As well as Stephen King is known for his novels, his short storIes are not ones to be forgotten. Two of which (Night Surf and The Life of Chuck) are considered some of his most peculiar, yet also his most human. Both deal with similar themes of futility and apocalypse but are on much different scales. To fully explore this concept, each story must be examined in detail.
Night Surf (1969, reissued in 1974) concerns the actions of a particular group of apocalypse survivors during one fateful night on the coast, and their attempt to retain some normalcy in an already deteriorated world). Young, inexperienced with the wider world and yet pessimistic about the state of affairs, the group come across a man dying of what is known as A6, or “Captain Trips”— a lethal virus that has cleared most of the world’s population. Instead of potentially aiding him or leaving him there to suffer his fate, the group makes the irreversible decision to burn the infected man alive. The narrator notices another member of the group taking delight in the act, the excitement leading to sex between the two. Eventually, another member reveals to the narrator that they have contracted A6, and the narrator assumes that they will all be dead by Christmas. At the end of the story, the narrator’s partner surmises that the infected friend was lying to not be left behind.
The Life of Chuck summarizes an entirely different level of futility. Instead of following one central character over just a few hours (as in Night Surf), this story threads through multiple lives over multiple years. First following the life of Marty in a world just beginning to shut down (the Internet and power sources collapse, the entire state of California is lost to the Pacific Ocean, and a mysterious figure known as “Chuck” is slowly overtaking every human space possible) and ending on the life of the actual character of Chuck in a world reminiscent of the one we know today, the story’s jumps in time lends to moments of connection that instantly form in the reader’s mind. One such connection is the motif of the crescent-shaped scar on Chuck’s hand, which is explained in greater significance near the end of the story. It is eventually revealed through interconnecting threads that Chuck is dying of cancer after 39 years of life (which matches with the “39 great years” before “retirement” of Marty’s world), and that the aforementioned Marty is a manifestation of Chuck’s inner consciousness going out.
I will not reveal later spoilers, because I believe this is a story everyone should read for themselves!
More to come!
- Amy 🙂