Initially, I wasn't sure how to review this first collection of short stories. Should I talk about each individual story, or just give a general overview? The latter makes sense, but even the most thorough overview will fail to mention several positive and negative aspects of the stories. I ultimately decided on the former, since any general overview would be just as long as mini-reviews of each short story, since I would want to mention all of them anyway.
Jerusalem's Lot is the first story, and it was, at the time, a previously unpublished one. As 'Salem's Lot is one of my favorite King novels, it was nice to adventure back into that fictional part of Maine. This story goes back in time to 1850, to a small town near Jerusalem's Lot and the family history associated with the abandoned town. While it is a great story - I'd venture to say it is the scariest of the collection - it creates several plot holes for the novel. For 'Salem's Lot is abandoned, and great pains are taken to mention no people or creatures have returned to it since the incident that caused the abandonment to happen. How then, does the town come about? Vampires are present, so why do they leave, paving the way for Barlow? Still, a great start to the collection.
Graveyard Shift is the next story, and I didn't really care for it. Dealing with a group of workers trying to clear out the area under a textile mill and the unusual rats they encounter, the story lacks anything resembling a likable character, nor do the motivations of the characters really make sense. Once the main pair makes it to the deepest part of the underground passage, King does create a horrific ending, but that's about all to recommend to it.
The next story is Night Surf, which is what inspired The Stand (Captain Tripps is mentioned, though details of the disease differ). Like the unpublished Jerusalem's Lot, the longer novel is much better, and like Graveyard Shift, most of the characters here are unlikable. In fact, the only real reason to read this one is to see the beginnings of an idea forming for the novel. Otherwise, one that could be easily skipped.
Next is I Am The Doorway which is great little sci-fi story about a flyby of Venus that has a rather horrendous side effect on one of the astronauts. While the writing lacks the grace of later King works, the overall story is a stellar one.
The Mangler follows, and I love it for its rather unique premise (demonically possessed press machine from an industrial laundry) and its rather bold structure. The story starts in media res, with the death of a laundry worker, then goes backwards to explain how the machine came to be possessed. The story zigzags back and forth between the present and past, which is brave for a short story to do, but King manages to pack quite a bit into this rather short piece of work.
The Boogeyman is next, and it is one of the weaker stories in the collection, in my opinion. Dealing with a father talking about his various encounters between the Boogeyman and his children, it lacks any sort of buildup, and the ending seems to be trying a bit too hard. Another one that could easily be skipped.
Fortunately, another of the top tier stories follows it: Grey Matter. The story follows a group of men who go to check on a friend who has changed somewhat after drinking some bad alcohol. King does a great job building the tension in this story, and the ambiguous ending serves it well.
Next is Battleground, which, while not scary, is still a fun piece about a hit man who, after his latest hit, has revenge visited upon him in a most interesting way.
Trucks comes next, an interesting tale about vehicles coming to life and attacking humans. The prose here is much simpler than most of the other stories, and the story lacks some finesse that many of the others do, even the weaker ones. Still, the story is solid.
Sometimes They Come Back is the one story that, to me, really needed to be a full length novel. The story feels rushed, and while explanation for the ghostly visitation the protagonist receives isn't necessarily needed, some inkling of what caused it would help in a major way, as well as an explanation for how he deals with said visit. Even with its rushed nature, the story has numerous plot holes, and might have been served better if certain subplots had been cut to lengthen other parts of the story.
The earliest work of Kings in the collection is Strawberry Spring, a story told in first-person about a series of murders from the character's past during a strawberry spring. Another of the strong stories, it lacks a bit of the punch of the top tier ones, but the ending strikes just the right chord and makes it a must-read.
The Ledge follows, and it is more of a thriller than a horror story. I'd rank it in the upper tier also. Dealing with a man trying to run away with a mob boss' wife, King takes a simple premise and makes it absolutely terrifying.
The Lawnmower Man is next, and it is, frankly, an incredibly weird little tale. I'd say it is skip-able, but I have the feeling that it is one either loved or hated for its weirdness.
Quitter, Inc. comes next, and it is the one of the other previously unpublished (at the time) works. It deals with a man who decides to quit smoking, with the aide of a rather forceful company. It works great as a standalone piece, and honestly could have been expanded to novel (or at least, novella) length, but loses nothing being a short story.
I Know What You Need is the next story, and the first (and only) to feature a female protagonist. She deals with a young man who always seems to be there with what she needs, and the darker side of the romance that follows. King seems uneasy writing this character, with some of the clunkiest dialogue occurring between her and her roommate, but still manages to tell a solid, if unspectacular, story.
Children of the Corn is probably the best known work from this collection, if only for the many movies, but it really comes across as a dud. Again, the characters are unlikable, and King has them make dumb decisions repeatedly throughout. The movie fleshed it out and managed to improve upon the premise, but overall, this is a weak story.
The Last Rung on the Ladder is a more emotional short story, dealing with grief and regret. It deals with a fateful day in the life of two siblings, and the tragedy that befalls one once they start to drift apart later on in life. It almost seems out of place amongst all the other stories in the collection, but it provides a nice break. It is another that had been unpublished prior to this collection.
The Man Who Loved Flowers battles with The Boogeyman for my least favorite of the collection. Following a man who is 'obviously experience spring love' it is short, uninspired, and has a terrible ending.
King again visits 'Salem's Lot with the short story One for the Road. Unlike Jerusalem's Lot earlier in the collection, this one creates no plot holes, though it does allude to the ending of the larger novel. This one deals with two men who know how The Lot has 'gone bad' and their attempt to help a man whose family is stranded there. It's one that definitely should be read after 'Salem's Lot, as it compliments the larger novel, rather than creating problems.
The last work to be featured is also one that was previously unpublished: The Woman in the Room. It follows a man who has a terminally ill mother and his grief and anger at her condition. Like The Last Rung on the Ladder, it isn't a horror story, and feel a bit out of place in the collection. It is also an odd choice to finish with, as One for the Road would have been stronger and more circular (ending with a 'Salem's Lot companion piece after starting with one). It lacks the emotional punch of The Last Rung, and the collection fizzles to an end.
How I Would Rank the Stories:
One for the Road
The Last Rung on the Ladder
I Am The Doorway
I Know What You Need
The Woman in the Room
Children of the Corn
Sometimes They Come Back
The Lawnmower Man
The Man Who Loved Flowers
Movie?: Several have been made into movies: Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge are both in the film Cat's Eye, Children of the Corn, The Mangler, Trucks became Maximum Overdrive, and Graveyard Shift. A movie shares the title of The Lawnmower Man, but has no relation. Trucks was again adapted for TV, as was Children of the Corn. Sometimes They Come Back also received a television adaptation, as did Battleground.
Dark Tower?: The Salem's Lot companion pieces would be considered part of it, but most of these are standalone.
Child Deaths?: One gets turned into a vampire in One for the Road, several die in Children of the Corn and in The Boogeyman, and one dies in flashback in Sometimes They Come Back.
Penis Talk?: Surprisingly, none, though I may have missed writing one down.
Grade: I'd say it averages out to a B, maybe a B+