Either Way, Either Way
I guess Stephen King at times has been considered a hack ... he uses a formula, and successfully, but he's also broken out of his own mold, transcended his own style to create
NO. This isn't what I want to say. I want to tell you about something he wrote that I read five years ago that still comes to me as a tears-wrung-out-recollection.
My life was miserable at that time, and I read, read, read for the escape. I would jump on the New Yorker when it arrived every week and read it cover to cover -- not like today, happier times, when I skim it and barely catch the high spots.
In that January 2001 issue, I was surprised to find a short story by Stephen King. I've got my literary pretenses and I snootily thought, "huh." But I read the story and found it so wrenching that I dragged the magazine into my psychiatrist's office, threw it down in front of him and said, "This is it. This is how I feel."
Of course he made me describe it:
A Willy Loman-esque traveling salesman checks into a Nebraska motel one wintry night to commit suicide.
He's a gourmet food rep, he has a wife who doesn't much care if he ever comes home, a daughter from whom he is distant, and a hobby – he collects graffiti.
The mysterious, often rancid, messages on bathroom walls of all the rest areas he stops at -- these say something to him. These "voices on the walls" become his mind's companion as he drives the flat, flat miles of the midwest.
The shorthand notes-from-somewhere are meaningful to him, important, something that connects him to something outside himself. They bring some sort of context to a life lived so alone, so unmoored.
His collection of graffiti, the notebook carrying this communication, is all that tethers him to this existence. And, in a strange way, it becomes the means of making his decision about life or death.
Something outside him must decide, because from his perspective, it's "either way, either way."
The story is called "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" and, again, it can be found in the January 2001 New Yorker, or in a compilation of Stephen King short stories (including three others previously published in the New Yorker) called Everything's Eventual.
If you're a writer, please find this and read it. The way the author constructed it will haunt you, in ways you won't expect.