As first mentioned last week, Macabre Republic will feature not only single-post QuickLists but also ongoing Top 20 Countdowns. Well, today I would like to announce that the subject of the inaugural Countdown is Stephen King. Over the course of twenty posts, I'll be presenting my ranking (including brief analysis/commentary) of what I consider to be the author's premier works of American Gothic short fiction.
The selection process begins with classification--not every story King has written automatically warrants the label "American Gothic" (e.g. a piece such as "Crouch End," which takes place overseas in England, doesn't apply here). The issue, though, extends beyond mere geographical location. I'm looking not just for stories set in-country, but for those that evince a strong Gothic sensibility (recall my working definition: American Gothic concerns itself with the horrors hidden behind closed doors, with the animosity underlying smiling facades, with the dark side of everyday life in Anytown, U.S.A.). Take, for example, "Strawberry Spring," a tale of a fog-shrouded (thanks to the quirks of New England weather) community college campus terrorized by a serial killer. King's story also features an unreliable, Jekyll-and-Hyde-type narrator who blurs the line between chronicler and perpetrator of horrors.
Secondly, because of King's prolific nature, an element of evaluation is in order--narrowing down his extensive body of short fiction and arranging the chosen twenty pieces in terms of their effectiveness as American Gothic works. What I'm trying to say is that there's plenty of material that won't make the cut. For instance, don't expect to find "The Man in the Black Suit" on the Countdown. This tale of an encounter with a Satanic figure in the Maine woods no doubt qualifies as American Gothic, yet in my estimation the story (its O. Henry Award notwithstanding) falls flat compared to its source text, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown." The key phrase here, of course, is "in my estimation." Any listing such as this is inherently subjective, and while I hope to demonstrate that I've made reasoned choices, I make no pretensions to ultimate authority. This is simply my take on a Top 20. I'm hoping the individual posts will elicit comments from readers, as they offer their own thoughts on the selected story or even voice their disagreement with the relative positioning of the piece on the Countdown.
One final note: by "short fiction," I'm referring to short stories, novelettes, and novella-length works. Narratives that could ostensibly stand alone as novels, such as "The Mist" and the pieces in Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, have been ruled out here. The bulk of the selections will be drawn from the collections Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Everything's Eventual, and Just After Sunset, but there'll also be a few surprises thrown in along the way.
So come on back to Macabre Republic tomorrow, when we'll get started with selection #20. After that, the Countdown will continue every few days over the coming weeks, culminating with the revelation of the greatest work of American Gothic short fiction that King has ever written.