Stephen King, “Afterlife”

th56-cover-webA dead man meets the bureaucrat he always meets when he dies, and has to choose between living his life the same way again or winking out of existence.

(from Tin House, Vol. 14, number 4)

When the brilliance dims, he’s not in heaven or hell. He’s in a hallway. He supposes it could be purgatory, a hallway painted industrial green and floored in scuffed and dirty tile could very well serve as purgatory, but only if it went on forever. This one ends twenty feet down at a door with a sign on it reading ISAAC HARRIS MANAGER.

Bill stands there for a few moments, inventorying himself.

You know, I never would’ve recognized much common ground between Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut, but this story’s definitely got some crossover. With its cool, tidy premise and working-stiff protagonist, “Afterlife” would fit nicely in Welcome to the Monkey House — think “Thomas Edison’s Shaggy Dog” — and would be a standout in some of mighty KV’s posthumous collections.  And, like several of Vonnegut’s novels, this story shrugs at the universe, makes you want to scream “well then what was the point of all this?” at God.

Of course it’s very King, too: decidedly creepy, occasionally loopy and written in that loose, in-the-moment style. But, as always, my appreciation for King increases with pretty much everything I read. His tics are comforting now, and he knows how to show a reader a good time.

According to Kevin Quigley at FearNet, King’s stuff has been more concerned with mortality these days. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree, but Quigley’s post on Afterlife is worth a look. There’s also a review at October Country. Hey, check it out, you can watch/hear King read this story for an audience. But you should also buy Tin House.

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