Stephen King’s third short story collection, “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” has its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, so I’m listening to the audiobook version (all twenty-six hours fifty-seven minutes of it) to remind myself of how short stories should be written.
In his introduction, King says that short stories are about creating belief. First, the writer has to believe in the story then he has to make you believe in it. So I’m listening with that in mind. Not so much “Do I believe in the bogeyman?” but “Do I believe in the people in this story and their actions and emotions?”
I’m going to review the stories as I go along, while they’re fresh in my mind.
“Dolan’s Cadillac” opens the collection and it made me a believer.
This is one of the most chilling revenge stories I’ve read. It’s told entirely from the point of view of Robinson, an uncharismatic, ordinary, now balding, Grade School teacher who has dedicated his life to finding a way of killing Dolan, a well-protected gangster who arranged the murder of Robinson’s wife.
What made me believe in this story, despite the elaborate means by which the revenge was achieved, was Robinson’s unwavering focus, over years, on taking revenge. This was not an act of hot-blooded anger. It was cold and calculated and ultimately deranged. King portrays not a victory but rather a final long cry of pain and grief from Robinson.
I admired King’s ability to sustain the tension in a story that, most of the time, is one man describing his own actions while he’s alone in the desert. This story never felt static and the ending never felt entirely certain.
Just at the point in the story when I finally understood what Robinson was really doing and started to go, “Wait a second… is he retelling Poe’s ‘The Cask Of Amontillado’?” King actually paraphrases some of the best-known dialogue from Poe’s story. This made me smile. It also made me reconsider the story in the context of Poe’s own story. I think Robinson was a lot scarier and more believable than Montressor. He doesn’t emerge unscathed, but his ability to go on after doing this is as chilling as the revenge itself. I admire King’s skill in has translating Poe’s story to the modern day and then adding hard-hitting emotions and a level of tension that was not present in the original.
“Dolan’s Cadillac” was made into a movie in 2009. I’ve only seen the trailer but it seems to me that we’d all have been better off if they’d stuck closer to the original story and made a TV episode rather then padding this out with backstory, making the characters into beautiful people so we’ll like them and giving Dolan far more limelight than King ever did. Take a look at the trailer and see what you think.