“As I said at the beginning, this is a horror story.” – Jamie Conklin.
You’ve been playing this game a very long time, Stephen King, you needn’t remind us of what you write. Later is a horror story. It’s also a horror to read. “Books are a portable magic,” King once wrote. That they are. To remind us of that, he filters that and many of his life lessons in On Writing into Later, either intentionally or subconsciously. Either way, the outcome is poor. But how much can King really impose on his tales? His real-world experiences bleed into Later, for he writes of a young man early on in his life. King attempts to reflect and adapt that throughout Later, but his definition of youth is far from admirable.
King couples himself to what he perceives as modernity. Rudimentary mentions of The Big Bang Theory, Bruce Willis and Barack Obama. Anything that he believes will give Later the political or cultural edge in a sea of modern writing. If anything, it provides shoddy building blocks that steal the spotlight from the developing story of a child seeing dead people. Yes, much like The Sixth Sense, hence the Willis reference. King apparently feels the best way to build this story up is to compare it to those that it feels like. He indicates the influences and past examples of films or media that have the same story as Later. His main issue is that those influences do it better. Mentioning them makes a desire to move away from this new King piece and engage with those better works instead.
At least those works did not have trouble engaging with the characters. Here, King is tasked with writing from the perspective of a younger individual. Apparently, all those young kids do these days is say “Check this out…” and swear. Neither make for much use and if anything, their frequency makes for quite the annoyance. A shame, too, because when those moments are moved far away from, Jamie Conklin and his mother are decent characters. Conklin talks to the audience. Perhaps the annoyance of this writing is the point. King must feel children are annoying to write them like this. As Conklin talks away, the story begins to fade. It picks up during brief moments, but they feel cliché and sudden and not at all connected in a way that would signify a cohesive narrative.
A tragedy that may be, it is also an inevitability for the late-stage phase of King’s collected works. It is still thoroughly readable and entertaining at points, but Later, for all its brevity, comes at us thick and fast. Once you’re through the hundred pages of filler, Later begins to open up, but by then, you’re almost halfway through and closer to finishing this tale of boys seeing deceased murder victims than you are to the start of it. His pace-breaking throughout, where Conklin announces he can see the dead, and subsequently the old widowed man lets out a fart, feels intentional. Why do this? Because this is a horror story.