Short Story Review: Stephen King – Obits

  • Originally posted on June 28, 2019

I know I said that these reviews would not be an every day thing, but the beauty of a short story collection is that you can pick and choose what you read, and in any order. So while it felt strange for me to suddenly flick through a book and begin reading at page 425, I felt justified in doing it.

And who could fail to be interested in a story which won the 2016 Edgar Award for best short story, as advertised on the back cover of the collection? On many occasions, these awards ceremonies get it all wrong, and go for the most pretentious crap possible, but in this case it felt like Stephen King at his best. And, yes, it did deserve the award.

When Michael Anderson was twenty-seven, he was a writer for the ‘Neon Circus’, a trashy showbiz website, “TMZ with better writers”. For British readers, basically OK! magazine. Like vultures, they picked over the details of the lives of celebrities for clicks, wrote nasty satirical gossip for the masses to swallow. Katie Curran, another main character, writes a column called ‘Getting Sloshed with Katie’ — who wouldn’t want to read the drunken ramblings of their favourite popstar?

Michael’s is slightly darker: ‘Speaking Ill Of The Dead’. In which he satirises the death of celebrities, by raking over their biggest failures, and perhaps even their death, in the goriest of detail. As someone with a pretty dark sense of humour, I think this idea is hilarious, but it’s funny in a way that you know it just isn’t going to happen at a big website. Mind you, there is space for everything on the Internet.

He goes to his boss, Jeroma Whitfield, and asks for a payrise. She refuses, so he fantasises about her death (who hasn’t done this? 😂). He cannot focus on writing about dead people, so he writes a fake obituary about her. He reads it over, and realises that he sounds like a petulant schoolchild, so he deletes it and goes to the cinema at lunchtime. Next thing he knows, Jeroma has choked to death on a cough sweet, and he has the power to kill people just by writing their obituaries…

This would be an iconic film, but as it is, it’s a glorious story. The idea is original, and darkly hilarious, and King writes it, knowing that it’s absurd but still manages to chill, even with his occasionally tongue-in-cheek style. Definitely worth a read.

  • ‘Obits’ can be found in Stephen King’s short story collection, ‘The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams’, published in 2015.

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