typical – you know, except for the whole seeing dead people thing.

But when his abilities start to present both opportunities and dangers, Jamie is left to deal with some dark forces, and while some of these forces are otherworldly, some are very much of this earth … and it remains to be seen which will prove more dangerous.

“Later” offers the reader a chance to share a boy’s journey to young adulthood, a journey that is both typical and atypical. Yes, we get the moments of terror for which King is so rightfully well-known. And yes, we get stretches of more hard-boiled prose, elements of crime thriller. But at its heart, this is a story about how scary it is to grow up – and when King tells THOSE kinds of stories, he is at his very best.

The first-person perspective works particularly well here, with Jamie sharing his own story in his own words. Much of it takes place in memory, obviously – it’s Jamie’s account – but King has a particular knack for endowing memories with fearful and emotional heft. We get the fearful energy of the child recounted through the lens of the adult’s experiences, rendering it all exponentially more vivid.

One of the great things about King’s prolificity in recent years is that there’s more opportunity to get books like this one – books that are a bit apart from his other work while still sitting in conversation with it. It’s an odd blend of narratives, but King’s storytelling flow is such that it all runs smooth.

And FAST. It’s short for a King book anyway – 272 pages – but there’s a particular propulsion to the writing that speeds the process even more. Don’t be surprised if you tear through it; it’s always hard to stop once King gets going and there’s less runway than usual here.

That narrative relentlessness remains one of the very best parts of reading Stephen King. Better than any of his contemporaries, King is able to ensnare you with his stories, entangling your imagination with his own and pulling you inexorably into the tale he chooses to tell. He’s quick to land his hook, and once he does, well … just let him reel you in.

Even in this relatively short work, King absolutely packs the plot. Twists and turns abound, both in the realm of the supernatural and in the land of the everyday. The dramatis personae includes some fascinating characters as well. A police detective. A reclusive best-selling writer. A mad bomber. A meek and mournful college professor. Not to mention … someone (or something) else.

“Later” is yet another successful outing from Stephen King as he continues what I would argue is the most successful later-career run in the history of American popular fiction. Once again, he proves his ability to use his considerable skills in versatile ways; this latest book manages to be both new and familiar. Longtime fans will not be disappointed, while newcomers will have no problem diving right in. We all must fight our demons as we grow up … but sometimes, those demons fight back.

Last modified on Monday, 08 March 2021 11:57


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