Different Seasons by Stephen King
Narrator: Frank Muller
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on August 27th 1982
Length: 19 hours and 49 minutes
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Also by this author: Doctor Sleep, Cujo, Pet Sematary
A “hypnotic” (The New York Times Book Review) collection of four novellas from Stephen King bound together by the changing of seasons, each taking on the theme of a journey with strikingly different tones and characters.
“The wondrous readability of his work, as well as the instant sense of communication with his characters, are what make Stephen King the consummate storyteller that he is,” hailed the Houston Chronicle about Different Seasons.
This gripping collection begins with “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” in which an unjustly imprisoned convict seeks a strange and startling revenge—the basis for the Best Picture Academy Award-nominee The Shawshank Redemption. Next is “Apt Pupil,” the inspiration for the film of the same name about top high school student Todd Bowden and his obsession with the dark and deadly past of an older man in town. In “The Body,” four rambunctious young boys plunge through the façade of a small town and come face-to-face with life, death, and intimations of their own mortality. This novella became the movie Stand By Me. Finally, a disgraced woman is determined to triumph over death in “The Breathing Method.”
Different Seasons was King’s first Short Story publication which came out in the summer of 1982. In his Afterword, King gives us a brief glimpse into how this collection came about even though he originally never intended them to be published. All were written following the completion of a novel: The Body was written after Salem’s Lot, Apt Pupil was written after The Shining and he said he didn’t write again after that for 3 months, Shawshank Redemption was written after The Dead Zone, and The Breathing Method was written after Firestarter. Each story is clearly different than anything King had put out at that point, and it was just as his editor at the time feared. “First the telekinetic girl, then vampires, now the haunted hotel and the telepathic kid. You’re gonna get typed.” Typed as in, “horror writer”. It’s funny to think at this point in Stephen King’s career that he not only worried about being typed as nothing but a horror writer, but that he worried he wouldn’t be able to make a living writing horror. All four of these stories are between 25,000 and 35,000 words which is what King refers to as “a really terrible place, an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic called the ‘novella'”. Since these novellas weren’t his typical horror and were considered more mainstream, they weren’t exactly marketable, yet somehow King still managed to make it happen.
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (Hope Springs Eternal) tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who in 1948 is wrongly convicted of killing his wife and her lover. It’s narrated by “Red” Ellis who is also in prison for life for killing his wife, except he wasn’t wrongly convicted. As the years pass, Andy’s story is relayed and despite everything he’s forced to suffer through, his resilience means his spirit won’t break. It’s a hopeful and unforgettable tale of perseverance that is most admirable, just as Kings subtitle suggests. This was by far my favorite of this series.
Apt Pupil (Summer of Corruption) is the story of thirteen-year-old Todd Bowden who, after becoming fixated on the horrifying details of World War II, discovers that his neighbor is fugitive Nazi war criminal who’s real name is Kurt Dussander. Todd forces him to divulge the stories of his involvement which subsequently drives them both mad from the horrors. The slowly spiraling mental state of both characters is truly terrifying to watch unfold. Who said there isn’t real horror in reality?
The Body (Fall From Innocence) recalls the events of a childhood adventure where a group of boys set out to see a dead body. Fall From Innocence is a fitting depiction for the transformation that these boys underwent by taking this journey, starting out simply innocent and curious. “He was a boy our age, he was dead, and I rejected the idea that anything about it could be natural; I pushed it away with horror.” It was a jarring realization of their own mortality and the loss of their adolescence. This was the most compelling tale of the collection that went beyond entertainment with its resonance of truth.
The Breathing Method (A Winter’s Tale) is certainly the closest to horror that King gets in this collection. Within the darkened walls of a private Manhattan club, ghost stories are told at Christmas. Sandra Stansfield is single and pregnant in the 1930s, yet despite the public snubs she receives, she’s determined to have the child no matter what. Her doctor, Dr. McCarron, teaches her what is now known as Lamaze even though it was frowned upon during that time period, and is what leads to the apex of this horrifying tale and completion of this collection.
Even though this collection of stories weren’t my favorite of King, I appreciated them for what they meant to show: another side to a typed horror author. While these weren’t true horror, elements of horror still manage to crop up in one-way shape or form in all of his tales, and that’s okay. King leaves us with a final note:
“I hope that you liked them, Reader; that they did for you what any good story should do—make you forget the real stuff weighing on your mind for a little while and take you away to a place you’ve never been. It’s the most amiable sort of magic I know.”
They did, Mr. King. They definitely did.