Synopsis: Different Seasons (1982) is a collection of four novellas, markedly different in tone and subject, each on the theme of a journey. The first is a rich, satisfying, nonhorrific tale about an innocent man who carefully nurtures hope and devises a wily scheme to escape from prison. The second concerns a boy who discards his innocence by enticing an old man to travel with him into a reawakening of long-buried evil. In the third story, a writer looks back on the trek he took with three friends on the brink of adolescence to find another boy's corpse. The trip becomes a character-rich rite of passage from youth to maturity. The final novella, "The Breathing Method," is a horror yarn told by a doctor, about a patient whose indomitable spirit keeps her baby alive under extraordinary circumstances.
Before 1982 Stephen King was known only as a horror writer. Sure, he'd occasionally explored sci-fi themes here and there, and he'd written Danse Macabre, a study of the history of the horror genre, but he was known as "the horror guy."
Until Different Seasons came out.
This book shocked his fans, and for good reason — there is nary a hint of the supernatural to be found amongst the four tales here (aside from a bit, perhaps, in "The Breathing Method") — instead, these stories focus solely on the everyday lives of everyday humans, and the struggles they face. Three of these four tales ("Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption," "Apt Pupil," and "The Body") have all been made into hit films. You know these stories. They're some of the highest-regarded tales in all of King's oeuvre, and for good reason. King is good in the novel form, but he is almost always damn-near perfect in the novella form. These stories are long enough to fully display King's immense writing talents without getting bogged down in excessive verbiage, as King's larger novels sometimes are prone to do.
Despite the fact that these tales don't deal in the supernatural, some of King's creepiest work can be found here. "Apt Pupil," the tale of a teenage boy and an aging Nazi criminal locked into mutual parasitism, is among King's most chilling work, almost reading like a Bachman story. "The Breathing Method" is a chilly, lonely tale that is as atmospheric as it is scarring. And let us not forget the simple claustrophobia and loneliness that can be found in Shawshank prison, or the scare of growing up as seen in "The Body." These are four tales that explore, in depth, the wide range of human emotions and ideas — what makes us tick and wonder. These are stories of regret and wonder, hope and defeat. Different Seasons was Stephen King showing to the world — for the first time — that he was concerned with more than haunted hotels and clairvoyance. He was fully capable of creating three dimensional characters with heart and soul (though he'd always done that, never before had it been so naked and exposed) — people who walk and talk just like the reader.
This is one of the most important books in King's bibliography, and it is one I go back to often. If you've seen Shawshank Redemption or Stand By Me, but have never read the source material upon which they are based, do yourself a big favor and check this book out ASAP. And if you've read it before . . . take it down from the shelf and read it again.
Connections appear all over the place -- the four stories are inter-connected in small ways (the boys in "The Body" mention Shawshank prison, for example). As well, "The Body" takes place in Castle Rock, Maine, the setting for many King novels and short stories. Familiar names and places are referenced.
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”
(from "The Body")
I covered Christine a couple of weeks ago, so . . . hey-ho, let's go! It's Pet Sematary!