Primary Genre(s): Short Story, Fiction
Published: 9 Nov 2009 in The New Yorker
Page count: 5
Format: free online copy
My rating: ★★★★☆
A bickering couple stop at a convenience store and find their lives taking an unexpected dark turn.
I decided to peruse the internet for free short stories and I came across this one by Stephen King. It didn’t disappoint. Please note that there are some spoilers below. It is hard to review a 5 page story without giving something away. I’d recommend clicking the link above to read this very short story for yourself before continuing, but read Con #1 below first. Here are my pros and cons for Premium Harmony:
- This story is brilliant in its simplicity. It starts as a simple look at a bickering couple that appear to have absolutely no affection left for one another at all… but it ends on a note that is disturbing to say the least.
- The “unexpected dark turn” wasn’t at all what I was expecting. With King I expect aliens or some kind of weird paranormal event or some other unexplained horrific occurrence, but in this story the “unexpected dark turn” was the sudden death of the wife by an apparent heart attack.
- In my opinion, the horror in this story is how the husband reacts to his wife’s unforeseen demise. He can’t remember her age when asked by the paramedics, he is already thinking about having sex with one of the bystanders, and he has random revelations about how he can now do whatever he wants without her complaining. Wow. Just wow! He didn’t just dislike his wife, he hated her. I was so angry with this man!! You know a story is written well when you want to strangle one of the characters for being so egocentric, coldhearted, and cruel.
- Interestingly, I also have to state that based on the setup for this story the wife didn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities herself. I’m not sure that she wouldn’t have reacted the same exact way if her husband had died instead. Although I’m pretty sure she’d have taken better care of the dog (see Con #1).
- I also think it is amazing how much I felt like I knew this couple. It is like I was a voyeur into their sad lives and I understood their pain and sadness and frustration with each other from just a few paragraphs. Great writing!
- The dog! OMG. I’m just going to say, that if you are triggered by reading about terrible things that happen to dogs, you do not want to read this story. Trust me.
- One could argue that the story really doesn’t go anywhere. We just get a glimpse of a few depressing hours in the life of two strangers and then the story is over.
What I love about King is how he can take normal everyday circumstances and twist them just enough to make them disturbing – either by creating a situation that is strange or scary or by revealing the true nature of someone. What made this particular short story “scary” is how the man reacted to his wife’s demise. It was just wrong on so many levels and it really made you sad for the wife, even if she likely wasn’t a great example of a human being herself. This isn’t the best Stephen King story I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed it (if you can say you enjoy a topic like this!) if for no other reason than it stirred emotions in me.
(image from Goodreads)