Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Viking Press
Publication Date: August 1982
Let’s talk about novellas.
This isn’t a term that’s used so much anymore, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, novellas were growing in popularity. A novella is basically a story that is longer than the traditional short story but not as long as a novel. Stephen King gives the word count between 25,000-40,000 words.
King explains in the Afterward of this collection about the publication status of novellas, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But basically, there’s not much of a market for novellas. In recent years, this has been changing somewhat, mostly thanks to ebooks. It’s becoming more common (particularly in young adult series) for authors to publish stories that fall between books or are prequels. Most of these are not the length of a full novel, and fall into the realm of novellas.
At any rate, in 1986, Stephen King had a few stories that he wanted to publish, but weren’t long enough for novel status. The result was a collection of four novellas called Different Seasons.
One thing of note about this collection is that three of the four stories have been adapted into film. The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, and Apt Pupil were all turned into feature films, with the first two being two of the highest regarded adaptations of King’s work.
“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is the first story of the collection. It tells the story of Andy Dufresne and his time (and escape) from Shawshank Prison. After being unfairly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, Andy spends his time collecting rocks and polishing them into gems. After all other attempts fail, and it is made clear that officials are against him, Andy tries something radical.
This is a great story, and a unique gem from King. There’s no real horror beyond the horrific behavior of some of the prison officials. In my opinion, King is at his strongest when he delves into the realm of human behavior. Even better is the overall message–one of hope, even in darkness. I would love to see more of this type of work from King. It proves he is capable of more than just horror.
“Apt Pupil” is the second story of the collection, and in my opinion, the most chilling. All-American boy Todd Bowden discovers that a man in his town is actually a Nazi war criminal. In exchange for not turning him in, Todd bargains for Dussander to tell him stories of the concentration camps and the atrocities he committed.
As they spend more time together, darkness grows in each of their hearts. Dussander resents Todd for bringing back his demons, and Todd becomes more and more enthralled by the horrors committed in the war.
This story is really good, but about 20 pages overwritten. It carries on long enough that the tension breaks, and I was left disappointed by the ending. This is a problem in a lot of King’s works, where he takes the scenario too far, and the story becomes a trudge to read.
“The Body” is the third story of the collection, and is a coming of age story about four friends. Gordie, Vern, Chris, and Teddy set off to see the dead body of a boy who’s been missing from a few towns over. Their adventure starts off as a way of claiming fame, but ends with a lesson about life. It was turned into the award winning movie Stand by Me in 1986, and personally, I like the movie a lot better.
While not as overwritten as “Apt Pupil”, “The Body” suffers from a lot of superfluous material. The movie cuts this and streamlines the story, adding scenes that better emphasize the overall themes of the story. It is a real improvement on the source material. That said, the story isn’t bad, and there’s some heavy stuff in it.
Finally, we have “The Breathing Method,” the shortest story of the book. This is the story with the closest resemblance to King’s trademark horror. At a mysterious club, the narrator hears a number of odd stories, culminating in the titular tale about the Breathing Method.
King’s somewhat sexist bent rears it’s head in this one–the woman in the story is unique because she’s able to respond to her situation of having a child out of wedlock with cool-headedness and logic. The doctor in the story is rather, well…male, when it comes to his response to the pain of childbirth. Mainly, that it is all in the woman’s head, and that if she can just stay calm, it’s nothing. Every now and then King happens into this attitude where the women in his stories are either saints or horrible lazy wastes of space. It can be a bit distracting.
“The Breathing Method” tends to waste time despite being short. There are several passages that are pointless to the story. If King has a weakness as a writer, it’s that he needs a better editor. I would love to just strike entire chunks from his works.
As a collection, these stories do succeed in showing another side to King’s talent. For people who only know him for his horror, I do recommend this collection. But tread lightly–the stories are not perfect (with the possible exception of “Shawshank”) and they are certainly different.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Trigger warnings: Holocaust imagery (“Apt Pupil”), occasional gruesome imagery